The fine-print of the National Education Policy 2020

The NEP 2020 replaced an education policy that was in place since 1986, and recommended a major overhaul in India’s education system at all levels from school to higher education. In the last two years, the government has announced various reforms, from introducing a common admission test for undergraduate and postgraduate admissions to offering multiple entry-exit options, a major push for online education to opening doors for foreign universities in India, many of which have already started taking shape at the ground level.

The recent rationalization exercise was done to reduce students’ burden in view of covid-19 pandemic last year. The changes in textbooks in line with NEP are yet to happen.

Common University Entrance Exam or CUET

The government introduced a common entrance test at both undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate (PG) levels, last year. The computer-based exam is conducted by the National Testing Agency, an autonomous body under the union ministry of education. The idea was to provide “equal opportunity” to students across education boards, and reduce their burden of appearing for multiple entrance exams.

A section of teachers opposed it because they thought that class 12 exams will become irrelevant since they won’t play any role in students’ admissions to colleges. They are also of the opinion that the universities will lose autonomy of deciding their own admission criteria. 

While CUET-UG is mandatory for all central universities, it is optional for state, private and deemed to be universities. CUET-PG is optional for central universities, for now.

The debut edition of CUET-UG was marred by technical glitches but the number of participating universities increased to 242 from 90 last year. The number of applications also rose by 41%.

“The common entrance exam has ensured equal access for enrollment of candidates from different disciplines, examination boards, regions and demographics across the country,” said Delhi University (DU) Vice Chancellor (VC) Yogesh Singh.

While the university had adopted CUET-UG last year, it has decided to consider CUET-PG scores for admissions to all postgraduate courses from academic year 2023-24.

Multiple entry-exits for a four-year programme

The NEP 2020 advocated four-year undergraduate programmes and allows multiple entry and exits. Students can exit after completing a year of an undergraduate programme with a certificate, or after two years with a diploma, or after three years with a bachelor’s degree, or after four years with an honours/research degree.

Last December, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is the regulator of higher education institutions in the country, released final guidelines and directed universities to adopt them. Several, including Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Banaras Hindu University (BHU), have already adopted the programme. In fact, in DU, the 2022-23 batch was enrolled under the four-year programme itself.

UGC chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar said four-year undergraduate programmes allowed students to develop capabilities across a range of disciplines, focusing on major and minor subjects as per their choice. “Multiple Entry and Exit provide much-needed flexibility and appropriate exit options for learners who may discontinue their studies in different phases and wish to re-enter to continue higher-level education,” he said.

Several faculty members, meanwhile, have called it a “dilution” of graduation degree.

“Students will spend three semesters on studying numerous general courses and will only study the core discipline in semesters IV, V and VI. The last year is to be spent on research mainly. In effect, it will lead to massive dilution of Honors graduate courses as compared to the current 3-year degree. Besides, it increases the time spent on and the cost towards acquiring an undergraduate degree,” said Abha Dev Habib, an associate professor at DU’s Miranda House College.

With high unemployment rates even for students with college degrees, several academics raise doubts about the employability of students who exit the education stream with only a diploma or a certificate. Instead, the focus should have been to ensure more technical educational opportunities.

The UGC has also allowed the students to pursue two full time, same-level, degree programmes simultaneously. The two programmes opted by the students at the same time have to be of the same level. For instance, they can only pursue two undergraduate or two postgraduate, or two diploma degrees together. They can either pursue one course offline and another online, or both offline or both the course online or in distance mode.

An ABC platform

To enable multiple entry and exits, the NEP 2020 advocated bringing all recognised higher education institutions (HEIs) under the ambit of the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) that would allow students to switch between institutions, as well as enter or exit from the programme as they deem fit.

The ABC is a digital repository of credits earned: students can choose to study one course in a year in one institution and switch to another one the next year. The framework also allows students to pursue courses online and earn credits. In case students want to exit after one or two years of their undergraduate programme, their earned credits will remain safe in their ABC account, and if they want to resume their studies later, they will continue from there.

According to the ABC’s official website, so far, as many as 1,201 higher education institutions have registered for the ABC platform, and 8.5 million ABC IDs have been created.

National Credit Framework 

The UGC on April 11 released the country’s first National Credit Framework (NCrF) to integrate the credits earned through school education, higher education and vocational and skill education. While a credit-based framework is already in place in technical and higher education, it aims to include school and vocational education. The idea is to assign credits on the basis of learning hours from class 5 to PhD level. The NCrF will be operationalised through the Academic Bank of Credits. The total hours of learning per credit will be 30.

The framework also allows to “creditise” every learning, subject to its assessment. It means credits can be earned through classroom teaching/learning, laboratory work, innovation labs, sports and games, yoga, physical activities, performing arts, music, handicraft work, social work, NCC, among others. It also allows students to earn credits from their expertise in various aspects of the Indian Knowledge System (IKS), including Vedas and Puranas.

Professors of Practice

The UGC has asked all universities and colleges to engage professors of practice — industry experts and professionals — to develop a connection between HEIs and the industry. According to the guidelines, those eligible include distinguished experts who have made remarkable contributions in their professions from various fields such as engineering, science, technology, entrepreneurship, commerce, social sciences, media, literature, fine arts, civil services, armed forces, legal profession and public administration among others.

Online education

In September last year, the UGC issued guidelines recommending all Higher education institutions (HEIs) in India to transform themselves into multidisciplinary institutions. It also proposed to allow all affiliated colleges to become degree-awarding multidisciplinary autonomous institutions by 2035. To that end, the UGC amended the norms for online and open learning to allow autonomous colleges in India to offer online and distance education programmes from the 2022-23 academic session without seeking prior approval. The amended norms will also allow them to employ education technology firms to develop content and evaluation systems.

“Students can now take up to 40% of their total credits from online and ODL platforms such as the government’s SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds),” the UGC chairperson said.

Amendments in PhD admission criteria

The UGC issued revised “Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of Ph.D. Degree, Regulations, 2022” in November last year.

Under the new rules, the eligibility criteria has been revised after the discontinuation of MPhil degree, as recommended by NEP 2020, and introduction of four-year undergraduate programmes. Now, candidates having a four-year bachelor’s degree with research with minimum 7.5 CGPA will be eligible for admission to PhD programmes, along with first and second year post graduate students (after completing a four-year programme). Besides, candidates who are pursuing or have already completed an MPhil will continue to remain eligible to take admission in PhD programmes.

The new norms also removed the mandatory requirement of publishing research papers in peer reviewed journals for the submission of PhD thesis — something that academics argue will compromise the standard of research in India

In January, JNU adopted new rules for research courses and waived off the requirement for publication before the award of PhD degrees —. Other universities will adopt the new norms from this academic session onwards.

International universities

The NEP 2020 included new guidelines for academic collaborations between Indian and foreign universities, opening doors for foreign universities to set up campuses in India, and also allowed top Indian higher education institutions to set up their campuses abroad.

According to UGC officials, so far, at least 49 universities from across the globe have, so far, started the talks with their Indian counterparts and some of them have already started the process to offer joint or dual degrees.

Two Australian universities — Wollongong University and Deakin University — will soon set up campuses at Gujarat’s International Finance Tec-City or GIFT City. Deakin University has already signed an MoU with the Indian government, and the campus is likely to become functional by July 2024.

Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi or IIT-D is in the process of setting up a campus in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and it will be the first Indian higher education institution to set up a campus abroad. It is expected to start the Abu Dhabi campus by August-September 2024.

“The UGC has enabled Indian universities to offer Twinning, Joint, and Dual Degrees with foreign universities. Establishing the Office for International Affairs in HEIs is a single point of contact for facilitating international students,” chairperson Kumar said.

Meanwhile, the UGC will soon release final guidelines for foreign universities to set up campuses in India, other than the GIFT city. It will also release separate guidelines for Indian universities, which come under its jurisdiction, to set up campuses abroad.

“Indian knowledge System”

In line with NEP 2020, which advocated that high quality higher education should be made available in regional or Indian languages, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) allowed its affiliated colleges to introduce engineering and other technical courses in regional languages. So far, around 40 engineering colleges have introduced courses in 12 languages. The council has also translated course material for the same in these languages.

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