India’s National Education Policy: Rhetoric and the reality


    It is a year since the Government of India announced the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. It was a transformative policy that has the potential to promote a new imagination for the future of education. It laid the foundations for building a knowledge society that will ultimately empower higher educational institutions (HEIs) across our diverse country.

    The Vision of the NEP

    The NEP has broken all existing barriers to promote 10 transformative ideas for substantive reforms in the higher education sector. These are: Promotion of world-class education for the pursuit of excellence; Multidisciplinary and liberal education; Regulatory reforms for institutional empowerment; Expansion of the higher education system while ensuring equity and access; Creating a research ecosystem with increased funding and stronger emphasis on publications; Emphasis on improving quality through recruitment of outstanding faculty to promote high quality teaching and research; Improved governance and the development of enlightened leadership for institutional transformation; Academic freedom and institutional autonomy for empowering the HEIs; Increased public funding, performance-based incentives and private philanthropy; and, impetus for internationalisation, accreditation and digitization.

    Launch of the NEP 2020 and the Year Ahead

    Since the launch of the NEP in July 2020, there have been concerted efforts taken by the Government of India and the HEIs themselves, along with various regulatory bodies to create awareness on the policy and the steps that ought to be taken towards implementation. The federal structure of the Indian policy has its own complexities of governance and, therefore, we need to create awareness and build consensus surrounding the NEP. The Academic Bank of Credit (ABC), which will be a central repository of the academic credits obtained by all students and the new regulations focusing on online education are some of the major initiatives that have been promoted in the last year by the UGC and the Government of India.

    Challenge of Policy Implementation

    One of the major challenges facing democracies is regarding the effective implementation of public policy. It gets even more complicated when the stakeholders are diverse, fragmented and at times having divergent interests. An OECD Report entitled: The Nature of Policy Change and Implementation: A Review of Different Theoretical Approaches cited a very important research by Michael Fullan in which he had argued that there are nine important factors that affect and impact the implementation of education policy. These factors recognize that education policy implementation is a multidimensional process and is done under three different classifications: A. Characteristics of change (1. Need; 2. Clarity; 3. Complexity; 4. Quality/Practicality); B. Local characteristics (5. District; 6. Community; 7. Principal; 8. Teacher); and C. External factors (9. Government and other agencies). As we work towards implementing the NEP, we need to be mindful of Fullan’s nine factors that are equally relevant and applicable in the Indian context.

    Re-Designing the Implementation of NEP 2020

    The first anniversary of the launch of the NEP 2020 should herald a new opportunity for our focused attention on implementation. I believe that the existing mechanisms that are available for the implementation of the NEP are inadequately designed for building a collective and unified approach towards implementation. We need the following new and imaginative institutional design approach that will help the implementation of the NEP in an expedited manner. The new institutional design for effective policy implementation in education should have the following five components: a. Political leadership at the highest level of the government to monitor the implementation of the NEP; b. Leadership at the level of the Education Ministry to focus on the bottlenecks and challenges for effective implementation; c. Leadership at the level of regulatory bodies with the UGC taking the lead and bringing together all regulatory bodies and subject-based councils to focus on implementation; d. Activating the state higher education councils and the state governments’ higher education departments for ensuring greater attention towards implementation; e. Empowering the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) to work closely with the Vice Chancellors of all universities towards implementation.

    New India Needs a New Approach

    The vision of the National Education Policy 2020 is to build the foundations of a new India that will focus on building a knowledge society. Every aspect of the NEP has a symbiotic relationship to the cause of institution building for nation building. However, the rhetoric of the policy vision outlined in the NEP must be implemented for this vision to become a reality. Multi-stakeholder participation and active involvement is a sine qua non for the implementation of public policy in every aspect of governance, especially in education.

    Every effort in policy making requires significant impetus in capacity building. The new institutional design for effective implementation of the NEP will ensure that we create a robust institutional architecture that will leave no stone unturned in the process of NEP implementation. The inspiring vision of the NEP 2020 can be effectively implemented only if we are ready to establish institutional mechanisms outlined above to build the necessary capacity.

    The higher education ecosystem, especially the government agencies and regulatory bodies should commit themselves to build trust, promote transparent decision-making; recognize institutional autonomy; ensure active and participative consultation; and empower HEIs. This will form the bedrock based on which the time bound implementation of the NEP will become effective and impactful.



    Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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