India’s National Education Policy 2019, Pragmatic Or Highly Ambitious?


India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development has revealed the draft of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2019, just a few days after the victory of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in national elections, giving him a second chance in the office. The ambitious plan by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lays out a comprehensive plan to restructure the higher education milieu of the country and aims to promote research culture with the initiation of a new National Research Foundation.

The 470-page NEP document encompasses the early years, primary, secondary and higher education and states to be built “upon the foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability,” according to an official statement released by the government.

The plan was drafted in alignment with the global Sustainable Development Goals and also proposes an extension to India’s Right to Education (RTE) Act to the age of 18, which could suggestively increase the numbers of youngsters continuing their higher education endeavours. Moreover, one of the major goals of the country is to boost the gross enrolment ratio, which is currently at 23 percent to almost 50 percent by the year 2035.

One of the most eye-catching features of the proposal is the restructuring of higher education institutions into three tiers. According to the plan, Type 1 institutions will focus on high-quality teaching and global research initiatives, Type 2 on teaching various disciplines, along with contributing to research and Type 3 on undergraduate education and high-quality teaching.

The draft NEP says “several institutions of higher studies across the world have implemented what we today characterise as liberal education through an array of different disciplines that include the arts, humanities, mathematics and sciences, suitably integrated with a deeper study of a special area of interest”.

The report also proposes the creation of a National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) as the only regulator for higher education, including professional education. However, the previous governments failed in establishing  a regulatory body in the past.  NRF “will encompass the four broad areas of sciences, technology, social sciences, and arts and humanities. Besides strengthening the presently weak support that subjects such as the social sciences and the humanities receive, NRF will also bring in cohesion among the various research endeavours of multidisciplinary character,”

Other new policy initiatives includes: promoting internationalisation of higher education, improving the quality of distance learning, encouraging the participation of under-represented groups and eliminating gender, social and region based gaps in the country. Proposals for taking a lead in preparing professionals in new areas including artificial intelligence and machine learning, 3-D machining, big data analysis and other technical areas including genomic studies, biotechnology, nanotechnology and neuroscience, were also a part of the comprehensive plan. Moreover, these sciences would be merged into the undergraduate education curriculum with support from three academies of sciences and the Indian National Academy of Engineering.

“Education must build expertise that society will need over the next 25 years and beyond. Simply tailoring people into jobs that exist today but that are likely to change or disappear after some years is suboptimal and even counterproductive. The future workplace will demand critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, creativity and multidisciplinary capability. Single-skill and single-discipline jobs are likely to become automated over time,” the document says. 

The document also suggests improving the research environment in universities by focusing on postgraduate and doctoral education. “The master’s degree will also have a strong research component to strengthen the appropriate professional competence in the domain area, and to prepare students for a research degree,” it added.

According to R Subrahmanyam, higher education secretary in the Human Resource Development Ministry, the draft policy proposes a much liberal and all-encompassing education system that will allow students to acquire broad-based education in the first year of their undergraduate degree programme before specialising.

Just to add, a new national education policy was part of the BJP manifesto for the 2014 general elections which brought the party to power. The delivery date for the plan was set for the end of 2017, however drafting of the plan was postponed several times with recommendations to include stakeholder consultations in the final plan.

Also, the new education policy is separate from the Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme or EQUIP, a five-year project aimed at revamping higher education in India. 

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