INDIAN EDUCATION DIALOGUES : Building World Class Universities and the Implementation of the National Education Policy 2020
Chennai, 22 April: The National Education Policy 2020 had undergone a comprehensive consultative process with all key stakeholders to create a visionary policy that speaks to the aspirations of young India. It has been two years since the NEP-2020 was launched and it is an opportune time to take stock of what has happened and the way forward.
Skills like critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, combining learning and knowledge with application, are growing in relevance. Today’s world is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, in which the only constant is change. This requires the development of leaders who can think on their feet, innovate, and find solutions to a never-ending series of business and people problems. In this regard, a multidisciplinary system of education, as suggested by the NEP (National Education Policy) 2020, is an aspiration to provide students with a well-rounded, holistic and flexible education.
The recommendations on higher education received in the past year have been engaging. Public policy of any kind requires a lot of effort in all stages of the policy-making cycle. Harold Lasswell, at the University of Chicago and Yale University, developed a multi-dimensional model of effective policy-making that is used even today. The five dimensions of his model are: agenda setting; policy formation; decision-making; policy implementation; and policy evaluation. Policy-makers around the world have learnt enormously from Lasswell’s model. The current times and the unique challenges and opportunities that India faces demand a reassessment of the model.
I propose three additional dimensions between the policy formation and the decision-making process: creating awareness among all stakeholders; building consensus among institutions; developing institutional mechanisms to support the policy.
So far, the NEP-2020 has focused on the three proposed dimensions. Stakeholders are seeing the efforts of the Government of India towards ensuring that the policy is implemented in earnest. Since the launch of NEP, the government has been preparing plans for its implementation.
However, vibrant democracies such as India, where ‘education’ is on the Concurrent List of the Constitution, require deliberations, debates and discussions at all levels of the government and regulatory architecture, and among different types of higher education institutions (HEIs).
The three successful outcomes of the last year are:
1. Extensive efforts to create national, regional and state-level awareness relating to NEP with the active participation of stakeholders. It has created a collective consciousness of NEP among the members of the education community, which is now much more prepared to implement the policy.
2. Concerted efforts by the government and regulatory bodies in galvanising intellectual consciousness among the HEIs. Other than understanding the policy better, it has empowered the HEIs to take ownership of the policy. The HEIs, with support from the UGC, AICTE and AIU, have rendered yeoman service for building consensus around NEP.
3. One of the major challenges in the implementation of any policy is the absence of relevant institutional mechanisms that can work towards implementation. While some efforts have been made to put in place a few institutional mechanisms for supporting the implementation of NEP, a lot more needs to be done. The higher education community is concerned about pathological callousness, institutionalised inertia and irresponsible indifference that can adversely impact the implementation of NEP-2020.
I propose five steps that will ensure that NEP is implemented effectively in a time-bound manner:
1. Prime Minister’s Advisory Council on implementation of NEP (PMAC): The PM has spoken on several occasions about NEP-2020 and its transformative potential for the future of India. To take advantage of the demographic dividend, this must be led from the highest levels of the state apparatus. The PMAC, chaired by the PM, will be the nodal agency to coordinate with all institutions to ensure the successful implementation of NEP.
2. Education Minister’s Steering Committee on implementation of NEP (EMSC): Constituted in the Ministry of Education, the EMSC will be working continuously with all stakeholders to identify and resolve bottlenecks in the implementation. Chaired by the Union Education Minister, it will be responsible for taking complete ownership of the implementation process and will work closely with all other regulatory bodies.
3. National Higher Education Ministers’ Council for implementation of NEP (NHEMC): The NHEMC is an important initiative that needs to be created with all education ministers of the states and chaired by the Union Minister of Education, with the Union Education Secretary as its Member-Secretary. The success of NEP depends significantly on the work that must take place in the states; there is a need for state governments to work closely.
4. Empowered Standing Committee on Legal and Regulatory Reforms for implementation of NEP (ESC): A gap between the vision of NEP and the existing legal and regulatory framework is a major challenge in its implementation, which requires intervention. Chaired by the Union Education Secretary, the ESC should be empowered to propose legal and regulatory reforms across the education sector to help implement the NEP.
5. Vice-Chancellors’ Working Group for implementation of NEP (VCWG): The Vice-Chancellors/Directors represent the most important constituency for the implementation of NEP in higher education. The VCWG, under the chairmanship of the UGC Chairman, with members as select VCs/Directors of HEIs, can work towards implementing NEP.
Every effort in policy-making requires a significant impetus to capacity-building. These measures will ensure that we create a robust institutional architecture that will leave no stone unturned in the process of NEP implementation.
The inspiring vision of NEP can be effectively implemented only if we are ready to establish institutional mechanisms outlined above to build the necessary capacity.
A Better Learning Method
Assessments that integrate the humanities and arts with STEM subjects have consistently shown positive learning outcomes, including increased creativity and innovation, critical thinking and higher-order thinking capacities. Learning remains a systematic process irrespective of the area of study. Sports psychology, for example, can help a sportsperson regulate their emotions, manage distractions and perform under pressure. According to Kamini Vidisha, founder, ACadru, an online learning platform, “Today, an MBA is a generalist course and exposes students to [various] methods of management. When this is connected with a strong specialisation like finance, students are better equipped to handle the requirements of working in a team.”
The speed at which the world is shrinking has created the need for aware and educated individuals and one can no longer continue to live in a bubble of limited knowledge and understanding. Information of all kinds is thrown at us now from all around the world. Holistic education and skills will thus help students to make sense of the world and all its aspects. This means that someone with exposure or specialisation in a combination of topics can apply themselves to the changing world in a far more effective way.
The proposed introduction to the concept of multi-disciplinary learning in NEP 2020 will help make future generations of students more multi-faceted professionals with better analytical and problem-solving skills. Says Sivaramakrishnan Venkateswaran, managing director, Oxford University Press India, “Learners are seeking newer and unconventional career paths and our learning pedagogies must be in sync with those aspirations. There is a growing demand for subject combinations, flexibility in choosing streams based on learner interest and ease of entry and exit from courses, all emanating from contemporary career choices emerging in the domestic and international job market.”
Pulse on Future
The current education system will need to undergo a complete re-imagination and transformation at all levels including governance, disciplines, institutional capacity, regulatory reforms, curriculum, faculty development and student initiatives to achieve the desired multidisciplinarity, says professor Rajkumar. He adds, “The institutions will need to expand their horizons to incorporate multiple disciplines. The curriculum structure will need to evolve and become more flexible to enable students to have greater freedom of choice in the subjects they study.”
For instance, in course offerings, the availability of multidisciplinary, cross-listed electives is a useful way to encourage students to think and learn outside their chosen subject areas. This, in turn, will require faculty members to evolve their teaching and assessment methodologies. Universities may also need to undergo infrastructure upgrades to incorporate holistic learning through conscious and deliberate design of their physical infrastructure and facilities.
With the mainstreaming of automation and artificial intelligence, the jobs of the future will require skills such as critical thinking, logical reasoning, problem solving and soft skills. These skills also help inculcate lateral thinking, which is necessary to solve modern-day business problems. Says Dr Sarkar, “Further, such an education develops all capacities of human beings—intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, emotional and ethical, in an integrated manner. In addition to being essential for success at the workplace, they teach how to learn instead of what to learn. These skills enable lifelong learning and equip students not just for a career but for life.”
This multidisciplinary approach to education is needed now more than ever before. The pros of this approach, in particular, are that it makes the youth more evolved as responsible leaders of the future, diversifies their perspectives, and teaches them to look towards building solutions that take into consideration multiple perspectives. It also allows students to explore various territories of careers, without being bound to any one area that they are otherwise compelled to choose early on in their academic journey. However, it must be ensured that students receive the right counselling, mentoring and guidance, so that they can reap the benefits of this approach.