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A Tsunami of Anguish Will Rise When NEP Dreams are Dusted: Satish Deshpande

This policy is aspiring for huge expectations in higher education but there is no roadmap for implementation on the ground or the resources required, says the Delhi University professor.
New Education Policy

A debate is raging among academics on the impact of the New Education Policy (NEP) on higher education. The policy has suggested several changes, from course structure to foreign collaborations. NewsClick spoke to Satish Deshpande, professor of sociology in Delhi University and a well-known commentator on education on how he sees the proposed changes in NEP playing out in the country’s higher education sector. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Ravi Kaushal: The NEP document, seen in the context of higher education, suggests creation of Ivy League type of universities. When we look at the experience of those universities, we these have served a very small population of the US. How fair is it to chase a dream like Ivy League in a vast country like India?

Satish Deshpande: There is no problem in dreaming of institutions like Ivy League universities, but clarification is needed on the scale and their expansion. India is a diverse country with vivid languages and cultures, and everybody knows that a singular kind of institution cannot serve all.

Creating such institutions require a lot more planning and dedication. Institutions do not come into being just because an administrator has whims and fancies. When I see the policy document, I do not find any details of preparations and commitment. The intent is good but what’s the plan for implementation?

It has been our experience that policies get themselves limited to some names, labels or processes but lack concrete implementation. If I were to cite an example, take the four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) into consideration. There is no harm in extending the tenure of undergraduate programmes to four years. Several countries run courses on three-year and four- year models. The question is why should we have four-year courses by removing three-year ones? There may be reasons.

When FYUP is being called a flagship programme to be implemented in all universities, we are asking students and parents to devote one more year and more than one-third the money for the course. What will students gain in return? We should not be adamant about three-year or four-year course. If you want to replace the existing model, the Centre should clarify how FYUP removes limitations of three-year course, if any.

RK: Government spokespersons argue that students who drop out do not gain anything from the existing model. In FYUP, a student can get a certificate after one year, advanced diploma after two years, degree after three years and degree with honours after four years. Do you agree with this justification?

SD: I think multiple entry exit system (MEES) is the biggest demerit of the new course structure, and I have been complaining about it from the beginning. There are several aspects of it. The discourse behind this new course is dichotomous and divided. Until the 20th century, our leaning has been based on discipline-centric courses. However, it is being argued that the new system has to be student-centric. Consumer is king. So, students as consumers should have the freedom to choose their course. In the market of higher education, s/he will have choices. It is being argued that this model succeeded in Western countries but our experience tells us that it had partial success.

Second, we are carrying an illusion that higher education can get you some skills required for jobs. Our market does not care about your skills. It wants capacity to learn things faster. You need new skills every day to do the job in a changing world. So, I think, we should not expect higher education to generate employability.

Modern industry does not care about workers. It does not need humans. These are financial products and very few workers know about its purposes. Today, our market and GDP are driven through this. Therefore, the workers are least interested in modern industry. Statistical facts suggest that Apple’s valuation is higher than General Motors. However, it employs less than one-eighth workers of GM.

Modern industry is not creating jobs and we must remember this fact. In this context, expecting higher education to generate employment would be foolish. It is being emphasised that today’s youth should not aspire for jobs. S/he should be job giver. For this to happen, you need capital and networking and certain information that is not accessible to all. It is opportunity hoarding and it should be distributed among our people only.

This policy is aspiring for bigger expectations but I do not find resources and conducive situations on the ground. When these dreams are dusted, a tsunami of anguish will rise, and that would not be good for anyone.

RK: The country is seeing a communal frenzy where people are very sensitive about symbols and identities. In this situation, what should we expect from higher education?

SD: This is not happening in India alone. Several countries are facing it. Former US President Donald Trump popularised it by calling it ‘alternative facts’. If I can buy products of my choice from the market, why can’t I buy facts that suit my thinking and narrative? I do not like the fact that the earth is round. I think the world is flat. So, if I am willing to spend, why can’t I get such facts? Why can’t courses be designed as per my beliefs? Why can’t I have news channels that show that my pre-conceived notions are correct?

This tendency is dangerous for higher education. It is against the tenets of research. It has been our learning that a world lies beyond you and you must explore it. This outer world will test you and you will form your facts on these tests. If we think that everything will happen in this world as per our beliefs, the basic purpose of research becomes futile.

RK: NEP talks about foreign collaborations and opening of campuses of foreign universities. While researching about prestigious universities that had opened campuses outside their country, I found only one example, of New York University that opened its branches in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, that too when rich West Asians requested them to do so. Now, India does not have this much money. Do you think premier universities will open campuses here?

SD: No, I do not find it believable. It has already been experimented and we have all reasons now to believe that it could not be realised. The notable universities are opening their field centres to facilitate their students for research in India. University of Chicago, Harvard and Princeton Universities have opened their centres here, but it would not be beneficial for our students. Market experience suggests that only those universities will come which should not come.

As far as the question of collaborations is concerned, we should not expect much from it. It has been our experience that researchers from across the world come here for their work but our students hardly earn from it.

RK: The NEP documents talk about large multidisciplinary institutions with enrolment of over 3,000 students. We saw similar projects in school education where schools were merged or closed and students could not access them as these were located far from their homes. How feasible is the view that single stream colleges should be turned into multidisciplinary institutions?

SD: Principally, I agree with it. You are right that schools should be accessible to all and cost should not be a hindrance. But when we talk about higher education, costs are too high. The resources should be optimally utilised but the point to be noted again is implementation. It needs a ground-based approach to deal with the situation and better preparedness to implement it.

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