National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 : A critical Review
- Part 4 -

Surjit S. Thokchom *

Higher Education in NEP 2020: The objective of higher education in University Education Commission 1948-49 was: inculcation of wisdom and knowledge, social orders (democracy, justice, liberty and fraternity), higher values of life and leadership. These objectives of higher education were reiterated in the Indian Education Commission-1964-66 by reaffirming to seek and cultivate new knowledge, right leadership, professional with a sense of social justice, equality and citizenry and good life.

And NPE 1986 sums up the above objectives as to reflect on the critical, social, economic, cultural, moral and spiritual issues facing humanity. …contributes to national development through dissemination of specialized knowledge and skill. One common thread in the three policy documents mentioned above is Social Justice and concern for humanity.

In deviation from the objectives highlighted in earlier three policy documents, NEP 2020 recommends: rootedness in Indian ethos, eternal Indian knowledge and thought as guiding light of the policy on one side and knowledge society, knowledge economy, dream of becoming of super power, coupled with an assertion that ancient Indian knowledge is the 21st century education. And all the stack holders of higher education are to be yoked to fulfill the implicitly oxymoronic objectives: one component carries forward from medieval dreams of endeavoring harmonious co-existence with perennial inequality and inequity and on the other component of ultra-modern knowledge society with inclusiveness.

First, let us try to get ourselves familiarized with ground realities of Higher Education in India in last 2 decades. Before the neoliberal era under liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) were started, the Social Character of Higher Education in India was basically of simplicity and intellectual vibrancy, at least in principle. After Neo-liberal assaults were started, perspectives of faculty members have been forced to change. The Teaching job becomes comparatively lucrative and in the meantime, the space for Administrative Autonomy and Academic Freedom have been narrowed down.

In the newly emerging scenario, Democratic space for free and fair debate and peaceful protest as vibrant campus democracy have been scuttled repeatedly. And whatever little space available is focused on issues concerning mostly the faculty's entitlement or students' immediate interest such as scholarship, admission, reservation, salary, etc. The University faculties now live within their self-imposed Laskman-Rekha.

Let us also not forget that what is happening in education particularly in higher education does not happen suddenly. It started with the LPG which was initiated during UPA Government and it has been consistently continued by NDA Government. Agenda that Education is to serve the interest of Global Capital, not necessarily for the need of the people of India is increasingly pushing forward.

The thematic changes in the purpose and the content of the Higher Education have huge implications that the ramification may not be easy to revert. In fact, we are observing campus militarization, campus communalization and assault to campus democracy in the last two decades. What can we expect from NEP 2020? With NEP 2020, are we expecting the better or worse! This is what we are trying to ascertain now.

The NEP 2020 highlights that the problems in Higher Education today are : (i) Fragmented ecosystem, (ii) less on cognitive skills, (iii) rigid separation, early specialization, narrow areas of study, (iv) limited access by SEDG(socially economically disadvantage group), (v) limited autonomy of teachers and institutions, (vi) inadequate mechanism of merit based career management and progression and (vii) lessor peer reviewed competitive research, (viii) ineffective regulatory system, (ix) large affiliation and low standard of UG.

Though there is no study or research to substantiate the above listed so called Major Problems in NEP-2020, let us assume in good faith that the Government has done adequate research and supporting data are available on demand. Then what is the solution for the above problems.

The solutions listed in section 9.3 can be summed up as: (a) Multidisciplinary Universities, (b) Merit based Leadership, (c) Online/ODL, (d) NRF to fund research and (e) centralized 4 vertical structures under a new higher authority. There are others recommendations such as more autonomy, light and tight rules, revamp curriculum, more access, equity, inclusion, etc. which may remain as rhetoric as long as centralization persists.

But what do we mean by Multidisciplinary University? What is going to happen in a Multi-disciplinary University? Will there be campus democracy in the newly proposed Multidisciplinary Universities? Will there be adequate public funding?

NEP 2020 grades the Multidisciplinary University into three categories viz. (i) Research intensive universities; (ii) Teaching intensive universities; (iii) Autonomous degree granting colleges (AC). There is one condition that the Multidisciplinary University must have minimum number of students 3000 students for the smallest university called Autonomous Degree Granting College (AC) and there are no minimum numbers of faculty strength.

It is also said that the single stream colleges and universities will be phased out. It means that those colleges with students less than 3000 at a given academic year and with only one stream will be abolished. We can now imagine that how many colleges will be closed. Closing colleges means erasing the struggle of people in establishing the colleges. No colleges have ever started out of blue. It has humane history of struggle by the community(ies). Closing colleges also mean terminating the job of non-permanent government lecturers and all lecturers in private colleges. Shall we not ponder and act?

What do we mean by Multidisciplinary? There is no specific mention of definition of Multidisciplinary in the NEP 2020. The most viable and safest notion drawn from the NEP 2020 about what Multidisciplinary means is this that the University runs at least three courses: one general course, one vocational course and one professional course. While we say general courses, we understand that these are traditional subjects like political science, economics, physics, literature etc and the courses are directly under the Education Ministry (as it has been renamed in place of MHRD).

What about the Vocational Courses? The general understanding of Vocational courses is this that it trains a person (not necessarily educates) to work for a quality product- physical or service. And we know that Professional course are specialised courses of higher level. A Multidisciplinary University by design will be under multiple Ministries such as Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Ministry of Education etc. This will simply complicate the relationship.

At some stage, every Ministry will think that some other Ministry is owning the University and will end up with no Ministry to name by the University as my Ministry. The presence of Industry oriented courses as it is recommended repeatedly in NEP 2020 will make sure that Ministries' presence and care will be occasional and presence of Industries and corporate will become much more dominating over a period of time.

The only possible space for Autonomy from Ministries will be (over)dependent to Industry with multiple chains/conditions, with of course, by default, for Profit. In short, it creates an ambiance that Multidisciplinary Universities will survive either at the mercy of corporate or by converting itself into a corporate University. The rest of Colleges who cannot fulfil to attract minimum of 3000 students in a given academic year and to start three streams at a time will be closed down. So, closing of several small colleges is the indispensable consequences.

Let us now go to the recommended model of governance through the proposed structure: NEP 2020 proposes four vertical structures to address regulation, accreditation, funding and academic standard viz. (i) National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), (ii) National Accreditation Council (NAC), (iii) Higher Education Grant Council (HEGC)and (iv) General Education Council(GEC). These four vertical councils will be under the umbrella of a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI).

Why are these new structures? What is wrong with the present structures such as UGC, University Academic Council etc. Two important questions must be addressed: (i) what are the roles of the new four vertical structures? Will it overlap with the roles of existing bodies within the universities as of today? In case of disagreement whose decision will be binding- internal consensus or external intervention?

If the external four vertical structures' role overlaps with the role hitherto is in the hand of internal institutions within the University as a part of the Autonomy, whose decision has to overwrite whose decision? In short, will there be any autonomy remains left now? Let us try to have a glance to the role assigned to the new vertical structures.

The mandated work of NHERC is single point regulator for the higher education sector including teacher education and excluding medical and legal education. It will relook and repealing of existing Acts and restructuring of various existing regulatory bodies to enable this single point regulation. One important aspect is about complaints or grievances from stakeholders and others arising out of the information.

Now NHERC's virtual platform will be the platform to address the grievances. Here an idea of light and tight control has been spelled it out. It sounds sweet but definitely an intimidating term. But what is important for us now to know is this that regulation will ask to resolve any grievances including internal one through a virtual platform. Why this outsourcing of addressing internal issues and problems!!!

National Accreditation Council (NAC) will do the task of accreditation. One important confusing recommendation is to achieve accreditation through binary process, as per the extant global practice. Can we guess what it is? Whatever, NAC accreditation seems to be inadequate unless it is endorsed by a Global Body (Atma Nirbhar Bharat !!!). HEGC will carry out funding and financing of higher education based on transparent criteria(?).

GEC expected learning outcomes for higher education programmes, also referred to as 'graduate attributes. A National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF) will be formulated by the GEC and it shall be in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) to ease the integration of vocational education into higher education. Higher education qualifications leading to a degree/diploma/certificate shall be described by the NHEQF in terms of such learning outcomes.

And out of the several new institutions, one important new body is NRF (National Research Foundation) to control funding centrally and all other funding will be subservient of NRF! One of the mandates of NRF is to forfeit the right to decide research area by the faculty members. Why? We may need time to ponder? But we all can guess what the faculty members should feel now!

With the newly formed four verticals and the overall umbrella Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), almost all the existing Central Autonomous Bodies including UGC becomes irrelevant and redundant. Why do we need new bodies? It is neither name changing or replacement but it is an exercise of occupation and destruction. Why? What agenda are yet to spell it out that necessitate these new structures?

Why do the spelled-out problems in the higher education have no comprehensible connection? The devil is in the details. As of now, NEP 2020 keeps it as an unfinished task. Whatever, the presently available autonomy with the Universities will be unceremoniously removed.

There is one important area that we have not come across. Why skill, not education? why do we need NSQF to sync with HHEQF? Why does NEP 2020 overemphasize to Outcome? Are we going to dampen potential of HEI to generate knowledge? Is NEP 2020 empowering or destroying the vibrancy of Indian Universities? Why a new narrative of Indian realities through the introduction of SEDG and omission of ST, SC, OBC, Minorities and linguistic minorities? Why overemphasize on Merit? What is the political economy of the NEP 2020? We need separate pages to answer these questions. We must speak up before our silence becomes our endorsement.

to be continued ....

* Surjit S Thokchom is based in Shillong at present. He is a Secretariat Member of All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) and Editorial Board Member of a monthly publication of AIFRTE titled, "Reconstructing Education". He has been associating with an education project in rural khasi hills titled, "Demonstrating an Alternative Vision of Education". He was a member of Institute Advisory Board of North East Regional Institute of Education (NERIE), Shillong, a Constituent of NCERT and he was a member of Position Paper of Work and Education, NCERT. He was also official translator of National Curricular Framework, 2005(NCF 2005) into Manipuri.

* Surjit S. Thokchom wrote this article for Imphal Times
The writer can be reached through ssthochom(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 16 2020.

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