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Explained: How education can be flexible

The main thrust of the draft policy is on breaking the “rigid boundaries of disciplines” in higher education and moving towards broad-based, flexible learning.

Explained: How education can be flexible Admission in progress at Panjab University in 2018. (Archive/Express Photo by Jasbir Malhi)

In Monday’s editions, The Indian Express described the broad recommendations for school education made by a committee set up for drafting a new National Education Policy (NEP). The policy will be finalised and presented in Parliament after taking feedback from various stakeholders. For higher education, the committee’s recommendations include:

Multiple disciplines

The main thrust of the draft policy is on breaking the “rigid boundaries of disciplines” in higher education and moving towards broad-based, flexible learning. Institutions offering single streams (such as technical education) must be phased out, and all universities and colleges must aim to become multidisciplinary by 2030, the report proposes.

“The future workplace will demand critical thinking, communication, problem solving, creativity, and multidisciplinary capability. Single-skill and single-discipline jobs are likely to become automated over time. Therefore, there will be a great need to focus on multidisciplinary and 21st century competencies for future work roles — these are indeed the capabilities that will separate humans from robots,” the report states.

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For this, the draft pitches for reintroduction of the four-year undergraduate programme in Liberal Arts Science Education (LASE) with multiple exit options, and scrapping of the MPhil programme. The LASE curriculum will be designed to develop broadly “useful capacities” (critical thinking, communication skills, scientific temper, social responsibilities etc), while offering rigorous education in specialisations (called majors or dual majors) across disciplines.

Pursuing a PhD will require either a Master’s degree or a four-year Bachelor’s degree with research. “The three-year traditional BA, BSc, as well as BVoc degrees will continue as well for those institutions that wish to continue such programmes, but all Bachelor’s degrees will move towards taking a more comprehensive liberal education approach,” the documents states.

The draft policy also proposes building a small number of new liberal arts universities, modelled after Ivy League schools, in the next five years.

Global footprint

The NEP 2018 proposes an increase in the number of off-shore campuses of Indian institutions and permitting the world’s top 200 institutions to set up branches in India, with a new law to regulate the latter’s entry and operation. Indian higher education institutions (HEIs), it states, should be encouraged to offer their distance-learning programmes abroad and enter into international partnerships for research.


Currently, India sends the third largest number of students (over 3 lakh) abroad for higher education. However, only 46,000 foreign students, accounting for less than one per cent of international students worldwide, study in Indian HEIs.
National Research Foundation

The NEP has recommended that a National Research Foundation (NRF), tasked with creating a conducive ecosystem for research through funding and mentoring, should be set up. Funds for research and innovation have fallen from 0.84% of GDP in 2008 to 0.69% in 2014. The draft attributes India’s performance in research to a separation between research institutions and teaching institutions, lack of research culture, lack of funds and poor research capacities of state universities.

The proposed NRF, to be set up by an Act of Parliament as an autonomous institution and with an annual grant of Rs 20,000 crore, will “seed, grow and facilitate research at academic institutions, particularly at universities and colleges where research is currently in a nascent stage…”

Regulatory reforms


The draft proposes a common regulatory regime for the entire higher education sector, “eliminating isolation and disjunction”. As with primary education, it suggests that in higher education, too, the functions of “regulation, provision of education, funding, accreditation and standard setting will be separated, and will not be performed by the same institution or institutional hierarchy”.

The National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) will be the sole regulatory authority, while NAAC, along with other accreditation agencies, will oversee accreditation. The existing University Grants Commission, currently regulator as well as grants disbursing agency, will transform into the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) and will limit itself to grants giving.

Other regulatory bodies — such as Medical Council of India, Bar Council of India, AICTE, National Council for Teacher Education — will become Professional Standard Setting Boards in their respective fields, without regulatory powers in professional education.
Rashtriya Shikha Aayog

The draft NEP envisages the creation of a new apex institution for education, through an Act of Parliament, that will be responsible for “developing, articulating, implementing, evaluating, and revising the vision of education in the country on a continuous and sustained basis”.

The Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA) will be chaired by the Prime Minister and run by executive and advisory bodies, half of which will made up of ministers and the other half of educationists and civil society members. A range of institutions — NRF, NCERT, NHERA, National Testing Agency, Higher Education Grants Council, and state education regulatory authorities, among others — will be reporting to this super organisation.


The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), which the report wants re-designated as the Ministry for Education, will have to complement the RSA. “A committee chaired by the UME (Union Minister for Education) and consisting of the ED (Executive Director of RSA) and a few members appointed by the UME will be constituted for this purpose at the earliest. Over a period of time, as the roles and functions stabilise, the RSA will be given Constitutional status through an Act of the Parliament,” the draft states.

Technology in Education

The policy dissects this topic into four broad areas:

*Training of teachers in the use of educational technology, and use of educational technology for professional development of teachers.


*Classroom tools and curriculum, such as “computational training”, online course software etc.

* Access for those disadvantaged students who cannot attend a physical school.


* Overall educational records management with a National Repository of Educational Data.

The draft policy proposes a National Education Technology Forum, a group of education leaders and government officials to discuss and advise on how to strengthen educational technology, and Centres of Excellence in Educational Technology in prominent institutions.

Other suggestions

*Public investment in higher education to be raised from the current 10% of overall public expenditure in education to 20%, over a 10-year period.

*Substandard and dysfunctional technical educational institutions to be closed.

* Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog to commission a perspective plan for professional education.

* A quasi-judicial body may be constituted for a mission-mode clean-up of teacher education.

* The four- year integrated BEd. will, by 2030, become the minimal degree qualification for schoolteachers. All pre-service teacher education programmes will be offered only in multidisciplinary institutions.

* First year or two of MBBS will be designed as a common period for all science graduates after which they can take up MBBS, BDS, Nursing or other specialisations.

* A common exit examination for MBBS.

* All new colleges started from 2020 onwards must only be autonomous colleges. No new affiliated colleges shall be started after 2020. After 2030 there will be no affiliated colleges – all colleges must develop to become autonomous degree granting colleges or a university.

First published on: 11-06-2019 at 12:15:51 am
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