The education agenda during the first 100 days of the re-elected Modi government signals a renewed impetus to strengthen the Higher Education institutions of the country. Even before Prime Minister Modi’s re-election in May 2019, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) was tasked to draft a 100-day ‘Plan of Action’ for the next government, taking into account the promises made in the manifesto released by the BJP party. This plan listed nine priorities for higher education, with many of initiatives building on the work done during the last term of the government.
The newly appointed Union Cabinet Minister of Human Resource Development, Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, has hit the ground running by launching a series of new initiatives and schemes during his first 100 days in office. Below we have summarized the five major higher education initiatives announced by MHRD:
1. EQUIP: The Implementation plan for National Education Policy
It took two committees and almost four years, but the draft of the New National Education Policy (NEP) was finally released to the public on May 31, 2019. Since its release, the draft policy has received over 200,000 comments from stakeholders around the country. To implement this comprehensive policy, the MHRD has finalized an action plan entitled, ‘Education Quality Up-gradation and Inclusion Programme’ (EQUIP), prepared in consultation with 80 experts. The plan covers 10 key themes such as access, quality, governance systems, research and innovation, employability and internationalisation.
2. Higher Education Commission of India Bill
The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill to set up a single higher education regulator by submerging AICTE and UGC was abandoned during the central government’s legislative agenda in 2018 due to strong political opposition. Since then, the bill has been revised to ensure it is keeping with the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’ and has more academic and state representation. The new bill will be taken to the parliament in October 2019. The proposed bill also includes a provision that would allow reputed foreign universities to set up their campus in India and operate under a regulatory framework.
3. National Research Foundation
The Ministry has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring all funding and mentoring research initiatives in the country under a single funder – the National Research Foundation (NRF). During her budget speech on July 5, 2019, Union Finance Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned setting up of the NRF to assimilate the research grants given out by different government ministries to one nodal foundation. The NEP suggests that around USD 3 billion will be allocated annually as funding to the NRF. The proposal to set up the National Research Foundation will be taken to the parliament in October 2019.
4. Launch of Science (STARS) and Humanities (STRIDE) Research Schemes
Two new schemes to support research projects have been announced by the Ministry. The first one, entitled ‘Scheme for Transnational and Advanced Research in Science’ (STARS) will fund research in six basic thrust areas: Physics, Chemistry, Biological Sciences, Nano-sciences, Data Sciences & Mathematics and Earth Sciences. The second one, entitled ‘Scheme for Trans-Disciplinary Research of India’s Developing Economy’ (STRIDE) will provide support to research projects that are socially relevant, locally need-based, nationally important and globally significant. For more details on the schemes, please refers to the links below:
5. 20 Institutions of Eminence
The Institute of Eminence scheme aims at developing 20 world-class institutions which would put India on the global education map. The initial scheme was launched in July 2018 when MHRD announced six Indian institutes – three private and three public as Institutions of Eminence (IoE). In August 2019, list expanded to 20 with the UGC granting seven public and seven private universities with the IoE status.
It’s apparent that many of the proposed initiatives will only go through if there is willingness from both sides of the parliament (ruling as well as opposition party) to pass the draft proposal of the National Education Policy and other key bills such as HECI. In the interim however, it is interesting to note that MHRD is continuing to launch other initiatives on the side-lines that need not have parliamentary approval. Needless to say, this government is serious about improving the quality of Indian higher education institutions and is willing to provide institutions with resources, autonomy and expertise to ensure they can be world class.