Privatisation via graded autonomy
The Union Cabinet approved the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, despite vehement opposition to several of its provisions that were earlier circulated as a draft policy document.
• Among several unique features of the NEP 2020, one of the best provisions is to grant autonomy to the educational institutions, especially those that are providing quality education. This will help rewarding institutions that aspire towards excellence.
• Among these provisions is the phasing out of the system of affiliated colleges and the grant of greater autonomy in academic, administrative and financial matters to premium colleges, and essentially, to the top ranked universities of the country.
Concern with the autonomy
This measure has drawn on the long-standing anxieties about the perils of politico-bureaucratic interference in the internal functioning of the universities.
The substantial burden on universities which have to regulate admissions, set curricula and conduct examinations for a large number of undergraduate colleges.
Long existed about over-centralisation, namely, the constraints imposed on the potential for premium affiliated colleges to innovate and evolve.
Even while solutions to apprehensions about over-centralisation were being discussed by stakeholders, these came to be used by successive governments to build a case for the model of graded autonomy. This model has adverse ramifications for accessibility, equity and quality for the higher education sector.
Correspondingly, there has been a serious lack of development of educational infrastructure to meet the rapidly increasing demand for higher education.
Its corollary, the persistent decline in per-capita government allocation of funds towards education.
Consequently, private colleges and universities have grown in number, and there has been a rapid expansion of the open and distance learning (ODL) education.
In line with these developments, recommendations of recent education commissions have promoted the already existing unequal structure of funding for higher education, and perpetuated the prevailing hierarchy in higher education along the lines of “centres of excellence” or metropolitan Central government-funded universities, provincial Central government-funded universities, regional universities and colleges funded by State governments, etc.
The issue of autonomy is the key to unravelling the inherent problem with NEP 2020 in matters of higher education.
By engaging with the multi-fold ramifications of this provision, a lot can be gleaned on the heavy cost that the common masses will pay in terms of growing inaccessibility of higher education.
The model of graded autonomy is not based on universalisation of educational resources and equal access to quality higher education, but on furthering the prevailing hierarchy that exists between different colleges within a public-funded university, and between different universities across the country.
It is estimated that affiliated colleges with lower rankings and less than 3,000 students face the threat of mergers and even closure.
A shrinking of the number of public-funded colleges will only further push out marginalised sections and relegate them to low-grade private colleges and/or to informal education in the ODL and online modes.
It is evident that NEP 2020 provides a fresh canvas to paint on and opens up avenues for home-schooling and foreign universities alike, in India. For the new policy to succeed a combination of a staunch intent to move out of comfortable doldrums and facilitate involvement of foreign universities and increased literacy levels is a must.
PEPPER IT WITH
Salient features of the New NEP, 2020; Article 21-A, 45, SarvaSikshaAbhiyaan