NEP 2020: What reforms are expected in India’s higher education?

  • HT looks at how, if implemented, the new UGC reforms will change the higher education system in India.
The UGC on Saturday issued draft guidelines recommending all Higher education institutions (HEIs) in India to transform themselves into multidisciplinary institutions. (HT File Photo) PREMIUM
The UGC on Saturday issued draft guidelines recommending all Higher education institutions (HEIs) in India to transform themselves into multidisciplinary institutions. (HT File Photo)
Published on Mar 09, 2022 04:10 PM IST
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New Delhi: The University Grants Commission (UGC) has recently announced to introduce several reforms in higher education in line with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

Amending norms by allowing autonomous colleges to offer online degrees; proposing the transformation of all higher education institutions into multidisciplinary institutions; provision of dual degrees by collaboration between institutions; introduction of more courses in regional languages. These are among the major reforms proposed by the higher education regulator in the last few weeks.

HT looks at how, if implemented, these reforms will change the higher education system in India.

Multidisciplinary institutions

The UGC on Saturday issued draft guidelines recommending all Higher education institutions (HEIs) in India to transform themselves into multidisciplinary institutions. Under the NEP 2020, India seeks to establish a large multidisciplinary higher education institution in or near every district by 2030.

The Commission recommends several measures to transform existing institutions, including academic collaboration between them through clusters, merger of several single-stream institutions, and addition of more departments to existing institutions. The higher education regulator also proposed to allow all affiliated colleges to become degree-awarding multidisciplinary autonomous institutions by 2035.

The draft guidelines call for collaboration between the institutes to offer dual degrees. Under this arrangement, single-stream institutions can integrate their programmes with those of nearby multidisciplinary institutions.

Under the collaborative system, students can pursue their first degree from one institute and a second degree from another institution. Upon completing the programme, they will either receive a degree from their parent college indicating the courses undertaken at the partner institution, or they will be awarded the dual degree jointly by the partnering institutions. In case of collaboration between two colleges of the same university, the affiliating university will award the degree.

If implemented, single-stream institutions offering degrees in engineering, medicine, humanities and management will have to transform themselves into multidisciplinary institutions.

Several HEIs in India already offer multidisciplinary education. For instance, many IITs have robust management and humanities departments. The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, which is primarily known for its courses in social sciences, is now offering courses in management and engineering as well.

Major push for online degrees

The UGC last week announced that it has 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, provided they meet certain criteria. The amended norms will also allow them to employ education technology firms to develop content and evaluation systems.

At present, only universities and their constituent colleges meeting the above criteria are allowed to offer online and open or distance degrees. Currently, 59 universities offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses online.

But now, all HEIs with valid accreditation by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, a minimum score of 3.26 on a 4-point scale, or a rank in the top 100 in the university or corresponding categories of the National Institutional Ranking Framework at least twice in three preceding cycles at the time of application, will be permitted to offer distance and online learning without the prior approval of the Commission, the amended guidelines recommend.

The amendment has been made as a part of implementing the National Education Policy 2020 that aims to achieve at least a 50% gross enrolment ratio by 2035.

The regulator intends to allow top-rated autonomous colleges to offer online degrees from the 2022-23 academic session, UGC chairperson Jagadesh Kumar said. “We have around 900 autonomous colleges at present. The colleges meeting the criteria will not require permission from the UGC to start online courses. Besides, the other colleges which won’t meet the criteria will also be able to apply with the UGC for permission to offer online and distance education. Even those colleges will be given permission after appropriate verification,” he said.

Four-year undergraduate programmes, multiple entry-exit

The NEP 2020 advocates four-year undergraduate programmes and allows multiple entry and exit. It effectively means that students can exit after completing one year of an undergraduate programme with a certificate, after two years with a diploma, after three years with a bachelor’s degree, or can complete four years and get an honours degree with a honours/research degree.

UGC last month issued a draft National Higher Educational Qualification Framework (NHEQF) fixing the number of credits required to clear the different levels of the four-year undergraduate programme, postgraduate degrees and doctoral degrees.

As per the draft NHEQF, as many as 40 credits will be required for a certificate, 80 for a diploma, 120 for a degree and 160 credits will be needed for a degree with honours/research.

“A credit is a unit by which the coursework is measured. It determines the number of hours of instruction required per week for the duration of a semester (15-16 weeks). One credit is equivalent to one hour of teaching (lecture or tutorial) or two hours of practical or fieldwork per week. Credit is awarded to a learner in recognition of the verified achievement of defined learning outcomes at a specified level,” the draft added.

Several universities, including the Delhi University, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, have decided to implement four-year programmes with multiple exit and entry points from this academic year.

All HEIs on the ABC platform

To enable multiple entry and exit, the Centre has brought all recognised higher education institutions, irrespective of their accreditation or rankings, under the ambit of the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC). This will enable students to switch between institutions and multiple entries and exits to and from the programme.

The ABC framework is part of NEP 2020, and will allow higher education institutions to maintain a digital repository of credits earned by students; under ABC, 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.

Any university or college, irrespective of ranking, can participate and register to come under the ABC framework. This will include both central and state universities, deemed-to-be universities and autonomous institutions.

Officials at the UGC said that as many as 40 central universities have already decided to adopt ABC. “ABC gives liberty to students to choose the pace of their studies, tailor their degrees, and enable multiple entry-multiple exit for students to complete their degrees as per their time preferences. It was important that all higher education institutions be allowed to opt for it,” said a senior official.

Common Entrance Test

The government has already announced plans to conduct a common entrance test for all central universities from this year on. The common university entrance test (CUET) will be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) for admission to all undergraduate and postgraduate courses. It is likely to be held between June and July.

The CUET, envisaged under the NEP 2020, will be a computerized exam. It will be conducted in 13 languages: English, Hindi, Gujarati, Assamese, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu.

While the government is yet to release the modalities, the CUET is likely to have two components — an aptitude test and a subject-specific test. The aptitude part will consist of questions on reading comprehension, verbal ability, logical and analytical reasoning and general awareness. The second part will be subject-specific. That means based on questions related to the stream in which the candidate wants to take admission.

It is likely that there will be a single application form for all universities for CUET. Besides, some weightage will also be given to the class 12 marks of students for undergraduate admissions. After its implementation, students will not have to appear for multiple entrance tests. It will also help do away with the skyrocketing cut-offs of admissions.

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    Fareeha Iftikhar is a principal correspondent with the national political bureau of the Hindustan Times. She tracks the education ministry, and covers the beat at the national level for the newspaper. She also writes on issues related to gender, human rights and different policy matters.

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