The Union Cabinet approved the new national education policy on Wednesday and with it paved the way for foreign universities to set up campuses in the country.
The new education policy, which is only the third in the country’s history after 1968 and 1986, advocates an increase in the number of off-shore campuses of Indian institutions. It also states the world’s top 100 foreign universities will be “facilitated” to operate in India through a new law.
This, effectively, reverses the BJP’s earlier stand on the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill moved by the UPA-II government. At that time, one of the central reservations on foreign universities operating in India was that they would raise the cost of education (high tuition fees, faculty poaching from public universities), rendering it out of reach for a large part of the population.
According to the HRD Ministry document, listing salient features of policy, “such (foreign) universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India.”
Aside from opening up the Indian higher education to foreign players, the new policy marks a significant shift in the format of undergraduate education with the reintroduction of the four-year multidisciplinary bachelor’s programme with exit options. While the three-year traditional BA, BSc, as well as BVoc degrees will continue, under the four-year programme students can exit after one year with a certificate, after two years with a diploma and a Bachelor’s degree after three years.
“The 4-year programme may also lead to a degree ‘with Research’ if the student completes a rigorous research project in their major area(s) of study…” the ministry document states.
The new policy has also paved the way for a single overarching regulator for the entire higher education, which will replace the University Grants Commission and the All India Council For Technical Education. The single regulator called the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will have “four independent verticals” carrying out the functions of regulation, funding, accreditation and setting standards for learning outcomes.
“The professional councils, such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), Veterinary Council of India (VCI), National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), Council of Architecture (CoA), National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) etc., will act as Professional Standard Setting Bodies (PSSBs),” the ministry’s document states.
The policy proposes phasing out of all institutions offering single streams (such as technical education) over time and the system of affiliating colleges over 15 years. All universities and colleges must aim to become multidisciplinary in future. “Even engineering institutions, such as IITs, will move towards more holistic and multidisciplinary education with more arts and humanities. Students of arts and humanities will aim to learn more science and all will make an effort to incorporate more vocational subjects and soft skills,” it states.
Interestingly, the new education policy talks about moving away “from high-stakes examinations towards more continuous and comprehensive evaluation”, even as controversy rages on over the union government directing all higher education institutions to hold exams for final year students compulsorily amidst the pandemic.
That apart, a National Research Foundation (NRF), tasked with creating a conducive ecosystem for research through funding and mentoring will be set up.