In what could be one of the first new initiatives of the second act of the NDA government, the Ministry of Human Resource Development plans to launch an ambitious ₹1.5 lakh crore action plan to improve the quality and accessibility of higher education over the next five years.
This is being described as the implementation plan for the National Education Policy — a 2014 poll promise from the BJP — which is also likely to be released in a week's time, after five years of repeated delays and extensions. The last NEP was released in 1986, with a revision in 1992.
“While the country has been in election mode, we have had 80 experts working on the EQUIP project over the last two months, to bring transformational change to the system,” Higher Education secretary R. Subrahmanyam told The Hindu on Friday. EQUIP stands for the Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme and was crafted by ten committees led by experts within the government such as NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, principal scientific advisor K. Vijay Raghavan and former revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia, as well as some corporate chiefs.
The ten committees have drafted strategy to improve access to higher education, especially for underserved communities; improve the gross enrolment ration; improve teaching and learning processes; build educational infrastructure; improve the quality of research and innovation; use technology and online learning tools; and work on accreditation systems, governance structures and financing.
“It will need substantial investments, to the tune of ₹1.5 lakh crore [over five years],” said Mr. Subrahmanyam.
“This is the implementation part [of the higher education section] of NEP, which we hope to release by May 31, after the new government is in place.” Other officials involved in the preparation of NEP and EQUIP said the release was more likely in early June.
Given that the last budget only allocated ₹37,461 crore to the higher education department, the EQUIP project will need to rely on extra-budgetary resources. The secretary said the Centre would mobilise money from the marketplace through the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA).
This would go beyond HEFA’s current ambit. The joint venture between the HRD Ministry and Canara Bank, set up in 2017, has been tasked with raising ₹1 lakh crore to finance infrastructure improvements in higher education by 2022. So far, projects worth ₹30,000 crore have been approved, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar said in January.
EQUIP is meant to bridge the gap between policy and implementation, said senior ministry officials. “Policy is always idealistic, but it needs clear cut strategies to be carried out. Otherwise, there are goals mentioned in every education policy from 1948 onwards which are yet to be fulfilled,” said a senior official who did not wish to be quoted.
However, the committees drafting EQUIP did not have access to the 400-plus pages of the draft NEP document, officials admitted. Once NEP is in the public domain, EQUIP will also be tweaked to ensure closer alignment, said officials.