The Cabinet and PM Modi have set a radical departure from India’s past education paradigms by passing a transformational National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. The policy changes proposed in NEP 2020 could lead to better learning and employment outcomes for everybody. India is not a country where one size fits all—there is a very large differential across states and communities. The NEP committee under Dr Kasturirangan’s leadership recognises this fundamental differentiator, and has laid out a far-reaching vision to create learning environments that are multidisciplinary, that cater to a well-rounded education for all individuals, and has the immense potential to transform India’s human capital development.
Higher education in India has reached an inflexion point. Today, 3.74 crore students are enrolled in 51,649 institutions with a GER of 26.3. As per the AISHE (MHRD, now, Ministry of Education as per NEP 2020) 2018-19 report, 91 lakh students graduate per year. This is now officially the largest education system in the world. NEP 2020 focuses on creating at least one large multidisciplinary institution in or near every district by 2030, and, thereby, drives GER to 50 by 2035.
We require specific inclusion initiatives for the majority of the remaining 73%+ of our youth in the age bracket of 18-23 years. Social groups, by and large, have risen through the system and are doing well:
Women (at 48.6% of the 18-23-year population are also 48.6% of enrolled). Women GER at 26.4 has overtaken men at 26.3 for the first time last year
SC community, 14.9% enrolment against 16.6% of the population; remarkably close
ST community, 5.5% enrolment against 8.6% of the population; this, too, is quite close
OBC community, 36.3% enrolment against 40.9% of the population; close, as well.
Minorities, however, have not demonstrated the same progress. Minorities constitute 20.2% of India’s population but only 7.5% in HE enrolment. AISHE only tracks Muslims separately, who represent 5.2% of HE enrolment as against 15% of the population now. The Muslim community is the only group in danger of being left behind.
NEP 2020 lays out a clear-sighted vision for full equity and inclusion that ensures no social group is left behind while honing focus on massively improving quality of education and making the Indian education system a global destination. The following reforms announced in NEP 2020 must be undertaken immediately to facilitate this change:
Grant full autonomy to top 200 institutions
Keeping our institutions under heavy government regulation has taken the focus away from quality. NEP 2020 has boldly put forth a ‘light but tight’ regulatory framework that will change this legacy. Via NEP 2020, India must grant full academic, administrative and financial autonomy to its 200 top-ranked universities, so they can quickly expand the variety of updated course offerings to keep up with the interdisciplinary nature of global innovation.
Establish the National Research Foundation (NRF) to fast-track innovation
India lags other major economies in research and innovation funding. Responding to the urgent need to change this, NEP 2020 vocalises the NRF that will fund competitive, peer-reviewed grant proposals across disciplines to recognise and support outstanding research. With this farsighted move toward nation-building via R&D, GoI must allocate at least Rs 5,000 crore per year on a non-lapsable basis for the purpose of funding fundamental and applied research in university laboratories and research institutions on a competitive basis.
Incentivise India’s top 100 universities to increase the number of trained PhDs
NEP 2020’s focus on professional education and frontier technologies like AI/ML, genomics, etc, can serve as a catapult for India to raise the bar on top-quality PhDs. Today, India only produces about 40,800 PhDs a year, mostly of indifferent quality. We must quickly scale to 50,000 more per year to a total of 100,000 of high global standards of quality. Incentivising India’s top 100 universities to produce 50,000 more PhDs annually—fueled by NEP 2020’s push toward autonomy and NRF funding—will improve our innovation and specialisation talent.
Improve higher education infrastructure with long term loans from the market
NEP 2020 extends a well-rounded view on new-age learning environments, research and development, sports, culture, hostel facilities, medical facilities and more. Currently, Indian universities are short of infrastructure required to execute this vision. The HE Finance Corporation must be authorised to raise money from markets with a GoI guarantee to grant long term 20-30-year loans to Indian universities to create the necessary infrastructure.
Impending need to improve GER in low-GER districts
Many states and districts of India have a GER below 25; states like Bihar (13.6), West Bengal (19.3), and Jharkhand (19.1), as well as districts with low GER within other states. These states and districts must be given special grants with a 50/50 participation from central and relevant state governments. The HE Finance Corporation can grant long term loans for this purpose with a goal to bring the GER of these districts and states to the national average in 10 years. NEP 2020’s direction on integrating vocational education in the educational system can serve as a tremendous growth driver for education among these populations.
Allow top 100 global universities per global QS/Times rankings to set up in India
The ministry of external affairs estimates there are 7.5+ lakh Indian students studying across 90 countries abroadspending around $20 billion a year. This is an expensive affair. Instead of students travelling abroad to attend universities, we must incentivise world-class universities to come to our students. NEP 2020’s push to facilitate the top 100 global universities to operate in India is a welcome one. While inviting these universities, the terms must be set to provide a degree on par with the parent institution while operating within India with full autonomy.
Set up a National Scholarship Fund
NEP 2020’s focus on financial support for students will enable equity in access for all Indians to receive a quality higher education degree. The National Scholarship Fund can be modelled as a Public-Private-Partnership, with a private-sector board to oversee the organisation. 50% of the funding can be raised from citizens all over India on a 100% tax exemption. This model has the potential to fulfil at least one crore scholarships per year of over Rs 20,000 each with the government putting in 50% of the total.
Proper implementation of the reforms and ideas envisioned in the NEP 2020 will fundamentally transform India. With the emphasis on knowledge-economy driven growth in the 21st century, this is precisely what India needs to dominate in the future decades of growth and drive the education requirements of our young population.