In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party was alive to the fact that if it won, a very large section of the population would be coming of age on its watch. After all, more than 50% of India’s population is under the age of 25. Accordingly, its election manifesto elaborated in detail the party’s plan for higher education, skills education and employability.
In addition to enhancing students’ employability, the manifesto emphasised reforming regulatory bodies, giving greater autonomy for higher educational institutions and establishing closer links between the private sector and public education. The BJP-led government was the first to frame major policies with international university rankings in mind and had stated its intention to do so in the manifesto.
Here are some of the major promises made and what progress was made them.
Higher and Professional Education
Reworking the work culture of teacher training institutions.
Status: Efforts to reform teacher-training have been stymied by lawsuits. A new programme combining an undergraduate degree in a general discipline and an education degree was designed over two years, but its launch in December was put on hold. Over 11 lakh employed but untrained teachers were directed to get trained online through Swayam, the ministry’s MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) portal.
A mechanism for close interaction between industry (including SME [small and medium industries]), academia and community would be instituted.
Status: Attempts to achieve this were made in several ways. One broad measure was to establish ranking and rating systems that used community engagement and industry linkages as criteria for assessing institutions. The government also introduced the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan in 2014 to connect science and technology institutions with villages so that researchers could work on technological interventions appropriate for the rural setting. It introduced an internship programme under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan for all universities and colleges. Linkages with industry and practical knowledge became a cornerstone of the revamped curriculum for engineering.
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But the strongest links were created by further opening up public education to private funding. The government set up the Higher Education Finance Agency – a non-banking finance company – with the objective of raising funds for infrastructure and research from the market. Educational institutions that had relied on government grants for expansion were asked to borrow from the agency instead.
Needs assessment exercise to identify future needs across sectors and developing appropriate courses for higher education, to ensure that the country has adequate manpower for every sector, both established and emerging, in the economy
Status: The engineering programmes have been overhauled and a common course structure and syllabus introduced for undergraduate programmes across universities – state and Central. Neither, however, has had any perceptible impact on employment yet.
Will provide autonomy with steps to ensure accountability for institutions of higher learning.
Status: The government has provided various levels of autonomy to some universities and research centres but also withdrew funds from public institutions. There are questions about how that autonomy is exercised and whether the mechanism for ensuring accountability is actually working.
Will raise the standard of education and research, so that Indian universities get on par with the top global universities and find their place in the global league.
Status: In 2018, the government selected six institutions for an “Institute of Eminence” tag. These were judged to be universities that have the potential to achieve a high place in international university ranking frameworks within 20 years. The three public institutions will all receive extra government funds. The three private ones selected include the Jio Institute, which is still non-existent. It has launched several new research schemes.
The University Grants Commission will be restructured and it will be transformed into a Higher Education Commission rather than just being a grant distribution agency.
Status: After several false starts, government drafted a highly controversial bill in 2018 to abolish the University Grants Commission and replace it with Higher Education Commission of India. In the original Bill, the new body was not given the existing one’s funding functions. The ministry was forced to reconsider after public outcry. The bill is yet to be tabled.
BJP will set up a National Commission on Education to report in two years on the state of education and the reforms needed. Based on the report, BJP will implement a National Education Policy.
Status: Two committees were formed. The recommendations of the first one were rejected; the second is yet to submit its report.
Vocational and skills training and apprenticeships
Will set up Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and virtual classrooms to make it convenient for working-class people and housewives to further their knowledge and qualifications.
Status: The government established Swayam – Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds – which was used even for the crucial pre-service training of school teachers. The National Programme for Technology Enhanced Learning, NPTEL, an initiative of the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science set up under the previous government, has received much encouragement as well.
We will take up skill development on a mission mode, at an unprecedented scale.
Status: The new Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was set up and the administration of polytechnics shifted from the Ministry for Human Resource Development to it. A National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship was adopted in 2015. It launched a National Skill Development Mission and the Coordinated Action for Skill Development. It has also drafted guidelines for Skill Universities.
Skill Mapping to help scientifically plan our national human resource development that India would need (like engineers, architects, doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, carpenters, welders, etc.).
Status: Mentioned several times in various policy documents but not achieved yet. The Central Government’s think tank National Institution for Transforming India, or Niti Aayog, has been mapping skills in 117 backward districts with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship.
We will also set up Centres of Excellence in various sectors in partnership with the Industry.
Status: Set up model training centres called Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendra – one for each district.
We will promote vocational training on a massive scale. Rigid segregation of formal education and skill development will be broken; a mechanism will be established to give vocational qualifications of Academic Equivalence.
Status: Some form of skill education or vocational training has been incorporated in university syllabuses and a vocational track is available in schools as well. On February 26, the Ministries of Human Resource Development and Skill Development and Entrepreneurship launched the Scheme for Higher Education Youth for Apprenticeship and Skills offering industry apprenticeships to graduates in general disciplines from 2019. It is aimed at increasing employability by giving newe graduates a chance to train while on the job.
Launch a national programme for digital empowerment through computer literacy of the people, especially the youth.
Status: Launched digital literacy scheme for rural India – the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan.