Dr. Bimal K. Kar
(The writer is a Professor, Gauhati University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The long-awaited National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has come to the people of India with lots of hopes and aspirations. Despite mixed reactions of the people this policy has brought great optimism among the stakeholders due to its considerable holistic structural change and flexibilities for all-round human resource development keeping in mind the achievement of SDG-4 by way of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all. The guiding principles and vision behind formulation of the entire education policy appear to be scientific. Bringing school education right from the age of 3 (Class I) up to the age of 18 (Class XII) with 5+3+3+4 structure within the policy framework, giving emphasis for learning vernacular language in early stage of school education, and allocating 6% of GDP exclusively for education in the budget may be considered three remarkably positive steps in this direction. However, the real success of the policy shall depend on its proper implementation, well-designed curriculum meeting local and global needs, provision for quality books and adequate infrastructure, appointment of quality teachers and the role of the regulatory mechanism including provision for accountability.
So far the higher education is concerned, the NEP has brought about marked changes in the structure and approaches with the perspective of making it more contemporary, innovative, interdisciplinary, flexible and committed to attaining the goal of sustainable national development. It is observed that by making the full length of undergraduate course 3-year or 4-year with multiple exit options the beginning of higher education has been made quite flexible with a variety of academic options. For instance, in the course of doing an undergraduate programme in a college one can exit after successful completion of first year course as an UG-certificate, second year as an UG-diploma, third year as Bachelor degree and fourth year as Bachelor degree with research in honours/major subject. Moreover, in the case of students getting transferred from one college to another on partial completion of the UG-programme, there is provision in the policy for transfer of credit earned in the preceding level. Similarly, the postgraduate programme is made 1-year or 2-year depending on whether the student has completed 4-year Bachelor or 3-year Bachelor degree, and as such once a student after 12th standard gets admitted in a college or Higher Educational Institution (HEI) he or she will be able to complete the postgraduate programme within a minimum period of 5 years, which is presently also the same (uniformly 3-year UG and 2-year PG). But the logic behind making provision in the NEP 2020 for allowing a 4-year Bachelor degree holder to directly join Ph.D. research is somewhat difficult to understand. And if that is the case, where lies the need of postgraduate education? Of course, it is quite natural that under such a situation the postgraduates would have more chances of selection for Ph.D. programme. Moreover, M.Phil. programme is discontinued without any justification. Some of the above changes particularly with respect to postgraduate and Ph.D. programmes in the new NEP have created confusion and reactions among the stakeholders in higher education and research. In this connection, as debates and discussions about effective implementation of the policy are currently going on throughout the country, I take the opportunity to place some of my observations and views as below.
As regards the full length of the UG and PG courses, looking at the new provisions and flexibilities it may be uniformly fixed at 6-year (4+2). In the case of UG-programme, basic courses as per the stream (Arts, Science, Commerce, Technology, etc) should be offered in the 1st year and 2nd year; two different courses, either subject-specific general courses on at least two subjects or skill-based/vocational course as per the stream in the 3rd year depending on interest, academic capabilities and personal liberties of the students concerned; and honours/major course on specific subject as per stream in the 4th year depending on academic interest and performance of the students in the preceding year. Accordingly, a student on completion of 1st year would get UG-certificate; on completion of 2nd year UG-diploma; on completion of 3rd year Bachelor degree (Regular) in the case of general courses and Bachelor degree (Voc) in the case of skill-based or vocational or professional courses; and on completion of 4th year Bachelor degree (Honours/Major) in a specific subject. It means the students who are interested in specialization and further higher education and research, they will have to complete their Bachelor programme with Honours/Major course, and thereby they will remain eligible for admission into 2-year postgraduate programme in a specific subject. However, if the students with Bachelor degree (Regular or Voc) later on want to do postgraduate programme in a particular subject, they will have to complete one year Honours/Major course in a specific subject through the provision of lateral entry for academic enhancement. The 2-year postgraduate course should be designed in different subjects in such a way so that the students can learn higher level basics of the subject in the 1st year and applied and research project-based dimension of the subject in the 2nd year.
So far formal institution-based research is concerned, allowing a student with 4-year Bachelor degree to pursue Ph.D. along with a postgraduate degree holder does not sound logical. Moreover, Ph.D. research involves in-depth knowledge and understanding in a very specialized area of the subject concerned, which is possible mostly after completion of post-graduation in a subject. On the other hand, if 4-year Bachelor degree holders are allowed to go for Ph.D. research, there will be unprecedented increase of pressure for admission into PhD. Programme in the country. Under the present system itself, when there is provision of M. Phil. programme, there has been increased pressure for Ph.D. admission in most of the universities in the country. As such, many of the postgraduates who are unable to get admission for Ph.D. directly are accommodated for M.Phil. research. On the other hand, this provision for M.Phil. research may also help many postgraduates to improve their understanding and capabilities for carrying out quality doctoral research work in later stage. Hence, I believe that if Ph.D. research is allowed only after post-graduation along with the provision for M.Phil. research, the pressure for Ph.D. admission would remain under control and in turn it would also ensure quality of research to a great extent.