Impact of NEP-20 on Higher Education, Research and Funding

Research is the history recognised way to investigate and establish the truths of nature and society and it is the only means of social progress. This is one of noblest professions, whose importance to the well being of a society needs no elaboration. One would have expected that in an inclusive and pro-people system the requirements for blooming of research is naturally taken care of by the government and the social conditions necessary for that are nurtured upon. Yet, today we find ourselves in a situation where the whole of society and as its integral part the education and research are in grave crisis.
For decades the research system continues to face various issues, many of which affect the lives of research scholars and the research ambience to a very high degree of severity. The abysmally low and persistently declining research funding in sciences and in particular social sciences, the measly amounts of fellowships given to the research scholars in the country, irregular fellowship, huge disparity among scholars on fellowship and several other counts, lack of quality research facilities, declining access to journals, books and data for research activities, unsafe and often abusive workplace environment,
unnecessary competition in the field of research often leading to unacceptable compromise in scientific and academic ethics, physical and mental stress etc. are some of the burning issues facing the research sector today. In today’s age of inflation and uncertainty, many research aspirants could not even think of pursuing their noble dream because of the high application fees and increasing semester and other fees in almost all institutions. We are at a stage where large number of scholars are taken in one or two years’ contractual ‘use and throw’ basis, who in many cases don’t even get their rightful payments and other benefits. The lack of employment opportunities after PhD have forced many PhD degree holders to apply for Grade IV posts, which often requires an education only up to class VIII. One glaring signature of the depth and bredth of the crisis is the staggering proportion of scholars who drop out of their research activities before completion of their PhD.
The governments have miserably failed in its responsibility to the researchers who are supposed to be one of the main architects of the future of not only the nation but of the whole mankind. However, this systemic failure is often put below the rug and a propaganda is pursued that the lack of initiative from individual researchers and their mediocre acadeimc and intellectual capacities are at the root of the problems. Notwithstanding the futility of this argument which often acts as an excuse by the policymakers, the argument itself suffers from internal inconsistency by overlooking the very process in which intellect is generated, motivated and nurtured in the society. Research, by its very nature, is a social process. Its well being and advancement is invariably dependent upon a process, and not just the individual researchers. Today the very process, which has been crippled for decades, is at the verge of destruction by the governmental policies of increasing privatisation and the rampant propagation of pseudoscience pseudo-history in the society.
The situation outlined above has been the long-standing picture of India’s research and education. And it has been a long-standing requirement to undertake fundamental changes in the scenario. Promising the changes towards the betterment, the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has been taken up by the central government. The way it was imposed through ordinance amidst the raging pandemic was nothing but a mockery of all democratic norms and principles, and such imposition raised questions on the intent of the policy. This policy is now being implemented, almost as an wartime urgency, by the central and all state governments: All institutions and regulatory bodies concerned with education are involved in a process of overhauling the existing education and research system in lines with the NEP-20. Although it is being portrayed as the long awaited panacea to the maladies plaguing our educationsystem, a careful examination of the policy reveals a concerning picture. Eminent educationists,teachers and many involved in the field of education including DRSO opposed it ever since a draft policy was released. Yet, there is little discussion about different aspects of the policy among the scholars and the general public who are at the receiving end of its impacts.
The new policy, even in its infancy, has compounded all existing issues while adding entirely new dimensions, which deepen the crisis. The following are but a few visible effects:
(i) Fee for research activities increased across the country. IITs, IISERs etc. recently saw a steep
hike in fees. (ii) Decline in funding for several fellowships and scholarships. Maulana Azad National
Fellowship for minorities, pre-matric scholarship among those cancelled by the central government.
(iii) Severe fund curtailment for science and social science bodies, enabling ‘National Research
Foundation’ (NRF) to become the main research funding agency. Above that, the taxes (GST) on
procuring scientific instruments has been increased from 5% to 18%. (iv) Boosts for inane topics like
‘panchagavya’, Astrology; promotion of pseudo-science pseudo-history through eminent institutions in
the name of Indian Knowledge Systems. (v) Entry into research and in particular the grant of
fellowships only through centralised exams like CUET, NET etc. in place of entrance exams held by
different universities, directly affecting autonomy, diversity and independent research. (vi) MPhil is
discontinued, mplying that there is no higher degree after Masters other than PhD, denying invaluable
research experience for students. (vii) Weekly 4 to 6 hours teaching/research assistanceship mandated
for all scholars. It will put additional burden on them and paving the way for further exploitation. Aim
is to use their intellectual and physical labour by reducing the number of permanent teaching faculty.
(viii) UGC’s new “Institute development plan” creates provisions for lowering teacher-student ratio,
employ industry and other professionals as teachers, and advocates 50% of the teacher recruitment on
contractual/ad-hoc basis. The same is being implementated through the ‘Professors of practice’ scheme.
The aforementioned changes are already being witnessed in practice and through the new UGC PhD
Regulation 2022, and are enough to underline the policy as one which is severely detrimental to the
interests of higher education and research in the country. A partcularly dangerous far-fetched
change in research is the way the NRF is being taken up.
The NRF is a new funding body that, according to the policy, will encourage competitive research in all academic disciplines and create a liason among the researchers, policy-makers, and industry; according to the policy it would work in parallel to other independent public funding bodies like UGC, DST, ICMR etc. However, in reality, all such research funding bodies are systematically deprived of public funding, implying that those will be dried up and NRF will remain as the sole centralised funding body which is of public-corporate nature by construction, that will control the entire research spectrum. A stated goal of NRF is to facilitate grants for ‘competitive’ research on ‘most urgent’ national research issues. But who decides the competitiveness and most urgent national research goals and on what basis? Looking at the trends it is clear that the centralisation of research through NRF will take thearena under the dictum of the state and the corporates, spelling doom for independent research in arts, humanities and basic sciences and therefore spoiling the soul of research itself.
As research suffers, new knowledge generation and the upbringing of teachers suffer, that directly affects the entire education chain. But there are more direct and far reaching damage the policy makes in the college and university level education, which must be looked carefully with due importance.The new policy mixes up the curricular and extra-curricular studies. In the name of ‘holistic education’ and interdisciplinary approach, the failed CBCS system is now reintroduced in the name of ‘liberalarts’ and is also extended to schools. The examinations at different levels are being centralised throughthe National Testing Agency (NTA), which is gradually moving towards centralisation into a commoncurriculum at school as well as higher education – the damage of which in a country of diversity like India is understandable. The same approach is taken into research entrance as well.
The policy gave special emphasis to digitisation of education. The experiments in this regard during the Covid19 pandemic shows the futility of this approach. Where in India most of the families don’t have access to internet or other digital technologies and merely two to three per cent students in both school and higher education can access the means for better utilisation of the digital technology, thedigitisation, as part of the policy itself, will certainly and only help the digital divide, privatisation and centralisation, and make education more exclusive. Also in NEP-20, the higher education institutions,
in particular the private higher education institutions, are given near-complete freedom to determine
fees, in a section ironically titled as “Curbing Commercialisation of Education”!
A grave danger is lurking into the provisions of accreditation and autonomy, regulations, and the 4-year undergraduate program. All the currently affiliated colleges are envisioned as either a part of the university or independent degree granting bodies over next few years. This will create massive chaos and discrimination as the degree will no longer carry the name and significance of the university, but it’s value will be determined based on the prestige of the colleges. Moreover, the policy, vouching for graded accreditation for the time being, eventually aims for “binary accreditation” where the accreditation will be labelled just “Yes” or “No” with “No” implying closure. Given the present infrastructure, student teacher ratio in most of the colleges, the massive blow the colleges receive in the pandemic, and in a dwindling funding scenario, how can a college cope with the the enforcement of the digital system and four year undergraduate course with research? Either only few privileged institutions will survive, or, the colleges that want to survive under this new accreditation regime will have to beg
to the corporates for funding. This will complete the privatisation of higher education, reduce the number of colleges and make higher education more distant from common people, lead to curriculum that benefits the private funders and the state regulators, and with the so called autonomy and liberty to determine fees, the commodification of education will be complete. Further, with the provision in the UGC PhD guidelines of direct admission to research after obtaining 75% marks in the 4-year undergraduate program, the academic relevance of the Masters degree is being diluted, and space for detailed, in depth and matured Masters level training to obtain genuine knowledge of a subject and the attainment of the equivalent thinking capacity is sqeezed. In addition, the changes in curriculum from school level to research incorporating unsbantiated content, introduction to unsceintific and false ideas of Astrology and Vastu in higher education and rampant propagation of pseudo-science and pseudohistory through institutions like IITs create massive threat before research and society.
DRSO opposed the policy from the beginning. It had called for an organised protest against the disastrous policy in the First Scholar Conference held on May 21, 2022 in Kolkata. On scholar issues and against NEP-20, scholar protest week was observed in September 2022, a countrywide sign campaign was conducted in which nearly 3000 scholars signed, and a scholar demonstration was held at New Delhi on November 25, 2022. In its continuation today we have assembled in this convention.
The convention declares NEP-20 as an utterly exclusive anti-research anti-education policy and pledges to build up stubborn scholar movement across the country to resist the implementation of this dreaded policy. The convention voices the demands,
1. 3% of budget for research, 10% for education; 2. Hike fellowship for all research scholars;
3. Give monthly fellowship in regular monthly basis; 4. Stop disparity in fellowship and other
benefits; 5. Stop pseudo-science, pseudo-history in the name of Indian Knowledge System; 6.
Withdraw National Education Policy 2020 , and appeals all research scholars, faculties, students, teachers, parents and all education and research loving people to voice for the same.

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