Let's face it. For years, India's higher education system has been a mess.
With its inherent complexity combined with the presence of a number of regulators (each with its own policies and standards), it can be a challenge to navigate for students and their parents.
Worse, India's education system, especially at the higher level, is in a dismal state. Indeed, a 2019 report found that only one of 10 Indians complete their graduation and even fewer finish their post-graduate and research-based courses such as MPhil and PhD.
"Nearly 11% Indians hold a graduation degree. Of this, in rural areas the number was staggeringly low at six percent, while in urban areas it was higher at 22%," the report stated.
The new National Education Policy (NEP) approved by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday seeks to entirely overhaul the system through various reforms: A single regulator to oversee higher education; no more MPhil courses before PhD; fixed fees for public and private institutions; students can choose between three and four-year undergraduate courses; multiple entry and exit points in degree courses.
It also aims to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3 percent in 2018 to 50 percent by 2035 and aims to add 3.5 crore new seats to higher education institutions.
One regulator to rule all
Goodbye University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will act as a single regulator for higher education (barring medical and legal colleges).
The HECI will itself be split into four independent verticals: National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) for regulating institutions, General Education Council (GEC) for setting standards for institutions, Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) for funding institutions, and National Accreditation Council( NAC) for accreditation of institutions.
The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), Veterinary Council of India (VCI), National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), Council of Architecture (CoA), National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) will act as Professional Standard Setting Bodies (PSSBs) and common entrance exams for universities and colleges will be conducted by the National Testing Agency.
Flexibility for students
The NEP envisages broad-based, multi-disciplinary, holistic undergraduate education with flexible curricula, creative combinations of subjects, integration of vocational education and multiple entry and exit points with appropriate certification.
Which means? More flexibility for students, including off-ramps in various courses, to allow them to take their academic journey at their own pace.
A student who completes four years of study in a course will receive a Bachelor's Degree with research, a Bachelor's Degree for three years of study, an Advanced Diploma for finishing two years and a Diploma for completing a year of study.
Students will also be able to avail of an Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) which will digitally store academic credits from different institutions so that these can be transferred and counted towards the final degree earned. This means they can also take a gap year or return to their studies after a few years.
Also, MPhil will be discontinued. Students who wish to pursue their PhDs can do so after their Master's Degree.
More choice for students, fees capped
One reason so few pursue higher education? Higher expenses.
And many who are also pursuing their education have been troubled by the spectre of fee hikes. New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University for example, where students have had to shell out as much as Rs 62,000 for a single room after a fee hike, saw protests and even exams boycotted.
Common standards will be set for public and private HEIs. Fees will be fixed so that nothing extra can be charged beyond the set cap. Which hopefully will avoid such flare-ups in the future.
Private Higher Education Institutions will also be encouraged to offer more scholarships to students. The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to track the progress of students receiving scholarships.
Measures such as online courses and digital repositories, funding for research, improved student services, credit-based recognition of MOOCs, will be taken to ensure distance learning is at par with the highest quality in-class programmes.
More autonomy for colleges
As per the new policy, the system of affiliation will be phased out over 15 years and a stage-wise mechanism for granting graded autonomy to colleges, through a transparent system of graded accreditation, will be established. Over a period of time, it is envisaged that every college would develop into either an autonomous degree-granting college, or a constituent college of a university.
Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards. Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), at par with IITs, IIMs, to be set up as models of best multidisciplinary education of global standards in the country.
Standalone technical universities, health science universities, legal and agricultural universities will aim to become multi-disciplinary institutions.
College teachers at Indian universities, which have been grappling with faculty shortages, are set to get some measure of relief.
A National Mission for Mentoring will be established, with a large pool of outstanding senior or retired faculty who would be willing to provide short and long-term mentoring, professional support to university and college teachers.
A new and comprehensive National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education, NCFTE 2021, will be formulated by the NCTE in consultation with NCERT. By 2030, the minimum degree qualification for teaching will be a 4-year integrated B.Ed. degree. Stringent action will be taken against substandard stand-alone Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs).
With inputs from PTI