By Dr. MJ Xavier, Founding Director – IIM Ranchi andProfessor of Marketing and Business Analytics – LIBA, Chennai)
The reforms proposed by NEP 2020, is sure to have far reaching implications as far as Higher education is concerned. If it is implemented in letter and spirit, Indian education system could very well become a benchmark for the rest of the world. Of course, it is going to disrupt the present systems and processes in vogue in India. Several Institutions could fall by the wayside and new portals of education could spring up in the education landscape. In this article we shall look at the salient features of NEP that affect the colleges affiliated to Universities and standalone autonomous Institutions and also explore strategies that these Institutions can follow for their survival.
NEP in a Nutshell
The policy aims to prepare the nation for the 21st century by raising the GER to 50% which should result in employment and empowerment of its citizens. It offers flexibility and autonomy so that these objectives could be achieved as early as 2030. It advocates multidisciplinary education for which the government plans to remove hard separations between disciples, modes of education and types of education. The government will also develop a `skills and knowledge equivalence framework’. The flexibility that is proposed for students is that they could have entry and exit option into their degree programs that will be facilitated by the formation of a centralized credit bank. Students could migrate from any college to any other college or take a break for employment or entrepreneurship or due to any other reason and join back where they left.
The curriculum for the undergraduate education is conceived to give solid foundation in arts, culture, Indian traditions and also language skills. Hence the first year is expected to provide liberal arts education that would develop critical thinking skills. The second and third year could possibly help students focus on their specialization areas. The fourth year could be devoted for research and doing courses that will make them future ready. These would include subjects such as Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Big Data and Blockchain. A hypothetical model o0f undergraduate curriculum as envisaged by NEP is given in Figure – 1.It looks like most undergraduate courses would be of four-years duration though the policy offers flexibility to offer three year undergraduate courses too
Imminent Threat of Closure
|‘Affiliated colleges’ will get phased out over a period of fifteen years through a system of graded autonomy, and to be carried out in a challenge mode. NEP plans to end the fragmentation of higher education by transforming standalone educational institutions into large multidisciplinary universities. Section 12.8 states that top 100 universities in the world will be facilitated to operate in India.|
Section 10.12. states that the new regulatory system envisioned by this Policy will foster the overall culture of empowerment and autonomy to innovate, including by gradually phasing out the system of ‘affiliated colleges’ over a period of fifteen years through a system of graded autonomy, and to be carried out in a challenge mode.As of February 2017, there were 789 universities, 37,204 colleges and 11,443 stand-alone institutions in India, as per the statistics from the UGC website. These numbers would only have increased by now.
Though there is a sufficient period given for affiliated colleges to become autonomous, the route to autonomy is paved with several problems. Section 10.1 of the policy clearly states that the main thrust of this policy regarding higher education is to end the fragmentation of higher education by transforming higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters/Knowledge Hubs, each of which will aim to have 3,000 or more students. These Institutions could offer courses in local languages too to provide equity and ensure inclusion. It is easier said than done as fragmentation was consciously promoted to spread education to every nook and corner of the country. Now it is time for consolidation.
Most standalone institutions are small that run on limited budgets. They are focussed on a single subject like nursing, teacher training, or business management. It is not going to be easy for them to become large Universities offering multidisciplinary courses.Small is not beautiful anymore. What can these Institutions do for their survival?
Survival Strategies for Standalone Institutions
The policy directs that even engineering schools should move towards more liberal education with more arts and humanities, while arts and humanities students would aim to learn more science -while all will make the effort to learn more vocational subjects. Consequently, affiliated colleges and standalone institutions should network with other institutions offering complementary courses. For example, an affiliated arts college could link up with an engineering college, college of agriculture and a B.Ed. college to form a conglomerate. These clusters could also add a College of Fine arts, a Film Institute, Standalone management Institute, Physical Education College and so on. These could be geographically dispersed within a city or a district. Information Technology can be used to network and connect these institutions and form the knowledge hub. These conglomerates should cater to more than 3000 students. A conceptual model of the HEI cluster/Knowledge Hub is shown in Figure – 2 below.
A Conceptual Model of a Higher Education Cluster
These HE clusters should try to offer degree programmes as shown in Figure 1. Students could take courses from any of the cluster members. The courses could also be made available online as well as on the traditional face to face modes. An engineering college student may be required to take courses from the arts and science college; A medical college student may take courses on management form a n MBA college and so on. Additionally, they should offer innovative interdisciplinary courses, such as Artificial Intelligence in medicine which could be offered jointly by the medical and the engineering colleges. BVoc courses can be offered by different colleges by joining hands with a polytechnic college or by themselves. A list of UGC approved BVoc courses can be downloaded from https://www.ugc.ac.in/skill/Trades/Trades%20under%20B.Voc.pdf.
|Such of those standalone institutions that have money and land could add additional colleges and grow to become a MERU (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities). Others have no option but to merge and consolidate or fall by the wayside.|
Section 11.10 allows for Higher Education Institutions to offer different designs of Master’s programmes: (a) there may be a 2-year programme with the second year devoted entirely to research for those who have completed the 3-year Bachelor ’s programme; (b) for students completing a 4-year Bachelor ’s programme with Research, there could be a 1-year Master’s programme; and (c) there may be an integrated 5-year Bachelor’s/Master’s programme. Undertaking a Ph.D. shall require either a Master’s degree or a 4-year Bachelor’s degree with Research. These flexibilities should be exploited by the new HEI clusters.
Such of those standalone institutions that have money and land could add additional colleges and grow to become a MERU(Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities). Others have no option but to merge and consolidate. These newly formed clusters can optimize their resources by creating central resource pools. For example, library, online platforms, media studio, auditoriums, playgrounds and such other resources could be shared among the member institutions. Duplicates can be eliminated thereby freeing unutilized resources.
Interestingly, faculty resources too could be freed up by enabling horizontal and vertical linkages. In such a situation the policy makers will have to rethink on the students to faculty ratio.
Presumably, the new Policy would not come up with new regulations stating that the new Institutions should all be in a single location with a minimum of say, 200 acres of land. That depends on how the regulators frame exact requirements for higher education clusters.
Some Areas of Concern
The policy is certainly pro development as far as higher education is concerned. Aspects, such as, Flexibility, No Hard Separation, Holistic and ‘Rootedness’ are going to create an invigorated environment for higher education to reinvent itself. Use of technology, setting up of a credit bank, and multiple entry and exit options would be beneficial in offering world class education in India.
However, many people have apprehensions over the implementation of such a massive transformation in a large and diverse country like ours. There could be some amount of confusion for a couple of years regarding approvals and norms for accreditation. The policy envisages a ‘light but tight’ regulatory framework. We must wait and see how tight it turns out to be.
Pay packages fixed by UGC also will need a rethink. Pay should be in accordance with the contribution by the faculty. We are in a gig economy that should allow gig faculty who can teach in multiple institutions through multiple platforms. Consequently, a capable person should be able to reach as large a student population as possible and should get rewarded accordingly.
Unfortunately, no reforms have been suggested for PhD programs. Exit and entry options should be given to PhD students as well. Our quality of PhD programs needs drastic improvement and, we should free the scholars from the system of leaving him/her at the mercy of a single guide. If a student exits after a couple years into PhD, we may consider giving an MPhil or some such degree. Also, an MPhil candidate should have the option to go to a different guide and straight away get on to do research. Research scholars need to be freed from the clutches of the guide and the system.
Granting permission to foreign universities to set up shop in India has received a mixed response. While some think that the competition will help improve the quality of education in India, others feel that this would destroy the existing Indian Institutions. Again, the policies are not clear as to whether these foreign institutions will also be subjected to NAC accreditation or we would accept international accreditations, such as ABET, AACSB etc. It is anybody’s guess as to what extent these foreign Universities would teach Indian culture, Indian languages and build rootedness in our students.
Hopefully, some amendments to the policy can be expected in the coming days addressing the above concerns.