Author: Nidhi Bajaj
IV Year | Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar
National Education Policy 2020 is a novel, much-needed innovation in the field of education. Quality education is the basis for a cultured, innovative, vibrant, and progressive nation. Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to which India is a party, directs the states to “make higher education accessible to all based on capacity by every appropriate means.” 
Higher education is of utmost importance for humans as well as for societal well-being. It not only prepares a child to become economically independent but also aids in the development of creative, intellectual, thoughtful, and well-rounded individuals. This article aims to explain the drawbacks of the current higher education system, and also how the National Education Policy 2020 could help resolve these issues.
Challenges before the Higher Education Sector:
The various challenges faced by the Indian Higher Education System are:
- Fragmented higher educational ecosystem
- Neglect of cognitive skills learning
- Extreme separation of disciplines
- Limited and poor access to higher education in socio-economically disadvantaged areas especially due to the paucity of HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) teaching in local languages
- Limited teacher and institutional autonomy
- Less focus on research
- Lack of peer-reviewed research funding across disciplines
- Substandard leadership and governance
- Ineffective regulatory system
- Low standard of undergraduate education particularly due to large affiliating universities
Changes suggested by the National Education Policy 2020:
After a long haul of 34 years, a new education policy was brought in and approved on 29th July 2020. The National Education Policy 2020 aims to completely overhaul the existing educational system and focuses on creating a highly energized education system that will deliver high-quality education. In order to achieve this, the NEP recommends some major changes that need to be brought in Higher Education System, which are as follows:
1. Institutional Restructuring and Consolidation:
The NEP aims at making a shift towards large multidisciplinary universities and HEI clusters to put an end to fragmented higher education. Hence, the policy defines a University as a multi-disciplinary institution offering undergraduate and graduate programs with high-quality teaching, community engagement, and research. The goal is to develop both public and private higher education institutions offering quality education in local / Indian languages or bilingually. In conclusion, the development of new institutions along with the expansion and improvement of existing HEIs will be done. More autonomy and empowerment will be provided to these institutions. In addition to that, the complex nomenclature given to HEIs such as ‘deemed to be university or ‘affiliated university’ shall be replaced simply by ‘University’ on fulfillment of certain specified criteria.
2. Holistic and Multidisciplinary education:
Taking inspiration from ancient universities like Takshashila, NEP 2020 aims to bring back the tradition of holistic and multidisciplinary learning for the development of the intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, and emotional capabilities of students. In addition to a rigorous specialization in a particular field, students will also get to learn about arts, soft skills, vocational and technical education.
Environmental education, value-based education, and global citizenship education are also major themes of the policy with regard to higher education. Moreover, internship opportunities will be provided to students for learning practical skills.
In brief, the modification of the structure and duration of degree programs are as follows:-
- Firstly, a 3-year or 4-year undergraduate degree program with multiple exit options with certifications, viz. a certificate after completion of 1 year, diploma after 2 years, or a bachelor’s degree after 3 years.
- Secondly, the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) to be established for storing academic credits digitally.
- Thirdly, for students completing a 3 years bachelor’s program, there may be a 2-year master’s program wherein the 2nd year will be for research, and for a 4 years bachelor’s degree, there could be a 1-year master’s program.
3. Optimal learning environments and support for students:
Along with providing good infrastructural facilities, the policy also aims to make the learning environment more engaging and supportive. In order to achieve this, NEP proposes shifting from a high-stakes examination to a continuous and comprehensive evaluation eventually.
Additionally, keeping in mind the special needs of the socio-economically disadvantaged students, the policy proposes setting up high-quality support centres for the students in the educational institutions. In addition to that, online education mechanisms will also be renewed to ensure increased access to quality education.
The NEP 2020 seeks to restore India’s role as a Vishwa Guru by making India a global study hub providing quality higher education at less or affordable costs. Measures such as faculty/student exchanges and research collaborations with high-quality education institutions, encouraging top universities of the world to set up campuses in India, etc. will go a long way in increasing access to high-quality global education.
5. Other Measures:
In addition to the above-mentioned, there are a few other commendable measures for improving the higher education system which include:
- Focus on teacher education by a revolutionized B.Ed. program
- Financial assistance through the expansion of National Scholarship Portal, free ships by private HEIs, etc.
- Motivated, capable and energized faculty by measures such as Fast-track promotion system, freedom to design own curriculum, appropriate rewards, etc.
- Exposure to vocational education
- Establishing National Research Foundation
- Transformation of the regulatory system by establishing the Higher Education Commission of India and its 4 verticals
- Curbing commercialization of education
- Effective governance and leadership
The National Education Policy on Challenges faced by SEDGs:
The National Education Policy adopts the equity and inclusion approach in order to ensure increased access to quality education for SEDGs (Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Groups). Most importantly, the policy places special emphasis on SEDGs in terms of equitable access to quality education. The various problems faced by them include lack of information regarding higher education opportunities, financial constraints, geographical and language barriers, and absence of proper student support mechanisms.
- The various steps to be taken by Governments in an effort to overcome these challenges include:
(a) Earmarking Government funds for the education of SEDGs and using technology tools
(b) Aiming to achieve higher Gross Enrollment Ratio for SEDGs
(c) Enhancing gender balance in admissions to Higher education institutions
(d) Development of high-quality HEIs that provide learning in local or Indian languages
(e) Financial help and scholarships to SEDGs in public and private HEIs
(f) Conducting outreach programs for the purpose of spreading the information regarding various higher education opportunities and scholarships among the SEDGs
- The steps to be taken by all HEIs include:
(a) Reduction in fees for pursuing higher education
(b) Conducting outreach programs
(c) Inclusive admissions processes and curriculum
(d) Increasing employability potential of higher education programs
(e) Ensuring that the campus and other infrastructure is wheelchair-accessible and disabled friendly
(f) Developing bridge courses for students from disadvantaged sections
(g) Providing social, academic and emotional support, counselling, and mentoring programs
(h) Ensuring sensitization of faculty and students on the gender-identity issue and ensuring its inclusion in the curricula of HEIs etc.
(i) Strict enforcement of non-discrimination and anti-harassment rules
(j) Setting up Institutional Development Plans containing specific plans on how to increase participation from SEDGs.
In conclusion, the NEP 2020 aims to transform the education sector in India by making education more accessible, equitable, and inclusive. The policy is indeed highly comprehensive and can do wonders if properly implemented. Furthermore, the government needs to focus on building digital capacities, creating stakeholder incentives for increased participation, and formulating credible regulatory and institutional mechanisms for uniform and smooth implementation of the policy.
UN Commission on Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 28, Mar. 7, 1990, E/CN.4/RES/1990/74.
 MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT, NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY 33 (2020).
Editor: Ananya Manjunath