Guide to Indian Higher Education System - Varthana

Guide to Indian Higher Education System

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Varthana - Indian Higher Education System

Since its independence, the Indian higher education system has witnessed remarkable growth, positioning it among the world’s most extensive educational systems. However, the system grapples with challenges related to access, equity, relevance, financing, management, and the prioritization of education quality. Furthermore, the evaluation of institutions and their accreditation remains paramount. Addressing these issues is vital as India aspires to establish a 21st-century knowledge-based society, leveraging higher education as a potential tool.

Major Reforms in the Indian Educational System

Post-independence, the Indian educational system experienced four major transformations.

The findings and suggestions of the Kothari Commission (1964–1966) laid the groundwork for India’s inaugural National Policy of Education (NPE) in 1968. Spearheaded by the union government, the NPE’s primary achievements encompassed the realization of the Indian Constitution’s mandate: compulsory education for all children up to 14 years. The policy also introduced the three-language formula in secondary schools, wherein Hindi is the national official language, English serves a regional function, and a third state-specific language is adopted.

Under Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership, a revised National Education Policy (NEP) was instituted in 1986. Its principal objectives were to democratize education, ensuring equal opportunities for all, and to eradicate systemic disparities. This reform particularly emphasized fostering social inclusivity by affording enhanced educational avenues to women, members of the Scheduled Tribes (ST), and the Scheduled Castes (SC).

The administration of PV Narasimha Rao introduced modifications to the 1986 NEP in 1992. Subsequently, in 2005, during Manmohan Singh’s government tenure, a “common minimum program” was unveiled. This initiative also advocated for a standardized national entrance examination for admissions into technical and professional courses.

NEP 2020
The existing education policy, formulated in 1986 and revised in 1992, was supplanted after 34 years. On July 29, 2020, the union cabinet ratified a novel National Education Policy (NEP 2020). This policy aims to offer universally superior education to all and envisions a revamped pedagogical and curriculum structure for students aged 3 to 18. Consequently, the conventional 10+2 academic configuration will transition to a 5+3+3+4 framework. The phased implementation of the new NEP is slated to occur between 2020 and 2026.

Also Read: How is the National Education Policy Helpful for the Students and their Career Development?

Transformation in India’s Education Landscape: An Overview of NEP 2020

India’s education system is poised for profound transformations, primarily driven by the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) introduced by the central government. The Union Cabinet of India ratified this policy on July 29, 2020, which succeeds the National Policy on Education from 1986. Encompassing both rural and urban landscapes, NEP 2020 presents a comprehensive blueprint for education, spanning from early childhood to higher education.

Indian Higher Education: A Glimpse

India’s higher education segment encompasses undergraduate (UG), postgraduate (PG), and doctoral programs, along with vocational training.

NEP’s vision for higher education introduces a four-year multidisciplinary undergraduate program, providing diverse exit options. Typically, undergraduate education spans from age 18, extending to at least age 23, contingent upon the course duration. Upon completion, students can venture into postgraduate programs and subsequently delve into research.

While the NEP outlines language policies, their execution remains at the discretion of states, educational institutions, and schools. The policy serves as a broad framework, more advisory than prescriptive. In response to potential concerns, the government promptly clarified that no student would be mandated to learn a specific language. Moreover, English will retain its prominence and won’t be supplanted by regional languages in the instructional domain.

Vocational education and training, integral to NEP, emphasize hands-on training, industry immersion, and internships. This approach is geared towards equipping students with trade-specific skills, enhancing their technical prowess vital for the job market.

Thanks to the flexible curriculum under NEP, higher education courses integrating vocational training offer varied credentials:

  • A certificate after one year of vocational training
  • A vocational diploma post two years of study
  • A professional Bachelor’s degree upon completing a three-year program
  • A four-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s degree, deemed optimal for professionals

Government’s Role in Education in India

The National Education Policy (NEP) was initiated by the Government of India (GOI) in 1968. Its primary objective was to foster, regulate, and set the benchmark for education across the country. According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act of 2009, every child aged between 6 and 14 is entitled to free and compulsory education.

Historically, until 1976, education was primarily a state responsibility as per the Indian constitution, granting states significant autonomy in formulating and implementing educational policies. However, this changed with the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1976, which designated education as a concurrent subject. Even with this change, state governments maintain considerable autonomy in executing policies, but the central Government of India offers overarching recommendations regarding educational policies and programs.

In 2020, the Indian government introduced the latest National Education Policy (NEP), marking the first such policy for the 21st century. This policy seeks to transform India into a vibrant knowledge society and is aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

 Recent Initiatives by the Government

Several noteworthy steps have been taken to integrate vocational education into the broader higher education landscape:

  • The UGC (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulation 2019 was amended, enabling UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to provide guidelines permitting Higher Education Institutions (HEI) to offer degree programs integrated with apprenticeships and internships.
  • The National Apprenticeship Training Scheme has received a financial boost of Rs. 3054 crore, extending it for another five years. This move aims to equip nearly 9 lakh students for employment via apprenticeships, offering training in cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and drone technology, as well as fields emerging in alignment with the government’s PM Gati Shakti Programme and the Production Linked Incentive Scheme.
  • The scheme endeavors to cultivate a sustainable skilling ecosystem through apprenticeship programs and courses embedded with internships. Now, the National Apprenticeship Training Scheme includes students from the humanities, commerce, and sciences, besides engineering.
  • To facilitate internships, the AICTE introduced an internship portal. Currently, it boasts registrations from 12.35 lakh internships, 73 lakh students, and 38,650 employers.
  • In the realm of higher education, major interdisciplinary universities now provide extensive opportunities for research-based specialization at graduate, master’s, and doctorate levels. They also support multidisciplinary endeavors in academia, government, and industry sectors. On July 29, 2021, the Prime Minister inaugurated the Academic Bank of Credit. This initiative facilitates the issuance of degrees from HEIs based on accumulated credits and digitally archives the academic credits acquired from various recognized HEIs. Through regulations, the UGC has empowered HEIs with vital mechanisms.
  • The UGC has also established guidelines for Multiple Entry/Exit in Academic Programmes in Higher Education Institutions. This approach softens existing rigid structures and ushers in fresh opportunities for lifelong learning.

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  • Online teaching and learning present a promising avenue to enhance the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER). Recognizing this potential, the UGC unveiled the Open Distance Learning (ODL) and Online Programmes Regulations in 2020. Additionally, the UGC (Credit Framework for Online Course through SWAYAM) Regulation 2021 was introduced. These regulations not only broaden the capacity of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to offer online courses but also increase the percentage of courses allowed to be credited through MOOCs via SWAYAM from 20% to 40%.
  • Further, the UGC (Institute of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulation has been amended to empower Institutes of Eminence (IOEs) to offer courses online, underlining the emphasis on globalizing education.
  • Promotion of the rich Indian Knowledge System, along with arts and culture, has been given a boost with the establishment of a dedicated Knowledge Cell in the Ministry of Education and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
  • In a landmark move to foster inclusivity and promote regional languages, the all-India entrance exams for engineering and medical colleges, specifically JEE (Main) and NEET (UG), are now conducted in 12 regional languages besides English. This initiative aligns with the objective of using the mother tongue or local language as a medium of instruction and introducing programs bilingually. It aims to enhance access, elevate GER, and rejuvenate the richness and dynamism of all Indian languages. Notably, for the academic year 2021–2022, 19 engineering colleges across ten states have been granted permission by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to conduct engineering courses in six Indian languages.
  • To further bridge the language divide, especially for students in rural areas, AICTE has innovated the “AICTE Translation Automation AI Tool”. This tool translates English online courses into eleven distinct Indian languages, ensuring wider reach and comprehension.

Lastly, the affiliation standards for higher education are meticulously outlined by bodies like AICTE, UGC, and other accreditation authorities. Every college or university in India offering degree or diploma courses must either attain the status of a recognized university or affiliate with a university that has central or state accreditation.


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