Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Higher Education in India: New Educational Policy – 2020 and Educational Issues in the Post-COVID-19 Pandemic

Written By

Suwa Lal Jangu

Submitted: 27 October 2021 Reviewed: 11 November 2021 Published: 13 July 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.101592

From the Edited Volume

Higher Education - New Approaches to Accreditation, Digitalization, and Globalization in the Age of Covid

Edited by Lee Waller and Sharon Waller

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Abstract

The Indian higher education system is one of the largest systems in the world. India has seen a big development in the higher education sector as enrolment and the numbers of higher educational institutions have increased almost four-time in the last two decades. Service economies in developed countries tend to have a great demand for higher education. India contributes to the global workforce is only marginal. Education produces social justice in the future as well as being a benefit to young people in the present. Education suggests that the power of intellectual curiosity and the love of learning were equally strong motives as the need for a social leader. The recent NEP 2020 seeks equity and inclusion through education. Online education used to be an outlier until the Covid-19 pandemic placed it at center stage. The story of India education system is obsessed with examinations and grades. With no financial support to build new facilities or open new universities, enrolling students online seems the logical solution to boost capacity. The growing demand for admission in higher educational institutions in India coupled with the inadequacy of public expenditure on the same sector.

Keywords

  • new education policy
  • higher education
  • Indian education system
  • digitalization and public expenditure

1. Introduction

The Indian higher education system is one of the largest systems in the world. India has seen a massive expansion in the higher education sector as enrolment and the numbers of HEIs have increased almost four-time since 2001. This increase was because of primarily driven by the privately owned institution. Indian higher education system is a mass system where higher education is seen as a right for those who have certain formal qualifications. It is said that higher education is dependent on the level of income and the occupational structure of the economy.

Service economies in developed countries tend to have a great demand for higher education. India contributes to the global workforce is only marginal. Knowledge has always been a distinguishing characteristic of human beings in view of their unique capacity to formulate and continuously transmit knowledge from one generation and location to another. Research has always been an important part of a university’s function in India. In addition to their role in imparting knowledge, the establishment of universities as centers for the production of knowledge.

Education is a means of progressivism that is well discussed by Rousseau’s Emile. Rousseau’s educational ideas no longer seem radical to a modern student and teacher. Wollstonecraft wanted education to produce social justice in the future as well as being a benefit to young people in the present. The true objective of social justice is to establish a perfect society. According to Wollstonecraft, social justice is always in the making, and necessarily responsive to changing conditions that come from the result of a struggle for social justice ([1], p. 343).

Rousseau argues that education could lead to a more socially just society. Further, he seeks to change contemporary educational practices so that it would be possible to create a more socially just society. The teacher is never to demand obedience either through force or reason. Teacher makes sure the boy’s education is one of ‘well-regulated freedom. Social justice must integrate into an understanding of education– of living a good life together with each other and treating others equally ([1], p. 344).

In an era when classical education was prominent among British elites and defined the civilized person, they found Indian civilization to be the equal of western civilizations. Education suggests that the power of intellectual curiosity and the love of learning were equally strong motives as the need for a social leader. Accomplishments in science and technology and the capacity to use them in benign and productive ways seemed to prove that humans could master and harness nature and direct and control social change ([2], p. 80).

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2. National Education Policy-2020

The National Education Policy (NEP) 1968 and 1986 envisaged equity in educational opportunities. The NEP 1968 emphasized on restructuring the educational system, NEP 1986 stressed on the removal of disparities. The recent NEP 2020 seeks to equity and inclusion through education. The new National Education Policy, which entered into effect in July 2020, is referred as a big set of reforms mentions about higher education institutions: “All higher education institutions – public and private – shall be treated within this regulatory regime” and that “private philanthropic efforts in education should be encouraged.” The government aims at restructuring the scattered Indian higher education system by transforming higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary universities. The law also sets ambitious goals for the internationalization of universities, focus on digital infrastructure, professional education, modernization of pedagogy, and multidisciplinary education but the 2021 Education budget was 6 percent less than in 2020 [3].

India’s, New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 proposes many changes in higher education. Among them, one is the introduction of the four-year undergraduate program from next year. India’s largest University, Delhi University has approved it. If it implemented in letter and spirit, the NEP can change the classroom experience. Higher education in India use to produce disciplinary experts but the NEP 2020 aims to change disciplinary limitations. B.Tech students now will study a couple of subjects of social sciences to their engineering branch. Thus, engineering degree programs will offer some courses of arts and humanities. Similarly, students of social sciences will study more science subjects. Therefore, all degree programs will incorporate vocational subjects and soft skills development.

IIT-Bombay’s new Liberal Arts, Science and Engineering (LASE) Program has become a model of bringing the NEP’s vision on the ground. The LASE model was introduced that gives students the choice to graduate with a UG degree in five subjects or “course” – design, physical and natural sciences, arts and humanities, social sciences, and engineering sciences. In the final year of the degree program, students are allowed to choose their own combination of subjects for the degree. LASE entrees will study a combination of basic courses in the second year of the degree as modern south Asia, history of science, digital societies, social system, cultural and linguistic literature, apart from their STEM course. Moreover, the NEP 2020 will reduce the role of teachers and weaken the connection between the teacher and the taught [4].

While the education sector took a massive setback because of the pandemic, the Union Government has failed to provide leadership in responding to issues faced by students and teachers. No surveys were conducted by the Ministry of Education among students and teachers, no concrete initiatives were taken to address the increasing inequality and unfair which ruined the learning experience of a large section of students. The NEP 2020 too was passed through Cabinet on 29 July 2020 without a serious discussion on its implications. On September 4, 2021, without going through proper consultation with stakeholders in HEIs, the heads of institutions pushed the NEP implementation in their respective units [5].

New numbers of both UG and PG courses are being introduced in the HEIs without looking at the mandate with which the HEIs were set up or even the possibility of expansion or infrastructure needs. The vision of NEP 2020 is to achieve the gross enrollment ratio (GER) to 50 percent by 2030 but without increasing public spending. In fact, policies such as the SWAYAM Regulations 2021, Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) Regulations 2021, and Blended mode of Learning (BL) will reduce regular streams to semi-regular ones [5].

These new regulations undermine the autonomy of the HEIs intend to reduce the role of teachers and universities by reducing association with students. The UGC concept note on the blended mode of learning treats students as customers using fancy words like “pick teachers and timings”, “frame your course”, “design your degree”, “student-centric” and many more such words. Indeed, these new measures are aimed at reducing expenditure towards public-funded higher education in the grab of “students’ choice”. Ultimately these new initiatives in the name of educational reforms will affect the students from marginalized communities [6].

While multidisciplinary is the final destination, the four-year UG course suggested in the NEP document is a means to that end. The new policy suggests modifying the duration of the degree program to allow students to get knowledge of holistic and multidisciplinary education. The NEP also emphasizes on the chosen major and minors subject by students as per their choice. The NEP states that the four-year multidisciplinary UG’s program shall be the preferred option. The detail of the four-year bachelor program is mentioned under the NEP 2020 as while students pursuing UG program will be studying one more year but with an option to leave before that with appropriate certification. Leaving after the first-year students will earn a certificate, after second year a diploma, and after the third year an undergraduate degree. Completing the entire program or all four years students would be eligible for awarding a UG degree with eligible for research degree if the student completes a fundamental research project in any major subject during four-year.

India’s largest university “Delhi University” is set to be the first higher education institution to implement the NEP 2020. The Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) proposed by the NEP is where higher education institutions (HEIs) will digitally deposit credits earned by students for the course they studied. From 2022 onward, DU students can opt for either a three-year honors program, or a four-year honors program, or a four-year honor program with research. They can also exit with appropriate certification. The ABC is expected to aid the multiple entries and exit system as well as multidisciplinary in higher education. A student on the basis of the ABC can move laterally from one higher education institution to another if needed. Designating credits to each course would also mean that course or project in an area would carry weight. The NEP would go a long way in the attainment of holistic and multidisciplinary education [7].

The Government of India wants to promote Indian languages, arts, and culture through education and the NEP 2020 emphasizes the same. The higher educational institution adopt the regional language or mother language and the local dialect is the medium of instruction in teachings. The NEP 2020 states will help increase the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education as students who are not proficient in English will be encouraged to pursue further studies in regional languages. The NEP 2020 proposes a single university entrance exam conducted by the National Testing Agency [8].

Students will not have to appear for multiple entrance tests. But the NTA will use “multiple-choice questions” mode of question pattern for each and every exam. Students may have a different opinion on the MCQs based question pattern because this mode of question pattern may be advantageous for some students while other some students it may be most disadvantageous. Some students are good at writing a text while some other students are good at choosing the best options among given questions in their respective exam [8].

2.1 Digitalization of education

Online education used to be an outlier until the Covid-19 pandemic placed it at center stage. Pandemic brought a moment “to create the things we have been fighting our asses off for”. Only one-third of older high-school goers in India felt “engaged” by their online classes. Compulsory education school closures have underlined the importance of in-person schooling to children’s mental and physical health. Not all but some children who have met online learning to seem less mature in their behavior and attitudes than might be expected. The effect of educational institution closures and the lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been trying for all, but it has been extremely harsh to the students and the families belonging to the most socially and economically disadvantaged communities especially backward and Dalit sections of Indian society [9].

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, government schools have had to incorporate digital learning, a challenge as only 28 percent of government schools in 2018–2019 had computers and only 12 percent had an internet connection. Online education is a disadvantage for the students and families of backward communities in rural areas. Learning Management System – LMS is driven by artificial intelligent – AI, supports the delivery of online learning, and acts as a platform for online content and courses. However, problems of lack of adequate financial resources, the digital gap between rural and urban areas, lack of social justice approach in the market and private forces in the online education system. The true role of education in social development is that it must match with educational development. Education to all cannot be well-served by a one-size-fits-all approach in a socially diverse country. Covid-19 and the closing of educational buildings forced teachers to shift to remote learning in a matter of days, cobbling together online teaching platforms out of business tools ([10], p. 8).

2.2 Social structure and status of Indian higher education

The story of the India education system is obsessed with examinations and grades. During the peak of the second wave of coronavirus, Indian higher education institutions were forcing their students to write examinations and assignments. The examination system in India has always been an exclusionary and discriminatory mode of assessment. The higher education institution in India reveals that students belonging to marginalized groups especially Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes, Sexual and Religious minorities experience an extreme levels of systematic discrimination. The systematic marginalization of these groups is ingrained in the very manner in which these institutions are designed.

The classroom discussions in higher education institutions are completely inhospitable for people who have completed their earlier education in vernacular languages from state university affiliated colleges and government schools. The vocabulary that is used during lectures and subsequent discussions in the classroom makes them passive recipients of huge bulky terms with no meaning whatsoever. Several students of the Union government’s educational institutions who come from vernacular backgrounds have repeatedly complained that they feel neglected, marginalized, and even unacknowledged both by the institutions and students around.

Most of the Union governments’ higher educational institutions have the same yardstick for measuring the learning of different students; it defeats its own purpose. The same yardstick cannot be effectively used to measure the learning outcome of a male student coming from a higher caste family living in a metropolitan and of a female student coming from a low-class lower caste family located at the countryside. India’s higher institutions do not recognize and rectify the inherent inequality within their structures. In a country marked by huge caste, class, and gender inequalities, making the English language, or the academic style of writing or the beautifully carved presentations as standards of learning and grading does make no sense.

The English language is still a monopoly of upper-caste elite groups. It is atrocious on the part of educational institutions to demand flawless speeches and presentations embedded with flowery words and phrases from students who have been historically marginalized for centuries. These students belonging to these groups for the most part of their live remain low on their self-confidence because of the kind of oppression they had to face for years. In Indian educational system, no knowledge, experience, and learning but language and socio-economic privilege are the “standards” that decide the merit of students. India is a country where grades and percentages decide the social status of families within society.

The SC, ST, OBC, and minority communities historically oppressed groups are “shown their position” in society under the farce rhetoric of merit. The socio-economic status and history of marginalized communities is a decisive factor of their “unfit” for this education system which has been designed essentially for the elites. Education is an end in itself; it is also a means through which historically marginalized groups seek their emancipation from age-old shackles of exploitation and discrimination. The biased education system in India only favors the privileged but also cruelly throws others out because they do not “fit in” its standards. Education and acquiring knowledge is a cooperative venture and not a competitive one [11].

All 23 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are violating the Union government’s reservation policy in admission to research programs and appointment of teachers. As under the reservation quota policy (affirmative policy measures mentioned under the fundamental rights in the Indian constitution), seats and posts in IHE institutions those funded by the Central government must be reserved for the under-represented communities – 15 percent seats or posts for SC, 7.5 percent for ST and 27 percent for OBCs. Therefore, the IITs’ appointment and admission systems are unconstitutional, illegal, and arbitrary because not implement the quota system by these. Even many IITs do not adopt any fair and free mechanism in either faculty appointment or in admission for research programs. They give priority to candidates from certain castes and classes in both recruitment and admission.

During 2015–2020, the IITs had admitted candidates from SC, ST, and OBCs communities in number far less than what the quota policy requires. Only 9.1 percent of admissions were from SC, 2.1 percent from ST, and 23.2 percent from OBC under the PhD program, which is less than the percentage of seats given to them. The HEIs must be diverse in composition in both students and teachers as social diversity, geographical diversity, and research diversity. IITs and CUs have inadequate diversity representation as a regional imbalance in faculty recruitment. There is a lack of transparency and favoritism-based appointment systems in IITs ([12], p. 4).

In November 2019, the Union government extended the quota of SC, ST, and OBC to all faculty positions in all study-branches across 23 IITs but the IITs have been deeply reluctant. IITs are waiting to get an exemption which will give them free hand in selecting faculty and PhD scholars and bury the discrimination done in past. These institutions want to include in the list of institutions of excellence (IoEs). As per the CEI Act 2019, IoEs, research institutions, institutions of national and strategic importance and minority institutions are exempt from reservation ([12], p. 5).

2.3 Privatization and elite nature

India has thousands of higher educational institutions including private colleges and universities. But only few of institutions have the campus facilities and resources to admit 50 percent of new students over the next 15 years. With no financial support to establish new facilities and arrange resources to open a new campus, in that scenario, admitting new students online looks like the logical solution to the shortage. But few institutions have staff who have experience in running online courses, and that’s why, both the public and private institutions are approaching the market players of digital education service providers. They are eyeing the digital education market that India’s higher education offers. The government of India is for the first to allow universities to offer fully online degrees – a change that could reshape the education service sector in India while blowing open the door to a previously limited market for US-based online education services companies as Coursera and edX. The government’s policy on online education is still limited. Only the top 100 institutions in India’s National Institutional Ranking Framework can apply to offer fully online degrees, and subject areas are restricted [13].

The NEP 2020 highlights the significance role of digital education could play in reforming India’s higher education sector and increasing access to higher education. The NEP 2020 promotes Indian universities and colleges not only to develop their own online degree programs but also to recognize and award credit for online degree programs offered by abroad universities. The policy seeks that foreign universities may be allowed to open their campuses in India – something the country has been opposing since long time. The rise of private universities is a context of public under-funding and the need for more campuses. But this transformation is not without consequences in form of academic quality, socio-economic inclusiveness of students, and academic freedom. India’s public higher education system is not capable of absorbing all the new students. Investors identified the need for young Indians to acquire higher education, and the market of private institutions followed rapidly. However, looking at the high numbers of Indian leaving the country to study abroad because they cannot find a university suited to their needs in India. The consequences of the rise of private higher education in India should be nuanced.

The shady sides of India’s private higher education industry are unethical business practices, low insertion of the graduates on the job markets among other issues are a reality that clearly advocate for better control and quality norms from the Indian government. The private status allows them much more flexibility than their public counterparts which abide by the bureaucratic rules of the University Grant Commission – the authority coordinating and determining standards of higher education in India. India’s private higher educational institutions in a deeply unequal society like India’s, public universities have to respect the quotas of the “reservation system”. Presently, the reservation system appears to be the only means for people from the lower castes to get admission to the same education as upper-castes Indians.

In private higher educational institutions, on other hand, the reservation rules are not an application. Private and public colleges and universities may or may not have an internal financial support program, and if they have such policy, social diversity representation is far from being available for students who come from the lower castes remain underrepresented. The status of private universities can be perceived as rampant against an intrusive government, compared to a public sector more acquiescent to politics. In India, public universities, political nominations of vice-chancellors are frequent. Private universities are also not protected from political pressure. The donors of private universities are business owners, they need the government to rule in favor of their companies’ activities and hence do not want to take the risk of shooting themselves in the foot.

2.4 Public expenditure and dropouts

In terms of enrolment, India is second only to China (41.8 million) with 35.9 million students currently enrolled in universities and colleges. India has 35 million students enrolled in higher education contributing to a small gross enrollment ratio (GER) percent. China has a much higher GER of 51.6 percent. India has set the target of 50 percent GER achieving by 2035 as also emphasized in the New Educational Policy (NEP) 2020. Currently, around 25 percent of students studying from high school enroll in higher education institutions. The Indian government wants that this number must touch 50 percent by 2035 – it means increasing two times the country’s college and university enrollment from its current figure. The present figure of enrollment in higher education is around 35 million students. This target could be achieved if the Government of India spends six percent of the country’s GDP on education ([14], p. 11–13).

The growing demand for admission in higher educational institutions in India coupled with the inadequacy of public expenditure on the same sector. The students’ protests demand that education must be accessible to all and must not be only for the rich and urban seekers. The student’s learning outcomes in India gradually declined during 2006–2016. This is happened despite an increase in budgetary expenditure on overall education, from Rs. 3.6 lakh crore to 4.6 lakh crore over the last decade. India is ranked 62nd in terms of total public expenditure on education as per student and measures of the quality of education (student-teacher ratio in schools). India spent three percent of its total GDP on education in 2018–2019 or about 5.6 billion rupees [15].

The expansion of the higher education sector in India was funded by individual families. The individual family includes the household as a family of students and loans mainly include banks’ loans. There is a lack of adequate data about the financial support as loans to students in the higher education sector funded by individual families. Only eight percent of all enrolled students in higher education institutions during 2013–2014 were funded by individual families. Therefore, it exceeded the gross public expenditure on higher education. In India, student fees are the single biggest source of funding in the higher education sector. In fact, private colleges and universities which do not get public financial assistance are funded almost entirely by student fees ([14], p. 48).

Insufficiency of public expenditure on education especially in the context of growing demand for education resulted in growth in private investment in education. It has far-reaching implications for the affordability and accessibility of education in socio-educationally backward communities. Several studies observed that India is spending on education around 6.5 percent of GDP (4 percent spent by the public sector and 2.5 percent spent by the private sector). Most of the private sector’s expenditure goes to students of the privileged communities while students of marginalized communities are almost out from the private sector-based education [16].

India needs to spend six percent of its GDP on education, every national education policy (NEP) since 1968 has said. In 2019–2020, 52 years since that recommendation, India spent only 3.1 percent of its GDP on education. One of the results of this underspending on public education is that over one hundred thousand schools are run by single-teacher in India. Over one million government schools, where 52 percent of India’s nearly 248 million students study, have remained poorly funded. This is among the reasons why learning outcomes in India have been so poor. The bulk of funds for government schools come from the state government. The central government contributes partially to programs such as those for teacher training and mid-day meals. States contribute the most of education funds in India [17].

In 2019–2020, the Central Government allocated Rs. 6.43 lakh crore ($88 billion) of public funds for education. The center accounts for 15 percent of education spending. The rest came from the states and Union Territories. All the areas are underfunded in Indian education. The entire education budget money is very small and stagnant for years. Teacher salaries make up the biggest share of education expenditure across states and states do not have the fund to recruit more teachers to fill vacant posts. Most of the schools in areas inhabited by socially backward communities are run by single-teacher and in the poor building. The little fund allocated for teacher training that resulted in poor classroom pedagogy and learning. Learning outcomes in India have been poor for years [17].

Today, students and people from marginalized sections are taking to the streets demanding more budgetary allocation for education. India has a big problem of a high dropout rate in higher education. According to a survey conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO) of the Indian government, one out of every eight students enrolled in a school or college drops out before completing their education, and over 62 percent of all dropouts occur at the school level and almost 63 percent of all dropouts occur in high school. Rajendra Singh (president of the Independent English Schools’ Association in Maharashtra) says, “Parents do not prioritize girls in education.” Further he says, “When parents are in a financial bind, girls are often pushed to the back of the line when it comes to schooling” [18].

The dropout rate in marginalized communities is higher than in privileged communities and it is also higher in rural India than urban areas. Two major reasons for dropping out of school in backward communities are labor migration and financial poverty. The more dropout rate in government schools comes from children of socio-educational backward communities. There are a shortage of good math and English teachers both in private and public schools, especially in rural areas. The dropout rate trend is seen in professional education programs, especially graduate students of socio-educational backward communities [18].

2.5 Social equality and social justice

India’s HEIs use to display their immense cultural power in the educational life of students coming from marginalized communities. The government and political forces create such conditions that forcefully shape the academic life of elite educational institutions. The entry of students from socially marginalized communities into India’s HEIs has been made possible by the use of political force in the form of the Mandal Commission report. Upper-caste-controlled academics understand that it is not in the nature of higher educational institutions to open themselves for lower-caste people. The entry of the SC-OBC as students and teachers into HEIs has been triggered off the demand for social diversity and not a monopoly in the area of production and creation of knowledge.

There is inadequate representation of students from reserved categories in the abroad scholarship/fellowship programs. Applicants of marginalized communities are rarely to be selected because India-based facilitators have social prejudice towards the students of reserved categories. There is also caste-based discrimination with reserved categories candidates in interviews for the top positions as Indian Civil Services are being conducted by the Union Public Service Commission, Government of India. They score high marks in the written exams but less marks are given to them in interviews.

The demand for diversity is required for breaking of upper-caste people’s control over the higher education spaces. The elite and upper-caste aristocratic monopoly in the HEIs have been creating and maintaining the social distance for long time. This social distance character of knowledge production in elite HEIs is a Brahmanical quest for knowledge. Students and teachers from the SC and OBC communities’ experiences of social distancing and disaffection in the Upper-caste controlled the HEIs. Students and teachers from socially marginalized communities are underrepresented and face discrimination on the basis of their identity in the higher education spaces. The higher education institutions are not only dominated by upper castes but that they display a Brahminical form of space that disallows lower castes’ spaces and minds to share and sit with upper-castes people.

Students seek to excel in their pursuit of knowledge by redefining the problematic caste system in their respective academic courses or works. Their attempts show their seriousness to attach with academic culture in the pursuit of life, which is more than the instrumental purpose of education. But these attempts of students from marginalized communities are constantly marked either as “out of academic framework” or as “non-fit for the system”. These elite linguistic phrases – “lack of academic framework” or “fitness to be in the academic system” – repeat in the works of the Dalit-Bahujan students.

Students from marginalized communities seriously envisage a non-alienating relationship with the modern higher educational institution is interrupted by subtle suggestions and informal procedures informed by caste as practiced by the elite institutions and their people. India is composed of different communities. All these communities are unequal in their status and progress. Backward classes are socially, educationally, and economically handicapped in a manner in which no other community is handicapped. Therefore, the principle of favored treatment must be adopted in the case of backward classes.

2.6 Vacant posts of reserved categories

Over 55 percent of the sanctioned OBC posts, 41 percent off the SC posts, and 39 percent of the STs posts in the 45 central universities and other technical and research institutes are lying vacant. More than 8000 faculty positions have been lying vacant at higher education institutions across India. Recently, Secretary, Higher Education, Government of India Amit Khare had written to all Central Higher Education Institutions (CHEIs) functioning under the administrative control of the Ministry of Education, Government of India to fill faculty positions lying vacant in all reserved categories. This has to be done in a mission mode before September 2022 [19].

54 percent of the faculty positions reserved for other backward castes (OBC) in central government universities and institutions are vacant, while about 40 percent of those reserved for Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes are also vacant. The situation is particularly acute in the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), where more than 60 percent of reserved categories’ positions are vacant, while almost 80 percent of positions reserved for STs have not been filled. Both IITs and IIMs have been opposing the faculty reservation. The situation of the same reserved categories in the central universities, vacancies are higher at the level of professors. However, more than 95 percent of total sanctioned professor positions reserved for OBCs in all central universities and institutions are vacant. There are now 6074 vacant positions at the 42 central universities, of which 75 percent are in reserved categories [20].

2.7 Social and economical significance of higher education

Higher educational institutions are enshrined with the responsibility of producing knowledge in modern society. In recent times, with increasing cases of caste discrimination in elite higher educational institutions, this responsibility of creating knowledge is reversed by social institutions. The higher education institutions produce forms of discrimination that are inherited by the privileged society rather than acquired by them. There is a minuscule distinction between forms of recognition based on the modern rational and universal principles and recognition based on the caste system. There are adequate demonstrations that illustrate replication of caste-based form of recognition rather than recognition based on acquired rational learning. If we look at India’s HEIs as spaces that are both embodied and disembodied sites that generate caste along with knowledge.

Poverty led to the drop out in past generations and joined working labor to make the little saving for their children. The poverty-caused condition is still not improved. The Right to Education is aimed to secure 25 percent enrollment of children from the socio-economically marginalized communities in private schools. The right to education is a fundamental right of the child to study. Still, education is limited largely to a particular “class” in society. The mindsets of people at elite educational institutions kill the rights of the people not having access to resources. The mindsets which discriminate on the basis of opportunities, on the basis of caste and class, cannot in a real sense secure equality and inclusion. Equality in real terms can and will never be achieved unless the class and caste conflict is dissolved. The social base of equality, inclusion, and equity in education has been destroyed by those who are assumed to be committed to ending caste and class discrimination through the provision of educational opportunities.

The production of knowledge is based on caste and it is successfully installed through an affective articulation of the elite institutions and their privileged people. Dalit-Bahujan relatively new entrants to elite institutions that have been mainly producing upper-caste esthetics and experiences are constantly made to feel alienated and discriminated. There is a whole affective economy of India’s HEIs that devalues the Dalit-Bahujan “being” by prioritizing the already normalized presence of upper-caste people. It is in this realm where Dalit-Bahujan embodied itself is seen as a threat. The Dalit-Bahujan students seek revolutionary equality, which is out of the demands for mere presence in modern spaces.

Social and educational equality is seen as an effort to recognize the sameness in other people. Neither the Hindu right-wing nor the left recognizes or grants to the space for the production and reproduction of radical equality that Ambedkar aspired to. In the present context, equality is not to recognize the sameness but the indeterminable otherness of the Dalit-Bahujan people. Yet, thousands of Dalit-Bahujan students relentlessly dream and struggle to experience an intellectual atmosphere in elite higher educational institutions. There is a need to sans caste prejudice and to recreate their “being” in revolutionary new forms in a society that otherwise seems to be forgetting what resistance with awareness can release in revising life and politics [21].

2.8 Social and scientific education

Knowledge of science and rational practice of scientific thinking are essential components of a fully functioning democracy. Scientific and rational education is an essential tool for solving problems like communalism, fundamentalism, and nation-building. Scientific education is not the national priority it needs to be; even state and local governments are not yet delivering high-quality, critical learning experiences in equal measure to all students from elementary school through higher education. The Covid-19 pandemic is at a time when India is confronting communal hate, social injustice, and economic inequality that must end. Science in society and in the schools must be for all, not only for reasons of fairness and equity but also so that a democratic society can deal with the problems that confront it.

Science is one of the key disciplines that teach people how to ground decision-making in evidence. Farmers are India’s greatest citizen scientists. Indian farmers are among the best scientist in the country. Farmers are always experimenting with what works best in individual fields, how to rotate crops, what seed variety to use and what tillage, pest management, and irrigation practices work best, and under what conditions. Social diversity in the educational centers not only expands the availability to solve social justice challenges ([22], pp. 9–10).

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3. Education is an agent of change

Education is an agent for social change, economic development, and poverty control that meets the various social, physical, economic, intellectual, and emotional needs and conditions. Else higher education is a medium through which social constraints and deprivation can be addressed. Education helps in the analysis of the challenges and possibilities for the deprived communities – Dalits and Bahujans – in gaining larger access to the higher education system. The importance of affordability, equity, quality, and accountability are the main pillars of higher education.

Moreover, the experiences of people from marginalized in the higher educational institutions are needed to properly addressed, given its sociological and psychological implications are subjects of the policy intent. Understanding inaccessibility to education is another form of marginalization that impacts an individual’s well-being. Empowering marginalized communities in India seeks to examine the potential of higher education to overcome inequality and the urgent need to create a more inclusive and equitable pedagogy ([23], pp. 10–12).

Resources and teachers are significant components of an education system. Free and critical thinking was considered necessary for the growth of knowledge and improved as tools for obtaining meritocracy. Higher education institutions (HEIs) enjoyed autonomy in designing content and methods of teaching and evaluation. The latter half of the 1980s experienced a surge of policies in India leading to a new economic system. India tried to construct a consensus-based policy of marketability of education generally profitable. The new liberal economic regimes treat education as a commodity that is consumed in the process of production of human resources. As we know that educational institutions are powerful cultivators of subjectivities. Neo-liberalism sees that the education process should be decided by the market.

Therefore, the process of creation an education system along the lines of the market is cohered with the process of creating subjectivities that will respond to market demand only. The policies are being framed in accordance with the demands of the corporate sector and it is has a deeper connection with governance by serving the agenda of social fragmentation. Corporate-backed education policies are not determined by some essential segment of the social structure. Not only economic motive but also restructuring society behind neo-liberalism determined the norms of education content and curriculum. Social excellence is viewed as a combination of individual and institutional excellence. If an excellent person would perform at the maximum level of his ability produce not only an excellent institution but excellent students also.

Higher education has become subdued to the corporate forces where students are treated as a commodity. The tendency of higher education is towards serving to a market-based knowledge economy and educational institutions are ranked according to corporate-linked standards instead of serving to social and nation-building needs. This tendency will lead to higher education towards mediocrity that will become a threat to the future of India and its citizens. Education reforms should be aimed at building an educated and inclusive society prepared to meet social needs. It would argue that online education generates opposition to social integration. One more argument may be against online education that it prevents HEIs from functioning as centers for the growth of social capital reducing criticality.

The intent for changes in the higher education system came from corporates in the 2000s in a report titled Report on a Policy Framework for Reforms in Education, prepared by the “Special Subject Group on Policy Framework for Private Investment in Education, Health and Rural Development” of the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry, Government of India. This report was prepared in the direction of corporate leadership; it was intended towards transforming India into a “competitive yet cooperative knowledge society” by restructuring the education system. It stressed on the formation of knowledge resources that would be competitive and innovative in order to provide the country with an edge in the global ear of the knowledge economy [24].

The report advocated a common national structure for learning content and common entrance tests based on national parameterized tests. This policy was intended to adopt uniform course content for all the HEIs would necessarily ensure the growth of a pool of cheap personnel for the corporate world. A common entrance would also ensure uniform scalability across the HEIs that can be designed according to the requirements of the corporate sector. The report stressed on a corporate-intended education system and production of human resources in accordance with the requirements of the market. It sought the transformation of HEIs into factory sheds producing reproducible human labor, instead of promoting critical thinking that would be relevant for social progress.

The report that wanted to ban political activities in campuses is an example of a purposive plan of alienating the HEIs from social relevance. The report also recommended an institutional rating system that would ensure that the HEIs grow according to some specifically designed parameters. Regarding the method of teaching the report emphasized on the institutionalization of distance education. The weakness of the universities has become particularly critical with the rise of a knowledge economy as the HEIs become less capable of providing the youth with what they need. The suggestion comes from many corners that the institutions need to take advantage of the jobs in a growing and rapidly changing market. The report also suggests to the institutionalization of distance education.

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4. Digitalization and commercialization

The promotion of smart classrooms and online education is a disadvantage to the students of marginalized communities and rural areas where both electricity and internet connectivity are unstable and costly also. The test of a policy on education has to be on the basis of the four key ideas of equity, quality, access, and efficacy. India’s NEP 2020 fails poorly in its total advocacy of online education as they neglect the following realities: a) the digital divide of – access (class, caste, gender, region, rural/urban, and affordability for the affluent/poor; b) the dilution of distinguishing and specialty of degree programs; and c) impact on working conditions of teachers with imbalance workload which will lead to loss of employment and casualization/contractualisation. The policy documents do not take any responsibility for the quality of the degree in terms of their meaningful composition and employability.

The new administrative and governance structure proposed by NEP will further hand over service conditions of teachers and non-teaching staff in the hands of the Board of Governors (BoG). Each HEI will be under a BoG – a self-renewing management body once the Government constitutes it for the first time. The BoG will have the following powers, which are now under the mandate of the UGC: a) Course to offer, a number of students to admit and educational outcomes; b) number of teachers & other employees to recruit; c) terms and conditions of employment including remuneration, increments, promotion, and continuation in service. There will have an obvious effect on the academic environments of the institutions with rampant commercialization and privatization ([25], pp. 1–3).

The notification issued by the Ministry of Education in 2015 provided the guidelines and interpretations of MOOCs (GoI 2015). The name chosen for the platform launched was SWAYAM, which is a Sanskrit word and can be roughly translated as “a complete and self-sufficient entity.” In the official document, however, it is the abbreviated form of “Study Web of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds.” The SWAYAM is based upon mainly three components: freedom to access learning on an anytime-anywhere basis; credits earned will be counted for awarding degree, and industry and industry groups are involved in designing course content and evaluation system. The hidden agenda is that the campus is virtual and thus free from politics, and thereby allows the process of learning to remain undisturbed by sociopolitical dynamics. In short, the prescription is for a campus-free education that curbs human interactions [26].

The 1980 Mandal Commission report which relied on the 1931 census to suggest 27 percent reservation to OBCs (other backward castes) on the basis of socio-educational backwardness estimates that OBC constitutes around 52 percent of the population, making them an undeniable part of the country’s social fabric, with lack of access to employment opportunities, social welfare, and educational institutions. The VP Singh government, India had created 27 percent reservation for OBCs in 1990. Finally, 27 percent reservation for OBCs in educational institutions was permitted after the enactment of Central Education Institutions Reservation in Admission) Act in 2006. The National Family Health Survey – 2016 data revealed that the caste-based gap in educational spheres is wider than ever ([27], p. 10).

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5. Ambedkar’s views on education

It is said that Dr. Ambedkar was the first untouchable Indian who obtained the highest degree of education. Ambedkar’s writings on education include his submission paper before the Indian Statutory Commission in the Bombay Presidency on “State of Education of the Dalits” and one article on “Subsidy for Education” in which he pleads for an increased subsidy from the government on education and also underlines the need for inexpensive education for the deprived communities. Ambedkar criticized the British policy on education for not adequately encouraging education among the lower castes.

The major concerns of the SCs, their concerns on education are lack of assistance for higher education and lack of facilities for technical training. The role of education is to moralize and socialize the people, not to make them servant or professional. The lower orders of Indian society are just getting into the higher education and the policy of then the time’s Education Ministry of the Government of India therefore ought to be to make higher education as cheap to the lower classes as it can possibly be made.

Ambedkar established the People’s Education Society in July 1945 with the two main objectives: first, search after the trust and second, start, establish and conduct educational institutions or give aid to such institutions. He emphasized the need to explore the myth created by the Hindu orthodoxy that students of backward communities were incapable of learning. Ambedkar has incorporated Article 45 in the Directive Principles of the State Policy (DPSP) of the Indian Constitution that,

“the state shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years [28].”

Learnings from Dr. Ambedkar, there are four different communities in the matter of education, divided the Indian society into four different reservation categories. The first is OBC that social and educational backward class which includes farming and rural communities. The second class is SC which includes all untouchable communities. The third class is ST which includes all tribal communities both plain and hills, forest communities. The fourth class is EWS that includes the economically poor upper castes. The first three classes are non-Brahminical and educationally most backward also.

The fourth class is Brahmanical which includes economically weaker sections of upper castes. The EWS is educationally advanced but recently designed as economically poor. Bearing these divisions in mind, one sees a great disparity in the comparative advancement of these different classes in the matter of education. The government is not increasing its expenditure on schooling and higher education to create more space and opportunities for the students of marginalized communities.

Ambedkar requested the honorable education minister then the time the British India government to spend more money on primary education, if for nothing else, at least for the purpose of seeing that what he spends bears some fruit ultimately. Ambedkar also shared his concern about the commercialization of education in India. In the end of his speech, Ambedkar concluded his remark that fear is of commercialization of education. As in Ambedkar’s view: “Education is something which ought to be brought within the reach of everyone.” Ambedkar’s big concern was related to casteism and their educational deprivation. At a stage where the lower castes of Indian society are just getting into education and the policy of the British government therefore must be like such that makes higher education a cheap to the lower castes as it can possibly be made [29].

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6. Conclusion

India needs to double its educational spending and private sector must take care the social justice in its educational institutions. The demand for admission in higher education comes from rural areas because declining of the rural economy and families from urban areas where they have stable jobs and had been settled in cities. Education is an agent of change not only in individuals but society and economy also. Education is a mainstream of nation-building that must be socially just, politically equitable, and economically affordable for education-seekers in India. Education is not only required for becoming eligible for jobs but also require for nation-building. Adequate representation of the people from socially and educationally marginalized communities in higher education is a dream of people involved in the country’s freedom struggle. Even after 74 years of India’s independence, still the presence of people whether scholars or teachers in higher education is few countable numbers.

India needs to improve its digital infrastructure of education as a smart classroom, sufficient and stable supply of electricity, and internet connectivity in rural and remote areas. 80 percent of students are both economically poor and socially-educationally backward and live in rural and urban-peripheral areas. Families of students of this huge population cannot afford expensive education in big cities. The dropout problem in higher education is the results of the increasing cost of education, low and unstable income sources of parents, insufficient government-funded educational institutions, and the socio-geographical gap between students and places of higher educational institutions. The backlog of reserved categories in the teaching and non-teaching posts in education is another major problem in the present time. While 40 percent of total sanctioned posts are running vacant in higher educational institutions for long time, even the condition of school education is not much different in India. India needs a more socialist education policy and campus education system rather than corporatization and digitalization of education.

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Written By

Suwa Lal Jangu

Submitted: 27 October 2021 Reviewed: 11 November 2021 Published: 13 July 2022