29 August 2023

NEP 2020: Highlights and its counter view.
Author: Sinu Sugathan

Savitribai Phule, pioneer of Indian education famously quoted “The lack of learning is nothing but gross bestiality. It is through the acquisition of knowledge that one loses their lower status and achieves the higher one.” .

Education as a site, has always been included in the national agenda be it in the colonial times by the reformers or now in the neo-liberal context by the policy makers of the State. Education is seen as a terrain where ideologies, skills and nations upward mobility are directly linked with those seeking education as they are considered as the future of the nation. It then becomes inevitable to look at the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 which aims at reforming education at every level including primary, secondary and higher education.

Placing the above quote in the context of NEP we look at some of its highlights, challenges and hurdles in the process of locating NEP in the present Indian context. To begin with first we focus on the salient features of NEP and then link it with the complications in celebrating the existing GER (numbers) and repercussion of a heavily target oriented policy.

Below is the link of NEP 2020:(copy and paste the link in your address box to read more on NEP 2020) https://www.education.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf

Salient features of NEP 2020.

Let us look at the salient features of NEP 2020:

  • The aim will be to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.

  • NEP focuses on the holistic development of students as it endorses conceptual understanding, critical thinking and focus on teaching life skills.

  • Aims an integrated higher education system, including professional and vocational education. HEIs offer vocational education either on their own or in partnership with industry and NGOs and vocational courses will also be available to students enrolled in all other Bachelor’s degree programmes, including the 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor ’s programmes.

  • Multiple entry-exit options across disciplines. Flexible curricular structures will enable multiple entry and exit points, thus, removing currently rigid boundaries and creating new possibilities for life-long learning. As part of exit option students will receive certification based on the completion year:

  • There is no clear demarcation between streams like Humanities, Commerce and Science in NEP. Single stream HEIs will phase out students from.

  • Provide greater mobility to students through internationalization of education.

  • Outstanding teachers to be recognized and promoted, and given salary rise a robust merit-based structure of tenure, promotion, and salary structure will be developed, with multiple levels within each teacher stage, that incentivizes and recognizes outstanding teachers.

Highlights of NEP 2020:

  • We broadly looked at the salient features of NEP which seem to have set high objectives and aim at achieving impressive numbers. Now let us comprehensively locate some of the highlights of NEP 2020 in the present context.

  • Aim to increase GER: One of the major highlights of NEP 2020 and it has been applauded as a progressive policy aims to achieve 100 percent Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in school education by 2030 and 50 percent GER in higher education by 2035.

  • When we look at the Gross Enrolment Ratio over the span of around twenty years, we see impressive figures. Starting from 9.3 GER for males in 2001-02 and 6.7 for females to 26.9 male and 27.3 female GER shows female GER surpassing male GER. This indeed is a figure to take pride on but looking at these figures in isolation does not give the actual state of higher education and the socio-economic nuances of India is found missing which will be discussed in the further section. The NEP reaffirmed the commitment of spending 6% of GDP as public investment in education which is reiterated from the National Policy on Education, 1986. In 2017-18 the public expenditure on education in India was 4.4% of GDP which somewhere indicates that the journey from policy to reality is complicated and has a serious impediment during the implementation of the policy. Do you think numbers in itself can capture the limitations in achieving them? With increased privatization of education, it has conveniently shifted the constitutional right of providing education from state to private educational institutions. Albeit GER of India shows impressive numbers it is significantly low compared to other countries like China (51%) or European and American nations. Considering low comparative ratio, privatization of education and the influx of foreign universities in India; will lead to increase in inequality in terms of the cost of education, the challenges local institutes have to face when they are pitted against foreign universities and the kind of students taking admissions in these foreign universities will further lead to disparities within students.

  • Remodeling of educational institutions: One of the noticeable introductions in NEP is the remodeling of the educational institution. All the higher education institutions are divided into three categories of:

    a. research universities focusing equally on research and teaching,
    b. teaching universities focusing only on teaching
    c. degree granting colleges primarily focused on undergraduate teaching.

  • NEP mentions by 2030, there will be one multidisciplinary Higher Educational Institution (HEI) in or near every district and all HEIs will be eventually transformed into large multidisciplinary universities and colleges with 3000 or more students to make higher education accessible for all. The question continues to persist as to how is the current incoherent HEIs located in rural or semi-rural/urban going to revamp themselves to this model. For effective learning purpose, a comprehensive pathway that involves quality education, engaging pedagogical practices and appropriate curriculum across regions has to ensured. The curriculum must be relevant not only to meet the global practices or with the purpose of internationalization but has to involve the local disparities of each region. The uniformity of this policy does not consider the gap amongst different institutions located in diverse locations. If we think on this further, there is a clear demarcation of what universities and institutions ought to offer the students. If we locate an inter-disciplinary discipline like Women Studies which focuses on teaching, research and engages with students’ experience it will become difficult for marginalized departments to act independently or have a foothold of their own as compare to dominant streams; just like marginalized students have to negotiate with the hegemony of knowledge producers. NEP aims an integrated higher education system including professional and vocational education this might further reaffirm the existing dilemma of higher education wherein marginalized students though have an access to higher education has to face discriminatory practices.

Flexible and multi-disciplinary education for all:

  • If considered, students might opt to complete diploma in two years this might discourage them from pursuing four-year graduation course and leave the course mid-way. NEP recommends setting up an independent National Research Foundation for funding and facilitating quality research in India. Specialized institutions which currently fund research, such as the Department of Science and Technology, Indian Council of Medical Research will continue to fund independent projects indicating preference of Science as a stream.

  • In remodeling of HEIs the research universities will focus equally on research and teaching but when we deliberate about the discontinuation of M.Phil. programme it doesn’t have any concrete explanation it probably shows negligence of social science as a stream focusing mainly on science and technology.

Vocational education:

  • Vocational education has found a particular mention in NEP. This section can be read as slightly complicated as there is an interpretation given to developmental numbers. It is observed through study that less than 5% of the workforce in the age-group of 19-24 received vocational education in India during 2012-2017 in contrast to 52% in the USA, 75% in Germany, and 96% in South Korea. The NEP recommends that vocational education should be integrated in all school and higher education institutions in a phased manner over the next 10 years. A national committee for integration of vocational education will be setup under the MHRD for this purpose. The national skills qualifications framework will be detailed further for each discipline vocation and profession. The NEP aims to ensure that at-least 50% of learners in school and higher education should be exposed to vocational education by 2025.

  • NEP 2020 states “The global education development agenda reflected in the Goal 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by India in 2015 seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030. Such a lofty goal will require the entire education system to be reconfigured to support and foster learning, so that all the critical targets and goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can be achieved”

  • We see clearly the emphasis is on target orientation and vocational training at school and HEIs is a route to creating labour intensive model of education. The whole purpose of education remains massification of higher education. This is happening through the “process” by changing policies, democratization of education and endorsing accessibility. The massification of education is measured by GER (Gross Enrollment Ratio) and its set target for the coming years. The higher the aim of GER the massification of education takes precedence and owing to the massification and commercialization of education, the quest for knowledge will seem to go missing this may lead to loss of critical thinking in the teaching method and the reciprocation of students for this method.

  • Internationalization: Though we see an influx of foreign students to India in the last two decades NEP has given a twist to internationalization of education in terms of import and export of physical universities. High performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries. Similarly, selected top global universities will be permitted to operate in India. A legislative framework facilitating such entry will be put in place and such universities will be given exemptions from regulatory and governance norms on par with autonomous institutions in the country.

  • This brings us to contemplate on the question of accessibility of HE to all the students. Social access plays a major role when already there is prejudices, discrimination and exclusion which impacts aspirations and achievements of students from non-privileged background. NEP largely concentrates on bringing everybody on a common platform but the regional or location difference is not addressed. We got a glimpse of this during COVID 19 pandemic when the entire system of education was digitalized, we could see the digital divide. In a country where majority of students lack access to higher education access to digital devices such as smartphones or laptops or internet connectivity or both online education becomes unviable. Analysis of the National Sample Survey Office data on social consumption of education (2017–18) informs that only about 9% of students who are currently enrolled in any course have access to essential digital infrastructure suggests huge socio-economic disparities. The Covid-19 crisis posed a serious risk of leaving many students from the socio-economically disadvantaged background were further left behind deprived.


Based on the above analysis on the features of NEP we see many challenges in the implementation of NEP in a heterogeneous nation like India where there is discrimination and hierarchy at every stage:

  • We know India is not a homogeneous country the impact of policies like NEP will impact differently considering the diversity of the population. The state’s limited involvement in the expanding higher education system has led to increased privatization of education which has adversely affected small and rural HEIs. National integration through education can take a backseat and focusing on the heterogenous nature of India through policies like NEP will boost the overall development of higher education.

  • The medium of language till grade five but preferably till grade eight should be either in students’ mother tongue or in the local or regional language. The “Three Language Formula” will continue to operate in schools where two or three languages should be native languages of India. Language is already seen as a challenge when non-English speaking students are introduced to English in higher education. The focus on mother tongue or local language from the lower grade will further widen the gap among English and non-English speakers in higher education ignoring the large-scale inter-state migration in India. Migrated parents’ children have a different mother tongue than the local or regional language thus confusing the mode of education in relation to language. When rest of the objectives of NEP focuses on reaching global standards depriving students from learning English language at schools makes it contradictory to the purpose of NEP 2020.

  • When we consider flexibility and multi-disciplinary aspect of NEP, it offers flexible undergraduate degree with multiple exit options. Students will receive certification based on the completion year: a certificate will be given after one year, diploma after two years, bachelor’s degree after three years and bachelor’s with research degree after four year. HEIs are planned accordingly to be multidisciplinary, integrate humanities and arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. HEIs will have the flexibility to offer different designs of masters' programmes at the same times M.Phil. programme has been discontinued.

  • As per NEP’s feature on Internationalization; India is planned to be promoted as a global study destination providing premium education at affordable costs, along with this NEP also mentions to provide greater mobility to students in India who want to study, visit, transfer credits or carry out research at institutions abroad and vice versa. Considering the existing hierarchy in HE we can only imagine the kind of students who are going to reap the benefit by the introduction of this feature. This will further enhance the disparity between those aspiring to take higher education.

  • Following the trajectories of social differences in education in a country having diverse socio-economic structures there has to be a shift in thinking of policies at national level. Social security measures, scholarships, fellowships and other affirmative actions which has a brief mention in NEP undoubtedly can boost education, help is improving access and retention of girls thus reducing the drop-out rates in higher education. Students get upward mobility through these provisions formed at the policy level, provisions of knowledge through policies that one achieves the higher status.

  • Digital education: As mentioned above digital divide is very apparent in India; we have seen this during pandemic. To avoid furthering this gap a thorough grass root level planning has to be done for digital education which is indeed challenging when we as a nation are still struggling for the basics. Many interventions must be taken to ensure inclusive digital education such as training teachers to create effective online content , creating a digital repository of all the coursework including virtual labs for experience-based learning, creating multiple languages online course content to ensure the reach of digital content where vernacular medium of teaching is used and use of other mediums such e-library, digital notes etc.

So far, we referred to the challenges and salient features of NEP but if we look at the factual data like work participation rate and streamwise enrolment in higher education even though we see improving GER does it really translate into work is something that should be collectively contemplated.

All India Work Participation: 2018 – 2019

2018-19 Male Female
LFPR 75.5 24.5
WPR 71 23.3

Women are still in low paying gendered jobs often within the parameter of the traditional domestic roles of women. Below figures show the enrollment share (data taken from AISHE 2019-20).

Subject Share
Arts 52.9%
Science 51.7%
Commerce 48.8%
Engineering and Technology 29.2%

Commercialization of education is not a solution to provide equal education to all as students are from diverse background from rural, urban and minorities have unequal access to education and its relevant resources. India is not a homogeneous country the impact of policies like NEP will impact differently considering the diversity. With this context we see there are many challenges and limitations in the coming years of actual implementation of this policy:

To conclude, the intention of looking at NEP critically is to bring our focus also on academic excellence. The purpose of education is not merely churning out global or employable citizens but also gaining knowledge. With rampant massification and privatization of education as a byproduct of Liberalization Privatization Globalisation (LPG) our emphasis is to be on creating quality education and acknowledging the social, cultural, regional and varied economical identities prevalent in India which supports multiple identities and provide equal access to education and not just in the form of promises and policies.