Almost two years since it was legislated in July 2020, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has gained little traction. The outcome of high-powered committees chaired by former Union cabinet secretary the late TSR Subramanian and space scientist Dr. K. Kasturirangan, and three years in the making, NEP 2020 was presented to the nation after an interregnum of 34 years.
Slow traction in implementing NEP 2020 was highlighted during the EducationWorld India Higher Education Rankings Awards 2022-23 function staged in Delhi NCR on May 28. Two panel discussions — ‘NEP 2020: Roadblocks to Implementation’ and ‘Will NEP 2020 Flexibility Provisions Dilute Higher Education?’ — featuring vice chancellors and principals of the country’s premier higher education institutions, reported status quo and lack of urgency in implementing NEP 2020, which mandates radical reform of the country’s fast-obsolescing education system.
Heavily influenced by a 484-page report of the nine-member Kasturirangan Committee, NEP 2020 proposes abolition of the apex-level University Grants Commission and All India Council for Technical Education, which supervised and regulated arts, science and commerce and technical higher education for over half a century, and their replacement by a single Higher Education Council of India (HECI). Under HECI, the policy mandates establishment of a National Higher Education Regulation Council, National Accreditation Council (NAC), Higher Education Grants Council and a General Education Council to regulate (“light but tight”), accredit, fund and set academic and skill standards.
Somewhat contradictorily after mandating this elaborate structure for regulating the country’s 41,000 undergrad colleges and 1,043 public and private universities, NEP 2020 proposes abolition of the current system under which most undergrad colleges are affiliated and governed by parent universities which conduct common examinations and certify graduates.
NEP 2020 expresses aspiration that undergrad colleges will transform into autonomous, multidisciplinary, degree awarding universities as they are upgraded by NAC in a phased manner. Other proposals of NEP 2020 permitting reputed foreign universities to establish campuses in India, and establishing a National Research Foundation remain in limbo.
In the end, the consensus of the learned panelists was that the inherent contradiction in NEP 2020 between greater regulation and institutional autonomy should be resolved in favour of the latter option. Quite simply, the State is bankrupt of the human and financial resources required to establish the regulatory superstructure mandated by NEP 2020.
Revival and renaissance of higher education needs to be entrusted to academics and institutional managements without interference from government. The regulatory system has been tried and tested, and has failed. More of the same is a prescription for stagnation and mediocrity.