NEHU and NEP 2020

By H. Srikanth

During the last one year, NEHU has taken several initiatives for implementation of the New Education Policy, 2020. Many talks, seminars, and workshops were organized on NEP 2020. The university endorsed CUET and CUCET for admission of the students. It constituted a core committee to design the curriculum for Undergraduate (UG) and Postgraduate (PG) courses. After considerable deliberations, the committee has come out with a draft curriculum structure for UG and PG. The curriculum was placed at the Committee meeting of Heads and Deans. The administration instructed departments to prepare syllabi under the draft curriculum. As per the NEHU Ordinance, all changes in the curriculum and syllabi are to be approved by the Academic Council. Hence, the Committee members and even the teachers association have requested the university to place the matter for discussion and approval in the AC. Informed and meaningful deliberations become possible when all stakeholders are aware of the proposed changes and their implications.
At the outset, it is necessary to know that the UGC’s National Curriculum Guidelines focus primarily on UG programs. Some central universities like Delhi University have designed the UG curriculum and syllabi, and have expressed the intention to implement it from this academic year. No initiative is taken even in these universities for introduction of NEP in the PG programs, as the UGC is yet to come out with clear guidelines. Given that the PG program is a logical extension of the UG, it makes better sense to implement NEP 2020 first in the UG before one introduces it in the PG programs.
Implementing the NEP curriculum and syllabi at the UG level is easier in universities like Delhi University, or even in the University of Hyderabad, which run five-year integrated UG-PG programs in different departments. However, in NEHU, where the university is under central government, but the UG colleges are under the administrative and financial control of the state government, implementation becomes a little complicated. In Meghalaya, there are different UG colleges–some located in cities and some in semi-urban and rural areas; some with adequate infrastructure and permanent affiliation, and others with limited infrastructure and temporary affiliation. Given the diversity, there is a need for proper consultation with the college managements to know whether they are all capable of implementing the NEP curricula and syllabi at the UG level. If consultations take place only with premier city based colleges, one does not get a complete picture. We have seen how the decision on CUET boomeranged when proper consultations did not take place.
When the UGC comes out with clear guidelines on the national curriculum for PG, it will be easy to come out with curriculum and syllabi for the PG programs. Right at this moment, what NEHU has come out with is only a draft curriculum designed by a committee constituted by the university. The committee, in its proposal for a two-year PG program, suggested inclusion of one multidisciplinary course, one skill enhancement course, and proposed one full semester for dissertation. It is not yet sure yet whether the National Curriculum for PG would be on similar lines. If it is going to be different, the exercise will end up as futile. It is necessary to have parity across the universities in matters relating to academic calendar, credits, papers offered and tenure of dissertation. Otherwise,it becomes difficult to put into practice the NEP’s idea of transfer of credits across the institutions.
Mere change in the curriculum structure serves no purpose if the syllabi are not updated to suit the new requirements. But any meaningful syllabus revision requires considerable deliberations and consultations. Earlier, when NEHU went from annual system to semester system for the UG program, all that it did was to divide the one year syllabus into two parts and fit them in the semester pattern. The same process is likely to be repeated if the university insists on implementing the NEP in the ensuing academic year. With little or superficial modifications here and there, the departments will be compelled to package and fit the existing syllabi in the new curriculum structure. Such an exercise will end up as old wine in a new bottle, and serves no purpose in imparting new knowledge.
The introduction and administration of skill-based courses at UG and PG levels are going to be a herculean task. One is not sure what skills are to be imparted and who will administer the skill-based courses. Given the paucity of teachers, it will be too much to expect them to take the additional responsibility of imparting skill based courses. The teachers may be good in their respective subjects, but most of them don’t know how to impart skills. Skills are not something that can be acquired by reading books and articles. Skills involve knowledge that one learns through years of practice in the concerned craft. Teachers teaching History, Philosophy and Education cannot impart training in tailoring or carpentry. Similarly, those who are not leaders themselves cannot impart leadership skills to the students, and those who are not creative writers cannot pass on creative writing skills to their students. More deliberations are needed at the university and college levels to understand which skill-based courses are useful and possible to impart. It will be counter- productive if the university pushes ordinary academic papers as vocational or skill enhancement courses. One should discuss how the departments implement these courses when the universities and colleges don’t have infrastructure and expertise to serve such unfamiliar courses. Appropriate government agencies, NGOs and experts should be roped in to administer vocational and skill-enhancement courses.
The proposal to devote one semester at the PG level for a dissertation also requires a thorough discussion. In practice, a semester means only four months. Flexibility in curriculum is required if all requirements of dissertation–from the problem identification, review of literature, synopsis writing, collection and analysis of data, to dissertation writing– should be fulfilled. It is also necessary to spell out who would evaluate these dissertations–the teachers in the departments, or experts from outside. Given the vacancies in teaching positions, it becomes difficult for existing teachers to guide so many dissertations when they are to carry on the normal teaching and administrative duties? The AC should address these practical problems associated with research guidance.
The university probably needs more time to think and address these issues and problems associated with the implementation of the NEP. The argument that NEHU will secure better ranking if it implements the NEP is faulty, for, none of the high ranking and leading central universities in the country–JNU, Hyderabad, Jamia Millia, Aligarh, Pondicherry–have gone for implementation of the NEP at PG level. It is by strengthening the infrastructure, by filling up the vacant faculty positions and by increasing the academic publications and activities in the university that NEHU will be able to enhance its NIRF ranking. Faulty and hasty implementation of the NEP will neither increase the ranking, nor help improve the quality of higher education in the state. Education is not a race. No university will be showered with laurels or receive additional grants, only because it is among the first ones to implement the NEP. The experience of CUET / CUCET experience at national level cautions us to wait and watch how things move and not jump into the bandwagon without adequate preparation.
Being a central university, NEHU does not have the privilege of opting out of the NEP, 2020. However, it has the option to choose alternatives available within the structure of the NEP and decide on the nature and pace of implementation, keeping in view the logistics at the ground level. Responsible academic administrators are expected to take all precautions to ensure that the changes that they seek to enforce shall improve the quality of education and benefit the generation of students who seek admission in higher education.
(The writer teaches Political Science in NEHU and can be reached at [email protected])

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