National Education Policy 2020 – an appraisal

Dr. R. K. Shivpuri
Founder Director, Centre for Detector & Related Software Technology,
University of Delhi

Higher education is the basis for knowledge creation and innovation and hence it contributes to a growing national economy. Higher Education represents the power behind a vibrant, progressive, and prosperous nation. National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 targets a complete overhaul of the higher education system to deliver high-quality education. The policy’s vision document includes the following changes in the current system:

  • Move towards higher educational institutions (HEI) consisting of large, multi-disciplinary universities and colleges, with at least one in or near every district.
  • Move towards a more multi-disciplinary undergraduate education.
  • Move towards faculty and institutional autonomy.
  • Revamp of curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and support for enhanced student experiences.
  • Maintain the integrity of faculty and institutional leadership positions through merit appointments and career progression based on teaching, research, and service.
  • Establish a National Research Foundation to fund outstanding peer-reviewed research and to actively seed research in universities and colleges.
  • Governance of HEIs by highly qualified independent boards having academic and administrative autonomy.
  • Promote a ‘light but tight’ regulatory pattern by a single regulator for higher education.

Restructure and consolidate

NEP aims to transform higher education institutions into large multi-disciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters/knowledge hubs. Vibrant communities of scholars and peers to be created to break down silos, enable students to become well-rounded across disciplines including artistic, creative, and analytic subjects. Active research communities to be created across disciplines including cross-disciplinary research, and increase resource efficiency, both material and human, across higher education.

Move to large multi-disciplinary universities and HEI clusters is thus the highest recommendation of this policy regarding the structure of higher education. India needs to create innovative individuals. This is already transforming other countries educationally and economically. Colleges to be encouraged, mentored, supported, and incentivized to gradually reach the minimum benchmarks required for each level of National Education Policy accreditation. HEIs to have the autonomy and freedom to move gradually from one category to another, based on their plans, actions, and effectiveness.

By 2040, all higher education institutions (HEIs) to become multi-disciplinary institutions and to have larger student enrolments in thousands, for optimal use of infrastructure. By 2030, there shall be at least one large multi-disciplinary HEI in or near every district. The aim is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.  Institutions to have the option to run Open Distance Learning (ODL) and online programs. Single-stream HEIs to be phased out over time, and all to move towards becoming vibrant multi-disciplinary institutions or parts of vibrant multi-disciplinary HEI clusters in order to enable and encourage high-quality multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary teaching and research across fields. Single-stream HEIs to add departments across different fields to strengthen the single stream that they currently serve. All HEIs to gradually move towards full autonomy (academic and administrative) in order to enable this vibrant culture.

Holistic and multi-disciplinary education

A holistic and multi-disciplinary education to develop all capacities of human beings -intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, emotional, and moral in an integrated manner. Such an education to help develop well-rounded individuals that possess critical capacities in fields across the arts, humanities, languages, sciences, social sciences, and professional, technical, and vocational fields; a social dynamic system of engagement; soft skills, such as communication, discussion and debate; and rigorous specialization in a chosen field or fields. Such a holistic education to be, in the long term, the approach of all undergraduate programs, including those in professional, technical, and vocational disciplines. Imaginative and flexible curricular structures to enable creative combinations of disciplines for study, and to offer multiple entries and exit points, thus removing currently prevalent rigid boundaries and creating new possibilities for life-long learning. Graduate-level, PG and doctoral education in large multi-disciplinary universities, while providing rigorous research-based specialization, to also provide opportunities for multi-disciplinary work, including in academia, government, and industry.  The curricula of all HEIs to include credit-based courses and projects in the areas of community engagement and service, environmental education, and value-based education. Environment education to include areas such as climate change, pollution, waste management, sanitation, conservation of biological diversity, management of biological resources and biodiversity, forest and wildlife conservation, and sustainable development and living.  Students at all HEIs to be provided with opportunities for internships with local industries, businesses, artists, crafts persons, etc., as well as research internships with faculty and researchers at their own or other HEIs/research institutions. The undergraduate degree to be of either 3- or 4-year duration, with multiple exit options within this period, with appropriate certifications. HEIs to have the flexibility to offer different designs of PG programs. Undertaking a Ph.D. to require either a PG degree or a 4-year Bachelor’s degree with Research. HEIs to focus on research and innovation by setting up start-up incubation centers; technology development centers; centers in frontier areas of research; greater industry-academic linkages; and interdisciplinary research including humanities and social sciences research.

Learning environment and support for students

Curriculum, pedagogy, continuous assessment, and student support are the cornerstones for quality learning. All assessment systems to also be decided by the HEIs, including those that lead to final certification. The Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) to be revised for instilling innovation and flexibility. HEIs to move to a criterion-based grading system that assesses student achievement based on the learning goals for each program, making the outcomes more comparable. HEIs to also move away from high-stakes examinations towards more continuous and comprehensive evaluation. Each institution to integrate its academic plans ranging from curricular improvement to quality of classroom transaction – into its larger Institutional Development Plan (IDP). Each institution to be committed to the holistic development of students and create strong internal systems for supporting diverse student cohorts in academic and social domains both inside and outside formal academic interactions in the classroom.


An International Students Office at each HEI hosting foreign students to be set up to coordinate all matters relating to welcoming and supporting students arriving from abroad. Research/teaching collaborations and faculty/student exchanges with high-quality foreign institutions to be facilitated. High performing Indian universities to be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries, and similarly, selected universities e.g., those from among the top 100 universities in the world to be facilitated to operate in India. Research collaboration and student exchanges between Indian institutions and global institutions to be promoted.

Motivated and capable faculty

The most important factor in the success of higher education institutions is the quality and engagement of its faculty. All HEIs to be equipped with the basic infrastructure and facilities, pleasant classroom spaces and educational technology that enables better learning experiences. Faculty to be given the freedom to design their own curricular and pedagogical approaches within the approved framework, including textbooks. Empowering the faculty to conduct innovative teaching, research, and service as they see best to be a key motivator and enabler for them to do truly outstanding, creative work. Excellence to be further incentivized through appropriate rewards, promotions, recognitions, and movement into institutional leadership. HEIs to have clearly defined, independent, and transparent processes and criteria for faculty recruitment. Whereas the current recruitment process is to be continued, a ‘tenure-track’ i.e., suitable probation period to be put in place to further ensure excellence. There shall be a fast-track promotion system for recognizing high impact research and contribution. Excellent faculty with high academic and service credentials as well as demonstrated leadership and management skills to be identified early and trained through a ladder of leadership positions.

Teacher education

Teacher education is crucial for creating a pool of teachers who are capable, dedicated and committed to give their best to the students.

The 4-year integrated B.Ed. offered by multi-disciplinary HEIs to become the minimal degree qualification for school teachers by 2030. Besides the teaching of cutting-edge pedagogy, teacher education to include an understanding of sociology, history, science, psychology, early childhood care and education, foundational literacy and numeracy and more. Scholarships for meritorious students to be established for the purpose of attracting outstanding candidates to the 4-year, 2-year, and 1-year B.Ed. programs. All fresh Ph.D. entrants, irrespective of discipline, to be required to take credit-based courses in teaching/education/pedagogy/writing related to their chosen Ph.D. subject during their doctoral training period. Ph.D. students to also have a minimum number of hours of actual teaching experience gathered through teaching assistantships. Ph.D. programs at universities around the country to be reoriented for this purpose. Continuous professional development of college and university teachers to continue through the existing institutional arrangements.

Vocational education

NEP requires the integration of vocational education programs into mainstream education in all education institutions. Beginning with vocational exposure at early ages in middle and secondary school, quality vocational education to be integrated smoothly into higher education. It is to ensure that every child learns at least one vocation and is exposed to several more. This will lead to emphasizing the dignity of labour and importance of various vocations involving Indian arts and artisanship. By 2025, at least 50% of learners through the school and higher education system to have exposure to vocational education, for which a clear action plan with targets and timelines to be developed. Vocational education to be integrated in the educational offerings of all secondary schools in a phased manner over the next decade. Secondary schools to also collaborate with ITIs, polytechnics, local industry, etc. Skill labs to also be set up and created in the schools in a hub and spoke model which will allow other schools to use the facility. Higher education institutions to offer vocational education either on their own or in partnership with industry and NGOs HEIs to also be allowed to conduct short-term certificate courses in various skills including soft skills.

Leadership for higher education institutions

All leadership positions and Heads of institutions to be offered to those with high academic qualifications and demonstrable administrative and leadership capabilities along with abilities to manage complex situations. Leaders of an HEI to demonstrate strong alignment to Constitutional values and the overall vision of the institution, along with attributes such as a strong social commitment, belief in teamwork, pluralism, ability to work with diverse people, and a positive outlook. Outstanding leaders to be identified and developed early, working their way through a ladder of leadership positions.

Other issues

There are other areas such as adult education and lifelong learning and also Indian languages, arts and culture which the NEP has strongly supported for deep study. All goals are clearly defined in NEP and what is now needed is the information on how to reach there.

There are several other issues related to HEI that need a deep analysis.

Commercialization of education – At present, education is one of the most sought after business venture since it provides fast and easy access to profits. It is not surprising that so many educational institutions have mushroomed. It is not clear from the NEP-2020 how the private HEIs are to re-evaluate this attitude and not bother about profits and take steps to implement the tenets of the new education policy. The question to ask is why should they do so and what is their incentive?  We know of institutions that begin as a school and in time they claim to have progressed to over a dozen campuses including one in USA, UK, Dubai etc. and using the ‘not-for-profit’ plank, are now a university. ‘Serving the nation’ sounds fine so far as words go… but let us get real.


The effectiveness of any policy depends upon its implementation. Implementation of NEP is to be piloted by the Union Ministry of education, Central Advisory Board of Education, NCERT, SCERT, State departments of education, the regulatory bodies of schools and higher education with precisely defined timelines. All bodies to have to act in tandem and coordinate with each other. This is a non-trivial task. However, the road map to arrive at the desired results is unclear.

Financial support

In 2018-19, we have spent 3% of our GDP on Education. NEP envisages an expenditure of around 6% on education. This is a huge jump and deserves to be applauded. Given the current economic scenario, when the GDP is showing negative growth, it is difficult to perceive when this increase will be manifest in real terms. In such a scenario, the timelines mentioned in NEP-2020 may not be as practical as envisaged.

It must also be mentioned that NEP is a bold and imaginative attempt to overhaul the education system which has been waiting for radical reforms.  As mentioned earlier in this article, the roadmap visibility is getting smoggier in this period of global crisis.

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