February 28, 2024

National Education Policy 2020: Striking the Right Chord in Higher Education

The well-timed NEP 2020 introduces sweeping reforms for India’s Higher Education Institutions.
Keywords: National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 | Multi-Disciplinary | Flexibility | Autonomy | Research-Oriented | Self-Reliance |
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The Union Cabinet on 30th July approved the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 highlighting significant reforms in the education sector. The last National Education Policy came in 1986, (modified in 1992) and since then, it has been more than three decades for a new educational policy to be in place. India was in a dire need of a new Education policy considering the demands, challenges and needs of the 21st century. Education forms the bedrock of any developed country, and to embark on that path of greater development and sustainability, India needed significant educational reforms that address the current discourses and would shape the viable future of its citizens. 

In this regard, NEP 2020 addresses some relevant gaps within the current educational system at various levels including school education, higher education, teacher education, research etc. This new education policy aims at making India a self-reliant country and a vibrant knowledge hub by providing access to high-quality education to every citizen. NEP 2020 comes after deliberate discussions involving consultative, holistic and participatory approach in formulating various key principles and includes a backdrop of research, expert opinions, public opinions, feedbacks and best-practice models. 

One of the major changes brought in via this policy includes renaming Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) as the Ministry of Education symbolising dedication and focus towards the goal of ‘Quality Education for All’ (UN SDG 4). NEP 2020 showcases India’s continued commitment towards making a ‘Developed and Progressive Bharat’ globally by allocating 6% of the budget towards education as compared to earlier 4.43%. This policy touches upon various fronts and one such significant dimension includes focus on Higher Education and Quality Research. 

NEP 2020 showcases India’s continued commitment towards making a ‘Developed and Progressive Bharat’ globally by allocating 6% of the budget towards education as compared to earlier 4.43%.

NEP 2020 & Higher Education

The policy aims at creating world-class institutions in India (preferably in the disadvantaged geographical areas) by increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio to at least 50% by 2035 indicating half of the population (irrespective of age) to be a part of the higher education system in the coming years, thereby providing a more inclusive platform for the citizens. There is a strong focus on creating quality institutions, which would provide a ‘large, well-resourced, vibrant’ knowledge base and most importantly, these higher education institutions would be ‘multi-disciplinary’ in nature both at the teaching and research levels. 

This new education policy makes a major shift from the rote-learning educational system to application and practical based learning by focussing on ‘liberal education’ as the foundation for the overall development of students. The policy comes with a four-year program with multiple exit option for students at the end of every year thereby making it less strenuous for students and providing them with the flexibility of adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to their level of study. The policy also discontinues M.Phil. Programme and facilitates direct entry into the PhD after completing Masters. In terms of enhancing the research environment at the level of Higher Education, the new policy gives enough flexibility to the institutions in terms of curriculum designing and structuring Master’s programme. The new educational policy in higher education lays high emphasis on quality, academic endeavours, financial and emotional support to students and promotes effective outcomes through various modes like Choice Based Credit System, open and distance learning options for students, internationalization of education etc. 

Another striking feature of the policy with regard to higher education is in terms of recognising the fact that “empowered faculty leads to empowered scholars which in turn leads to an empowering Nation”. The faculties in a higher education institution are the driving pillars of success and form the crux of such an institution. With this idea in mind, there have been measures taken to tap the potential of the faculties in terms of providing them with academic freedom to pursue research and at the same time, taking care of the recruitment process, career progression and compensation management in every higher education institutions. The policy also emphasizes promoting capacity building programs, pedagogical practices etc. as part of the professional development plan for faculties. 

Why is NEP 2020 important in Higher Education?

Over the years, higher education institutions in India have borne the burden of poor governance and ineffective management. The situation of higher education institutions in the states is even worse with a decline in the enrolment ratio of students. With the new education policy in place, there is hope for a revival of an education system based on “Indian values” promoting empowered governance, academic space and greater autonomy to the research institutions. The NEP 2020 recognises the crucial role of research and innovation in building a strong future for the country. It strongly addresses the problem of ‘commercialization of education’ in India and promotes philanthropic efforts aimed at ‘maximizing benefits of the education system’ to all. With such a holistic approach, NEP 2020 is set to revolutionize the Indian education system, making it capable of standing at par with some of the best in the world. NEP 2020 has a greater purpose for higher education than creating employment opportunities only. It encourages all the actors to build more vibrant, socially-engaged, and cooperative communities and a happier, cohesive, cultured, productive, innovative, progressive, and prosperous nation.

The NEP 2020 envisions that in the years to come all the existing and new Higher Education Institutions will be divided into three different groups, namely research-intensive universities (RUs), teaching universities (TUs), and autonomous degree-granting colleges (ACs). It especially addresses issues related to research and innovation by creating the MERUs (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities) at par with IIT and IIM and a National Research Foundation. National Research Foundation (NRF) will be established by an Act of Parliament with an annual grant of 20000 crores (to be increased gradually). NRF will cater to the research specific needs of research institutions by providing funding across all major disciplines, building research capacity, establishing linkages between researchers, government and industry, thereby working to set up a more robust research system. Not only this, but NEP gives a great boost in the higher education sector by focussing on all those elements that have been untouched within our system or haven’t been recognised significantly despite immense opportunities they hold- for instance, promotion of Indian languages at every level of education and foregoing the colonial baggage of ‘excessive’ focus on English as a medium; giving due importance to adult education, vocational education and technology in education etc. which has been the need of the hour for so long and has been adequately dealt with through the new education policy. 

It especially addresses issues related to research and innovation by creating the MERUs (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities) at par with IIT and IIM and a National Research Foundation. National Research Foundation (NRF) will be established by an Act of Parliament with an annual grant of 20000 crores (to be increased gradually).

NEP 2020 proposes to have a common regulatory system for the entire higher education sector by dissolving multiple existing higher regulatory authorities. A single regulator, the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA)will look into the issues related to higher education and research, including financial probity, good governance, and fullyonline and offline public disclosure of all finances, procedures, faculty/staff, courses, and educational outcomes while leaving the rest to the judgment of the HEIs, which is essential to institutional autonomy, innovation, and pursuit of excellence. 

NEP 2020 vs. Atma Nirbhar Bharat

It won’t be wrong to visualize the National Education Policy 2020 in the light of the recent call for “Atma Nirbhar Bharat” given by PM Modi. The NEP focuses on making the higher education institutions as self-sustaining, self-fulfilling and self-governing entities in various ways. By promoting professional education, multidisciplinary approach, broad-based 21st-century competencies and skills, it is designed to make these institutes self-reliant. 

By including financing education as an essential element of NEP 2020, the policy addresses a stronger need for raising educational investment in which the role of the Central and State governments, along with alternative ways i. e. philanthropic activities, would be important. Thus, we see how NEP illustrates the concept of self-reliance and how the education system in India can witness a phenomenal transformation by recognising the nation’s potential and working in that direction.  

A single regulator, the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) will look into the issues related to higher education and research, including financial probity, good governance, and fully online and offline public disclosure of all finances, procedures, faculty/staff, courses, and educational outcomes.

NEP 2020, in the words of PM Modi, is a shining example of participatory governance based on the strong pillars of Access, Equity, Quality, Affordability and Accountability, capable of transforming India into a vibrant knowledge hub and placing it on the path of greater development and growth.

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Monika Gupta and Shantesh Kumar Singh

Ms. Monika Gupta is a Commonwealth Scholar, University of London and Research Scholar, JNU, New Delhi.

Dr. Shantesh Kumar Singh is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Central University of Haryana, Mahendergarh.

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