The National Education Policy 2020, which was announced by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar on 29 July, has been hailed for proposing multidisciplinary education, clearing the path for foreign universities to come to India and offering multiple entry and exit points in higher education.
However, Debaditya Bhattacharya, editor of two volumes that interrogate the idea of universities, told HuffPost India in an interview that the invitation to top 100 foreign universities will only increase the cost of good education as they will be allowed to design their own fee structure.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also hailed the multidisciplinary approach and the multiple entry and exit point proposal in the policy document.
But Bhattacharya, who teaches at Kazi Nazrul University in West Bengal, said that a multidisciplinary education will only aim at a superficial cognitive training of students and will not arm them with any critical knowledge of their discipline.
“Universities and colleges will now become factories for mass producing semi-skilled labour,” he said.
Another point of contention in the policy has been the setting up of a Board of Governors for universities. NEP states that through a suitable system of graded accreditation and graded autonomy, all higher education institutions in India will aim to become independent self-governing institutions.
“A Board of Governors (BoG) will be established consisting of a group of highly qualified, competent, and dedicated individuals having proven capabilities and a strong sense of commitment to the institution,” says the policy document.
The policy makes it clear that the BoG will make all appointments and take all decisions related to governance but has not outlined how the members of this board will be chosen. The Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) has criticised the proposal on these grounds.
In an interview Bhattacharya explained the contours and possible ramifications of the NEP. Edited excerpts:
1. The NEP proposes that selected foreign universities will be facilitated to operate in India. What do you think will be the impact of this? How will it impact Indian institutions?
The invitation given to top 100 foreign universities is going to increase the cost of good education. The ploy that is being used in trying to bring them to the country is that it will bolster quality concerns within higher education. What the government is trying to say is that in order to be entitled to quality education, you will have to pay more. Foreign universities are being imagined as enabling some kind of a credit transfer — which means students studying in other universities should be able to also credit courses from the foreign universities, which will be charging fee at a far higher rate. If there are foreign universities coming and setting up campuses in India, they will come here to make profit.
Foreign universities will have a different legislative framework which will enable them to charge fee at their own will. They will be able to design and frame their own fee structure. There is a particular clause in the policy document that says that the top foreign universities, which will set up campuses in India, will function under the same legislative framework as the type 1 universities in India. Type 1 universities are being called the research universities so the policy document is basically saying that public research universities will fall under the same legislative framework.
Now, if the foreign universities will have specific clauses which allow them to charge fee at their will, then one can obviously assume that the type 1 research universities will also be able to design their fee structures at will. This is basically saying that these type 1 universities are not going to be available to everybody. Only people who will be able to pay in order to afford a research education in the public universities of the country or the foreign universities which will open campuses here will be entitled to a research degree.
This is all a ploy to further making research education or quality higher education fall beyond the access of the bulk of population.
(Ed—The Draft National Education Policy proposed three types of institutions — Type 1 which focus on world-class research, Type 2 which focus on high-quality teaching across disciplines with significant contribution to research and Type 3 which focus on high-quality teaching across disciplines focused on undergraduate education)
2. You are saying foreign universities and research universities in the type 1 grade will be able to design their own fee structure. Does that mean the Board of Governors, which the NEP proposes, will decide the fee structure for Indian universities?
The Board of Governors will be set up after an institution achieves autonomy. This BoG will be over and above all other statutory bodies and this is the most damaging thing. Currently, every university has its own academic and executive council, and a university court. When policy decisions are taken and ratified, they become the law according to which an institution is governed.
This BoG will overrule all these statutory processes and it is said there will be appropriate amendments in the statutes to accommodate this BoG, enabling them to override all other decision-making bodies.
Nobody knows what will be the composition of this BoG. The policy only said there will be eminent individuals. It is said that because this is going to be the final decision-making body with respect to the everyday functioning of an institution, BoG will make all appointments and take all policy decisions.
3. The NEP says the university entrance exams will be conducted by a National Testing Agency (NTA). Does this mean all other entrance exams, like the JEE, AIIMS or CLAT, will be scrapped?
The general indication is that there is going to be a single entrance exam and whether that common entrance exam is going to be for all fields of education is something that the policy does not specify in much detail. But one can assume that for all fields of education, there is going to be a single examination that is going to determine the future of students and who gets to study where. One can assume that there will be a one-size-fits-all kind of examination imposed on the whole of the country without any attention to social injustice or historical discrimination. This is again one of the most damaging aspects.
4. One of the points of criticism about the policy’s recommendation to turn higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary universities is that it will dilute the likes of IITs and AIIMS. Do you think this is a concern? What are the other issues associated with a multidisciplinary approach?
The fact that multidisciplinary education will be brought into IITs is something that was raised long ago in 2009 by the Yashpal committee report. The IITs had rejected it because they believe that this kind of multidisciplinarity will only dilute the kind of potential that they have lived up to over the years. They had rejected this kind of a forceful imposition of multidisciplinarity. That is precisely what we are headed towards now with this new focus on multidisciplinary education.
It’s very important to realise that multidisciplinary education, in which a student gets to study a little bit of history and a little bit of maths alongside a little bit of sociology, will only aim at a superficial cognitive training of the student. It will not arm the student with any amount of critical knowledge of the discipline that one has enrolled in.
This kind of a model is basically about diluting content and teaching basic school-level content in the name of multidisciplinarity. What it does is, it produces multi-skilled but semi-skilled workforce. Universities and colleges will now become factories for mass-producing semi-skilled labour. This sits very well with the kind of economic regime we are currently going through. Over 90% of the workforce in India is employed on informal contracts — this means that people are employed and made to produce double the amount for minimum wage. This is the maximal productivity minimal wage model.
The economy as we know it now contains nothing called job security and this is the kind of labour that is most exploitable.
5. How helpful (or not) is the multiple entry and exit points option for students? Will it increase prospects of employability?
This is something that we have seen already in 2013 with the four year undergraduate programme (FYUP) with multiple exit options of the Delhi University. Scrapping this FYUP was one of the election promises of the BJP in 2014. The first thing that the MHRD did in the first term of the Modi government was to scrap the FYUP in Delhi University.
Now, they are trying to bring the same model in the policy framework. There is going to be some degree available to every student at the end of every year. This means that if the student has only enough money to go to college for one year, they will end up with a certificate. Students who can pay the university fee for two years will end up with a diploma. If they can pay for three years then a Bachelor’s degree. This is like saying the value of one’s degree and the content of one’s education will depend on how long one can afford to pay the college fee.
In India, there are currently certificate courses that can be completed in six months and diploma courses which can be completed in one year. This policy mandates that even for a certificate course, one will have to be able to pay the college fee for an entire year. You are basically increasing the cost of higher education while at the same time reducing the outcome of that education. Therefore, creating a kind of system of dropouts. It’s basically about creating a certain kind of hierarchy of degree as well as a hierarchy of educational outcomes on the basis of one’s financial resources.
Now, the question is whether it will impact employability. The same course, which will be offered as a certificate and diploma, will be diluted for the first three years. The content that will be taught in the first 2-3 years of an undergraduate degree is going to be enormously diluted content. In an economy which we are facing right now, what can be the job prospects for this kind of a semi-skilled workforce coming out of universities? This will further add to the informalisation of labour.
6. There is still no clarity about how a course with multiple exit points will be designed. What will be the challenges for institutes?
This is something which we cannot foresee because there is a system of education which has already undergone massive structural changes since 2010 — first in the name of semester system, which has been damning in terms of the quality of education, and then the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). Already there have been structural changes which have been imposed on the colleges or universities without any consultation with the teachers or students at large. We are still reeling under the impact of that. We are still reeling under the impact of the sudden shift from the annual to the semester mode.
If we were still functioning under the annual mode, the impact of the pandemic on education would have been minimal. In the annual mode, the teaching time was greater — around nine or nine-and-a-half months — as compared to semester mode which involved three or three-and-a-half months of teaching. There have already been these kinds of structural reforms that have been pushed through.
7. How will the scrapping of M.Phil affect students?
A lot of people have hailed this move, saying the M.Phil programme anyway didn’t carry any value. It didn’t carry any value because the government had, over the past decade, delegitimised the M.Phil degree. Earlier, the M.Phil degree was equivalent to NET and having an M.Phil degree meant you can apply for a college job. Now that has been scrapped and M.Phil degree has lost its validity.
The academic reason for having an M.Phil programme is that it is basically a programme to equip the students with an ability to work through the methods of research before entering into a PhD programme.
In our country, the enrolment ratio of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes taken together would be 26.3%, according to government data from 2018-19. The percentage of students enrolling in the research sector is less than 0.5% of this. This is the kind of disparity between postgraduate and research courses.
This means research education is still an impossible dream for several reasons. One of the reasons is the lack of research training, which the M.Phil programme actually provides. M.Phil is a one or two year programme while a PhD is a 4-6 year programme. In order to commit to a PhD, the kind of social capital and financial resources that a student needs to have is not a matter of joke. This is why most students who are socially deprived or historically disadvantaged sections would generally prefer to enrol for an M.Phil programme, and end up with a research degree which would give them a certain advantage in the job market. While working, they would enrol for a PhD.
(Ed—Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher education in India is 26.3%, which is calculated for 18-23 years of age group, according to All India Survey of Higher Education 2018-19. It also says that less than 0.5% of the total students are enrolled in PhD.)
8. One of the NEP authors wrote in an NDTV column that changes in the process of hiring teachers, tenure track and administrative positions for teachers are expected to attract talented people to the field of education. Are there any problems with tenure track?
This is the first time that the policy document officially says that there will be tenure track appointments in higher education. The section on faculty in the document states that in the last few years, all efforts have been made to fill vacancies and this is a complete lie. This goes against government data (All India Survey of Higher Education 2018-19) which says over 40% teaching positions have not been filled. It also says that in the last five years, we have recorded a loss of 57,000 teaching jobs from the country’s colleges and universities.
Earlier, what used to happen was that teaching positions would generally be sanctioned as permanent positions. These permanent positions would, however, remain vacant for years or were used to recruit ad-hoc teachers.
With tenure track, the positions are also going to be created on contractual basis. The tenure track positions would mean that the tenure of an incumbent candidate will be decided on a performance appraisal on the basis of peer review. This is how you create a pliant workforce where teachers will never speak up against their colleagues.