Mint Explainer: India's road to becoming a higher education hub

NEP encourages a multi-disciplinary approach to higher education to promote holistic and skill-based education.
NEP encourages a multi-disciplinary approach to higher education to promote holistic and skill-based education.


  • National Education Policy seeks a radical overhaul, making it flexible and skills-based.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has proposed a four-year honours degree, in sync with the blueprint for higher education outlined by the new National Education Policy (NEP). It may kick off an overhaul of higher education in the country, with a focus on skills and multidisciplinary education. NEP seeks to build a flexible higher education ecosystem that encourages students to learn at their own pace, instead of finishing graduation in three or four years at one go. That would need a radical shift in the mindset of Indians. The NEP says it will make India a Vishwa Guru - a global leader -- in education in collaboration with some of the world’s best institutions.

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Why have a four-year under-graduate degree

It encourages a multi-disciplinary approach to higher education to promote holistic and skill-based education. This vision is clearly spelt out in NEP. A student will dig deeper into the chosen subject, and also learn the best of other disciplines. IITs have been encouraging a similar approach over the years, and the NEP says these elite institutes will lay even greater emphasis on it going forward. The four-year programme will have multiple exit opportunities for the student – at one year (certificate), two years (diploma), and three years (degree). Students can rejoin within three years of exit and must complete their bachelor's degree within seven years.

So, dip in and dip out of the education system, and learn at your own pace. It is perhaps an effort to encourage skills-based training, and students can return to finish their honours course when they need that knowledge the most, or when they can spare the time. This would need a shift in the mindset of Indian families, who essentially see education as something to be finished in one shot.

Remember how IIMs struggled to convince Indians that it pays to have work experience before an MBA programme? The best and the brightest talent from India’s top colleges would appear for the Common Admission Test (CAT) without any work experience; so IIMs would mostly have fresh graduates on their campuses. Things have changed gradually, and now about half of the batch size at IIMs has some work experience. Now, the same challenge will confront the Indian government and our top colleges. Convincing Indians that graduation too doesn’t have to be completed at one go but piecemeal to maximize the utility from the degree will take some years of effort.

Building an Academic Bank of Credits

The new education policy aims to migrate the education system to an academic credits-based system. Credits awarded to a student for one programme by a university can be transferred to or redeemed by another institution. It essentially gives a student mobility and he or she can study in different academic institutions and be awarded a degree based on the bank of credits. The education ministry has already launched the Academic Bank of Credits (ABC), which has onboarded 56 central and 430 state universities, including Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and the Indira Gandhi National Open University.

How India can emerge as a global education hub

The NEP aims to have significant numbers of international students in India, and “provide greater mobility to students in India… to study at, transfer credits to, or carry out research at institutions abroad, and vice versa". Can India scale up its credit system globally, or join a similar global initiative, and possibly bring the best universities on the platform?

Some of the top global universities such as Harvard do have an academic credit system. But the Harvard website clearly states that “Only courses comparable to the level and merit of a Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences" will be approved for a master’s and PhD degree. Indeed, for learning mobility, recognition of credits is essential – a process through which a university certifies that a course offered by another institution meets its own standards. For a global credits-based system, India will need to collaborate with and possibly build an education ecosystem that has obvious similarities with what foreign universities offer. A four-year honours degree will help Indian students in getting admissions in US universities and colleges, which essentially follow a 12+4 model.

A Vishwa Guru in education?

A higher education system that adopts the pattern followed by colleges abroad, or has a shared curriculum possibly by joining hands with foreign universities, will have obvious benefits. It will become easier for Indians to pursue studies in top foreign colleges, many of whom stay on in other countries, adding to their economic growth and prosperity. And, in the process, India will emerge as a "talent factory" for the world. Indeed, if India succeeds in its quest for providing quality, affordable higher education, it will also become a magnet for foreign students, making it a Vishwa Guru as envisaged by the NEP.


* Transform higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary universities

* Build an integrated higher education system, including professional and vocational education

* Move to four-year multidisciplinary Bachelor's programme

* Nurture an Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) for higher education

* Make India a global higher education hub

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