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NEP 2020: Reimagining and transforming thefuture of Indian higher education

The launch of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in India marks the silver lining during these unfortunate times of COVID-19, which have yet again highlighted the importance of education in transforming the future of a nation. After nearly 34 years, the policy comes as a beacon of hope and puts forth an outstanding vision statement that will hopefully bring the desired transformation to the Indian Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

Indian Higher Education is marked by the complexities of a large student population, talent demands of a thriving demographic dividend, and its wide socio-economic diversity. This inspiring policy document shows promise to harness the extraordinary potential of our institutions to address the two-fold requirement of equity of access while driving greater quality in education.

The NEP2020 has identified important areas of development which can be categorized into 10 key milestones for the Indian higher education system.

1. Multidisciplinary, holistic and liberal education - It refers to the importance of literary works such as ‘Kadambari’ by Banabhatta as per which good education is defined by‘knowledge of 64 kalas’, thereby laying emphasis on the study of the arts in the development of well-rounded students andthe required balance of scientific fields, vocational fields, professional fields, liberal arts, and even soft-skills.

2. Enhanced student experience – It has addresses the underlying constraints in improving the student experience and the need for development of curriculum, examinations, pedagogy, scholarships, internationalization, emotional and physical wellbeing.

3. Faculty development and teacher education – It appreciates the importance and role of faculty in higher education, and identifies some key measures which will be required for faculty autonomy, transparent recruitment, career development, and also for the process improvement inteaching education to attract better talent into the education sector.

4. Researchecosystem - It establishes the role of research productivity, and innovation in the nation-building process, and envisaged a transparent, and a more well-funded research ecosystem via the centralized National Research Foundation.

5. Regulatory reformsand autonomy– Itidentifies key reforms to streamline the management of regulations, establish bodies with independent roles, and eliminate any conflict of interest. Most importantly, it also identifies regulations, as defined by the policy as ‘light but tight’, which will provide HEIs and faculty the desired autonomy.

6. Balancingequity andquality – It balances the issues of quality and equity of access. While there are reforms focused on curriculum and academic revisions, there is alsoan emphasis on how to make our HEIs and curriculum more inclusive to improve the access of education for the socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and students with special needs, and also strive for improved gender diversity.

7. Consolidation of HEIs– It recognizesa range of challenges that come in managing over 50,000 HEIs across India today, and thereby recommended the formation of Multidisciplinary Universities, or clusters, which allow better governance and management of Universities across India.

8. Public funding, private philanthropy: It strengthens the framework for funding, to enable greater investment in HEIs, and private philanthropy. It also recognizes the future of publicprivate collaboration.

9. Governance and leadership: It highlights the importance of governance and leadership in the administration and institutionbuilding efforts, and the need for a focused vision of HEIs in the format of a well-formulated Institutional Development Plan.

10. Internationalization, accreditation and digital learning ¬It aims to strengthen the growth of internationalisation and global partnerships with leading universities around the world. It takesin to account accreditation and highperformance of universities, including rankingsseriously. It envisages the need for providing significant support for online distance learning, and digitization of educationin enabling greater equity of access to education.

The NEP2020 also envisions a transformation in the regulatory architecture of the higher education system to create a comprehensive and integrated higher education commission, besides renaming the ‘HRD Ministry’ as the ‘Ministry of Education’.

While the NEP2020 has indeed laid down a strong foundation for our future, it will take commitment, investment of resources, recognition of institutional challenges and behavioral aspects, and cohesive collaboration amongst the government, regulators and HEIs to realize the vision ingrained within this policy. Therefore, following are the five key areas of reform, re-imagination and transformation which will need the commitment of all the stakeholders of Indian Higher Education.

Trust and collaboration: A culture of respect, trust, collaboration and collegiality needs to be created amongst the government agencies, regulatory bodies and HEIs. At present, this is a limitation which has constrained the effort to develop a collaborative and robustsystem.

Institutional autonomy and independence: HEIs need to be empowered with greater institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and operational independence to take decisions with responsibility and accountability vested within the institutions themselves.

Effective engagement of HEIs: HEIs should be directly involved in positions of consultation to the government agencies and regulatory bodies, especially while creating new regulations or amending existing regulations that may impact institutions in any manner. It is key to also bridge the gap between HEIs, the government and private organizations to create a symbiotic and mutuallybeneficial ecosystem.

Transparency and accountability: More transparent and accountable mechanisms need to be implemented for swift decision-making within government agencies and regulatory bodies in a timebound manner to overcome the numerous bottlenecks in various aspects of decision-making.

Empowering IoEs: We need to empower the ‘Institutions of Eminence’ and those that have attained ‘Graded Autonomy’ to fulfil the vision of increasing the global footprint of Indian HEIs and achieve high global rankings. There is an urgent need for providing more autonomy and freedom to the IoEs and similar institutions.

This is indeed a moment of a potential revolution in the Indian Higher Education. The timely and methodical implementation of the policy recommended changes in synchronization with the above mentioned additional reforms will indeed allow evolution of our HEIs into world-class institutions and enable India’s transformation into a knowledge society; and the government, regulatory bodies and HEIs will need to collaborate and work in unison to make this vision a reality.

Professor (Dr.) C. Raj Kumar, a Rhodes Scholar, is the Founding Vice Chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) in India.