Saturday, July 20, 2024

True test

As per the All India Survey on Higher Education 2021-2022, around 7,000 higher education institutions (HEIs) have been added in the country since 2014-15, and student enrolment has grown from 3.42 crore to 4.33 crore in the same period. On computation, the enrolment growth comes to 26.5%. In the same period, women enrolment in higher education has increased by 32% from 2014-15, overtaking that of men ~ in the Ph.D segment, over 98,000 researchers among 2.12 lakh students are women. As for Nagaland, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education rose to 18.8% in 2021-2022 from 16.2% in 2017-2018. Also, the female GER in Nagaland continued to surpass the male GER for five years running. The Gender Parity Index (GPI) in terms of Nagaland also increased from 1.05% in 2017-18 to 1.28% in 2020-21. These are the encouraging facts, in both State and national levels of higher education. But there were other figures too, that underlined the presence of problems and urgent concerns. While the number of Central and State Universities and colleges increased by ‘only’ 53%, private institutions ~ which were slightly less in number seven years earlier ~ increased by 81%. These HEIs enter the academic field with the intention of making money; their costs are high, and it is possible that their infrastructure and teacher strength are not always transparent, to put it politely. The fact that their numbers are growing indicates that the Government does not object to private actors assuming a large portion of the responsibilities of a crucial and ostensibly non-profit sector. However, less fortunate students find these universities unaffordable; therefore, there is an urgent need for a matching rise in Government colleges and universities. The increase in teacher recruitment has only been 8.4%, which is less than the growth in the number of students. It is against this backdrop that the implementation of National Education Policy assumes importance. The NEP 2020 targets a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 50% by 2035, a significant leap from the current levels. Higher education institutions must therefore adapt to satisfy this increasing demand while preserving or even improving the quality of education they offer if they are to attain this ambitious goal. In India, the university system has traditionally been viewed as a means of obtaining a better job and living a better life. Nevertheless, these expectations have frequently not been met by reality. A concerning percentage of graduates are unemployed as a result of a mismatch between academic outputs and industry needs. The implementation of policies like the Multiple Entry and Exit System (MEES), the Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) and the National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF) has been projected as positive moves. By giving students more freedom and mobility, these programmes hope to improve the system’s ability to adapt to their needs and the demands of the labour market. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has been reforming recently in an attempt to improve accessibility to higher education and expedite administrative procedures. Another attempt aimed at standardising admissions and mitigating the persistent inconsistencies in the system is the Central Universities Entrance Test (CUET) ~ though exemptions have been made for Nagaland and Meghalaya. Nevertheless, any reforms must be implemented with careful attention to avoid new bottlenecks and ensure that the intended benefits reach all stakeholders. The recognition of online and distance education as equivalent to traditional modes of learning marks a significant shift in policy. It will be nigh impossible to regress from the hybrid education paradigm, which blends online and classroom instruction, since it is quickly becoming the standard worldwide. This methodology enables for a more customised and adaptable learning experience in addition to improving accessibility. To guarantee successful delivery, this shift needs to be backed by a strong digital infrastructure and teacher training. The NEP 2020 has offered a much-needed future vision and roadmap, but the true test will be in putting these policies into practice with care. To overcome the current systemic flaws, the Government and educational institutions must cooperate. This calls for structural and administrative changes in addition to a cultural shift that values critical thinking, creativity and research.