National Education Policy 2016: India Deserves Better. Now.
India’s higher education system is in crisis. It is disconnected from
the needs and aspirations of the students and parents. It also fails to
serve both industry and society and does a disservice to the nation.
This is not news for anyone who has studied in India. Nor is it a
surprise to politicians, bureaucrats, or corporate executives. Such is
the extent of the crisis that reports and leading lights in the nation
are deeply alarmed:
“There is a quiet crisis in higher education in India which runs deep.” — Sam Pitroda, Chairman, National Knowledge Commission, Report to the Nation (2006–2009).
“Just pumping money and resources into a fundamentally broken university system is a mistake.” — Boston College’s Philip G. Altbach and Tata Institute of Social Sciences N. Jayaram wrote in 2009.
More recently in 2014-15, when this author met tens of top corporate executives, the assessment was even more blunt — “There is tree rot.”, “Higher education has failed India.”, “Sick system that is not worried that it is sick.”
Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy, which
was chaired by Mr. T.S.R. Subramanian, and is the precursor to the
National Education Policy (NEP) 2016, noted that, “It will not be an exaggeration to say that our education system is in disarray.”
The entire nation is paying a huge price for its dysfunctional system.
Is another NEP or commission the answer?
Far too many committees and commissions have studied India’s education
system since independence. Before NEP 2016, there was the National
Policy on Education (NPE) in 1968 and 1986. Just in the last decade,
there have been several national level efforts such as the National
Knowledge Commission (2006-2009), the Yash Pal Committee (2009), and the
Kakodkar Committee (2011). All of them are unanimous about the
importance of education and the deep crisis. It would not be surprising
that all these well-meaning commission reports are gathering dust on
In the same vein as the past reports, NEP 2016 has also done a
remarkable job in acknowledging key issues facing India’s education
landscape — none more important than the severe lack of access to
excellent education at all levels. It also recognizes the diversity of
needs across India’s vast economic, social, cultural, and demographic
landscape. If one reads the draft NEP 2016, especially where it extols
the virtues of education, it would appear that education is one of the
top three priorities of the nation. It is not.
Alas, the “crisis” or “disarray” prove the point that education has not
received the level of importance and attention it deserves.
How can NEP 2016 deliver to the nation and its people?
First, Prime Minister Modi and the Minister of Human Resources
Development (HRD) Javadekar must acknowledge the severity and urgency of
the crisis. Second, they must tackle it with the same fervor that made
the Green Revolution a success. The nation needs a Gray Revolution for
its higher education system. It must focus on three key dimensions — 1)
scale and speed, 2) scope and structure, and 3) excellence and impact.
This author’s book Building Golden India: How to unleash India's vast potential and transform its higher education system. Now. examines Indian higher education in great detail and proposes a comprehensive framework as a solution.
The prerequisites to transform the system are an inspirational vision
and a capable team. It also needs to clear the stumbling blocks that are
coming in the way to achieving success.
First the prime minister himself has to forge a vision of “excellent higher education for all”.
Second, the leader is only as good as his lieutenants. The prime
minister needs fresh blood in his team. Those who have created the
crisis cannot be trusted to solve it. New people with deep expertise and
proven track record in leading world-class multidisciplinary research
universities are exactly the minds the prime minister and HRD minister
needs. This team also needs important stakeholders such as talented and
dedicated students, committed parents, young professionals, and leading
entrepreneurs and industry executives.
Third, the license, control, and inspector raj has not worked.
Regulations are stifling. They lead to corruption and mediocrity. Thus,
it is time to eliminate archaic regulations. Under British rule, jobs
were available for Indian students who passed the British-approved
matriculation examinations or graduated from colleges recognized by the
British government. University Grants Commission (UGC), All India
Council for Technical Education (AICTE), and regulatory bodies have
perpetuated this discriminatory practice that has only led to rampant
corruption to get approvals and licenses. This imperial-era practice
must be immediately stopped.
Similarly, the regulatory bodies must not be involved in licensing,
controlling, or inspecting roles. Also, they must not be involved in
directing curriculum, the number of seats, or fees. These decisions
belong to each college and university. Thus, the role and existence of
regulatory bodies such as UGC, AICTE, Medical Council of India, and the
Bar Council must also be reexamined. Any future role on their part must
also be conducted in a single-window mode for those who may still need
Tsunami-scale waves of young men and women are arriving at the rate of
20-26 million per year. They will require education and jobs. The clock
is ticking. The time for seizing the opportunity is now. It is time for
India and its leaders to start with a bold vision. It must empower a
team of capable, dedicated, and driven people to bring that vision to
reality. India deserves better. Now.
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