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What does the NEP-2019 say about Higher Education?

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What does the draft NEP 2019 say about the Higher Education in India?  What are the problems in the current system and what does it recommend?

The draft National Education Policy (NEP 2019) provides extensive information & analysis on the current scenario of Higher education in India and its vision for the future.

The earlier NEP was introduced in the year 1986 & modified in 1992 and over the last 33 years, there have been sweeping changes in the socio-economic, political and technological climate across the world, with India being no exception.

Many academicians, educational and policy experts have been calling out for a review of the current situation and come up with a progressive policy that not only addresses the current issues plaguing Higher education in India, but also sets the agenda for the coming decades. Let’s see what the NEP 2019 has to offer.

Identifying the problem of a redundant system in a dynamic environment

The draft NEP 2019 does a good job in identifying, acknowledging and highlighting the varied issues currently prevailing in our higher education system.

  • Lack of accessibility to Higher institutes of education is identified as one of the reasons for low enrollment at college/university level in the country. India’s current GER (Gross Enrollment Ratio) is 25.8% and substantially less than the developed countries.  
  • A comparison with other countries is illustrated here ( for the year 2013), based on the information from World Bank Data Reports.
  • Fragmented education system is another issue highlighted in the NEP 2019. While accessibility to Higher education institutes remains a problem (as illustrated earlier), the higher education system in India also suffers from a non-coherence and high fragmentation. This is aptly represented by near 800 Universities and 40,000 + colleges. 20% of these colleges have enrollment of less than 100 and only 4 % of these colleges have more than 3,000 students as per data of the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE 2016-17). Further, the committee points out that 40% of the colleges run a single program, which is in contrast to the multi-disciplinary education currently being followed in other countries.
Cumulative total of Colleges – as per enrollment
EnrollmentsNo. of Colleges% of Total
0-5035019.14
50-100420010.97
100-200732719.13
200-500946524.71
500-1000594215.51
1000-2000462212.07
2000-300016794.38
> 300015644.08
  • The higher education system in India is fraught with high level of segmentation and specialization, which restricts the students to develop a holistic understanding of different concepts. For example, students studying Engineering, do not have any scope to learn about liberal arts. Even in Engineering, the boundaries of specializations are so drawn up that students do not get an opportunity to develop an inter-disciplinary understanding.
  • There is very little research being conducted in Universities or colleges. The scope of conducting any research on any novel or futuristic concepts is much less. The committee observed that bifurcation of the Higher education into teaching institutions and research institutions as one of the main reasons for the little research being carried upon. There is very little funding allocated for research, compared to other countries. A snapshot of the R&D spending  (data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics) by some of the countries illustrates the huge gap India needs to cover up.
R&D spending by Country
(Source: UNESCO 2017)
Country% of GDPTotal Spending
(Million $)
Researchers
(Per Million)
Israel4.211,760.908250
Sweden3.114,191.106877
Singapore2.210,069.006729
Japan3.41,69,554.105328
Germany2.91,09,562.604318
USA2.74,76,460.004255
United Kingdom1.743,811.104254
Russia1.140,330.203094
China23,70,605.501096
India0.848,063.00156
  • The Draft NEP also highlights the irregularities and the constraints created by the various higher education authorities – UGC, AICTE, NAAC etc. Regarding the regulatory authorities, the commission states “Too much has been attempted to be regulated with too little effect.” The role of external players in the administration as well as appointments being influenced by external factors, has been observed.
  • The draft committee observes that the career management and progression of faculty and others involved in Higher education institutions has been largely arbitrary and based on seniority, rather than as a recognition for merit. This resulted in de-incentivizing perusal of research or innovation.

NEP Recommendations: Towards the total overhaul of the Higher Education System

In view of the observations made, the draft report has remarked that there needs to be an overhaul of the current system and have a progressive system which is in tune with the requirements of the 21st century. The following action items are proposed in the draft report.

  1. The committee proposes to have actions in place, which would enable 50% GER by the year 2035.
  2. Address the issues of fragmentation in Higher education institutes (HEIs) by developing large & multi-disciplinary universities with each of them having more than 5000 students, by consolidating and restructuring existing institutions and creating new ones. The committee has also proposed the development of 3 types of HEIs. Type 1, Type 2 & Type 3 – Research Universities, Teaching Universities & Colleges respectively. All these institutions would gradually move towards being autonomous.
  3. To develop a liberal multi-disciplinary education which enables flexible curricular structures. Students would have an option to choose specialization as Major and an optional subject as a Minor area of study. The committee has further recommended to establish 5 ‘Indian Institute of Liberal Arts’ within 5 years.
  4. The committee has proposed the establishment of National Research Foundation (NRF) that handles granting of funds to meritorious research proposals across all disciplines.  The foundation would have an annual grant of 20,000 crores (0.1% of GDP)
  5. National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) is proposed to be set up which will be an independent authority replacing the current multiple regulators in higher education. This would restrict the roles of UGC to strictly providing grants and professional councils such as AICTE to setting standards. NAAC would be separated from UGC and would focus on accrediting and providing licenses. It is targeted to complete accreditation of all HEIs by 2030.
  6. Apart from the proposals made regarding the reorganization of the Higher Education Structure and curriculum, the committee has made recommendations regarding faculty development. It recommended development of a Continuous Professional Development programme and also the introduction of tracking system of faculty by the year 2030.

The need for a prompt and practical change

The recommendations in NEP 2019, with regards to Higher Education are laudable but are worth only when implemented. The major takeaway, is the recommendation for an overhaul of the whole Higher Education system, which can take considerable amount of time and effort in addition to political will.  

However, the situation is fast spiralling out of control and in many an aspect the decadence has already set in.

  1. The number of students who are going abroad for Higher education is on the rise as per available global data. The lack of  quality higher education and opportunities in emerging fields are the main reasons which are encouraging these students to go abroad. The ease & simplification in financial processes and attractive incentives by universities of other countries, is enabling students from diverse backgrounds to study abroad. Unless the higher education system is revamped at a faster pace and quality higher education alternative is not provided here, India might be facing a significant brain drain.
  2. The employability & skill gap of graduates is a huge concern. The India Skills report 2018  highlights that 50% of the applicants appearing for the interview do not meet the skills requirement presenting a worrying picture. Approximately only 20% of Engineering graduates in India are employable as per employability reports of private assessment agencies. Their employability regarding the latest and futuristic technologies is much lower. The employability of non-engineering graduates is much lower – around 5% as per these reports. The demographic advantage that India possesses, would be futile if a large proportion of them cannot get into productive employment.

These reflect a situation which demands for prompt & immediate action. Further, it has to be ensured that the proposed NHERA, NRF etc. do not replicate the practices and experience the current regulatory authorities in Higher Education. Questions also arise in regards to practicality of establishing 200 Global universities. Should we rather focus on building select few top class universities that rank among Top 200 universities globally?

The Draft NEP 2019, has been critical of the current higher education system  and does a very good job of identifying the problem at hand. However, the recommendations , while being necessary do sound unrealistic unless a workable plan with achievable and strict deadlines is formulated.

Featured Image:NEP-2019 about Higher Education in India

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