Part I | Understanding Higher Education Policy - 2020

Recently Government of India announced National Education Policy-2020, replacing 34-year old policy of 1986. The new policy offers far reaching amendments and transformational reforms in school and higher education. Apart from making students equipped with 21st century knowledge and skills, one of the stated aims of the policy is to instil pride in being Indian not only in thought but also in spirit, intellect and deeds. The policy is founded on five pillars of Equity & Access; Affordability; Quality; Creativity & Innovations, and Autonomy. It offers reforms towards reorganisation of regulatory systems, transformation of institutional structures, Institutional autonomy, realignment of vocational education, teacher education, enabling learning environment etc. However, in this write-up reforms undertaken in the Regulatory and institutional set-up have been highlighted

Autonomy to Colleges & Universities: The most important takeaway of the new policy is its emphasis on greater autonomy both at the institutional and faculty levels. In line with this goal, the new policy aims to upgrade the affiliating colleges into Autonomous Degree Granting Colleges by gradually phasing out the system of ‘Affiliated Colleges’ over a period of 15 years. Under the new policy, affiliating university will be responsible for mentoring its affiliated colleges so that they can develop their capabilities and achieve minimum benchmarks in academic matters; teaching and assessment; governance; financial robustness; and administrative efficiency to become autonomous degree-granting colleges. 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. With appropriate accreditations, autonomous degree-granting Colleges could evolve into Research-intensive or Teaching-intensive Universities, if they so aspire.

The new policy also provides for universities to become self-governing institutions through a system of graded accreditation and graded autonomy, but in a phased manner over a period of 15 years. Upon receiving the appropriate graded accreditations, a university can become independent self-governing institution through the Board of Governors (BOG) consisting of a group of highly qualified, competent, and dedicated individuals. The BOG of an institution will be empowered to govern the institution free of any external interference, make all appointments including that of head of the institution, and take all decisions regarding governance. The BOG shall be accountable to the stakeholders through transparent self-disclosures of all relevant records. It will be also responsible for meeting all regulatory guidelines mandated by HECI through the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC).

Transformation of Institutional Structure: The other important recommendation of the new policy is structural transformation of HEIs aiming to make the focus of their goals and work crystal clear. Under the new policy, the HEIs have been structured into a ‘University’ and a ‘College’. A university means a multidisciplinary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate and graduate programmes. A university can be a ‘Research Intensive’, or a ‘Teaching Intensive’. Research intensive universities shall be exclusively involved in high end research while as teaching intensive universities shall have greater focus on teaching but can still conduct significant research. A College will refer to a large multidisciplinary institution that is primarily focused on undergraduate teaching. The categorisation into three broad types of institutions are not in any way a rigid, exclusionary categorization, but HEIs will have the autonomy & freedom to move gradually from one category to another. Besides, the new policy has done away with the nomenclatures of such as ‘deemed university’, ‘affiliating university’, ‘affiliating technical university’, ‘unitary university’ and these shall be replaced simply by ‘University’ on fulfilling the criteria as per norms.

Establishment of National Research Foundation: India is confronted with number of challenges and problems like; pollution, Poverty & Inequality, regional imbalances, environmental degradation etc. All these and other problems necessitates universities to conduct quality and actionable research. New policy recognises that a robust ecosystem of research is perhaps more important than ever with the rapid changes occurring in the world today in the realm of climate change, biotechnology, digital marketplace, and the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence. To grow and catalyze quality research in HEIs, this policy envisions the establishment of a National Research Foundation(NRF) with the following primary activities:

  • fund competitive, peer-reviewed grant proposals of all types and across all disciplines;
  • seed, grow, and facilitate research particularly in those universities and colleges where research is currently in a nascent stage, through mentoring of such institutions;
  • act as a liaison between researchers and relevant branches of govt. as well as industry, so that researchers are constantly made aware of the important national research issues. Also making policymakers aware of the latest research breakthroughs so as to allow breakthroughs to be brought into public policy formulation/ implementation.

Institutions that currently fund research, such as Department of Science and Technology, Department of Atomic Energy, Department of Bio-Technology, Indian Council of Agriculture Research, Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian Council of Historical Research will continue to independently fund research. However, NRF will coordinate with these and other funding agencies to ensure synergy of purpose and avoid duplication of efforts.

Reorganisation of Regulatory System: Establishment of Higher Education Commission of India (HECI)  has been a major step of the new policy to overcome the very basic problems with the existing regulatory system, such as; heavy concentration of power within a few bodies, conflicts of interest, and lack of accountability. The HECI consists of four independent and empowered verticals (Bodies).

The first vertical is National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), empowered to regulate higher education. It will regulate few important matters particularly Financial Probity, Good Governance, and the full online & offline public self-disclosure of all finances, audits, procedures, infrastructure, and educational outcomes. Every HEI has to disclose the updated information relating to these matters on the website of NHERC and own institutional website. Any complaints from stakeholders and others arising out of the information placed in public domain shall be adjudicated by NHERC.

The second vertical is National Accreditation Council (NAC). Accreditation of institutions will now be carried out by an independent ecosystem of ‘Accrediting Institutions’ supervised NAC. The task to function as a ‘Accreditor’ shall be awarded to an appropriate number of institutions by NAC. All HEIs will aim, through their Institutional Development Plans (IDPs), to attain the highest level of accreditation over the next 15 years to achieve the status of self-governing institutions.

The third vertical will be the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), which will carry out funding and financing of higher education based on transparent criteria, including the IDPs prepared by the institutions and the progress made on their implementation.

The fourth vertical will be the General Education Council (GEC), having a domain to set expected learning outcomes for higher education programmes. A National Higher Education Qualification Framework will be formulated by the GEC and it shall be in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework to ease the integration of vocational education into higher education. The GEC will be mandated to identify specific skills that students must acquire, with the aim of preparing well-rounded learners with 21st century skills.

The professional councils, such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, Veterinary Council of India, National Council for Teacher Education, Council of Architecture, National Council for Vocational Education and Training etc., will act as Professional Standard Setting Bodies. They will be invited to be members of the GEC.

Multidisciplinary Institutions: Towards achieving the goal of multidisciplinary education, the new policy offers a higher educational system consisting of large multidisciplinary universities and colleges. Accordingly, it aims at phasing out of the Single-stream HEIs over time to make such institutions multidisciplinary or parts of vibrant multidisciplinary HEI clusters. As per the new policy by 2040, all HEIs shall aim to become multidisciplinary with large student enrolments in the thousands, however, initially should plan to become multidisciplinary by 2030, and then gradually increase student strength to the desired levels.

Internationalisation of Indian Higher Education: New policy also aims to make India as a hub for international students as well as provide greater mobility to Indian students who may wish to study at, transfer credits to, or carry out research abroad, and vice versa. Towards the attainment of this goal, the policy offers the following recommendations:

  • offer courses in subjects, such as Indology, Indian languages, AYUSH systems of medicine, yoga, arts, music, history, and modern India. Efforts will also be made to attract international students towards courses in the sciences, social sciences.
  • HEI hosting foreign students shall have to set up an International Students Office to make the entry and stay of foreign students hassle free.
  • Sign mutually beneficial MOUs with foreign countries to facilitate research/teaching collaborations and faculty/student exchanges with quality foreign institutions.
  • High performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries, and similarly, universities particularly those from among the top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India. A legislative framework facilitating such entry will be put in place, and such universities will be given special dispensation.
  • Credits acquired in foreign universities will be permitted as per the requirements of each HEI, and counted for the award of a degree.

Author is Professor in the Dept. of Commerce University of Kashmir.