India: NEP 2020: Assessing Access to Higher Education

[i]NEP 2020: Assessing Access to Higher Education

Hits and misses of NEP 2020 and its impact on legal education - The Daily Guardian

“Education is not the learning of facts, but a training of the mind to think” –

Albert Einstein

by Miss. Vijaya Singh and Miss. Kriti Mishra      25 September 2020

Humans are social animals, and to participate freely in society, the role of education is indispensable. The right to education is seen as fundamental to human beings. This is not only true because it is a right in itself but also as it is imperative for the realization of other Human Rights. It has the potential to alleviate the socially and economically marginalized communities out of cycles of deprivation. It can promote inclusion, prevent exploitation, protect other Human Rights, and assist in the holistic development of an individual.[ii]

In the 21st century, the role of education is relatively gaining importance, and higher education particularly is given paramount importance in reshaping the future of society.[iii]  The part played by Higher education is imminent in any countries development, and the Higher Education Institutions are considered to be one of the essential resources in a society.[iv]

India ranks third in the world higher education system in terms of size and diversity and the largest in the world in terms of the number of institutions.[v] There are 903 universities, more than 10,000 professional technical institutes, and 42,000 colleges, in both the public and private sectors. Yet, India’s higher education system ranked 26th in the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings 2018.[vi] It lags behind its world counterparts in multiple factors such as low GER, no equity, inadequate infrastructure, shortage of faculty, low quality of education, outdated curriculum, emphasis on rote learning, accreditation problems, regulatory issues, and insufficient fund allocation for research, etc.[vii]

Interestingly, India has the largest number of the youth population in the world, which is studying in these HEI’s, upon which the future of India depends.[viii] National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 contemplates a complete overhaul and rejuvenates the higher education system to overcome these challenges to provide better quality higher education system with equity, inclusion, and better access. The policy envisions a holistic development of the individuals to achieve a “more vibrant, socially engaged, cooperative communities and a happier, cohesive, cultured, productive, innovative, progressive, and prosperous nation.”[ix]

The right to education at any level depends upon the four interrelated factors: availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability. This article decodes whether the NEP 2020 is improving accessibility to Higher Education in its provisions. Access to quality higher education is not just the right of the individual but also an obligation upon the states. The importance of accessibility in education lies in the fact that it addresses the needs of the greatest numbers of learners. The phrase “access to quality education” appears several times in the policy in different contexts; therefore, it becomes imperative to analyze how feasible are the provisions with the current higher education system and what are the challenges lying underway.


The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 promises to increase access to “quality” higher education to meet the needs of a large number of students in varied social and cultural settings by several policies and programs, which widely acknowledge the undressed issues over the decades.

The guiding light behind the policy are the principles of ancient Indian texts and the functioning of archaic Indian institutions such as Takshashila and Nalanda, etc., which emphasized on the importance of knowledge beyond schooling to attain full realization and liberation of self. The policy aims to bring several changes in the existing state of the education system to get it in tune with the needs of the 21st-century society.[x] The importance of critical thinking, practical application of knowledge, and holistic development receive constant mention in the policy as a catalyst to improve the competitiveness and employability of the Indian Graduates in the world market.

Increasing resources to facilitate access to education

The prerequisite to increase accessibility is to increase the resources and improve their efficiency. The policy talks about establishing more number of quality HEI’s in underserved areas and plans to have on HEI in every dist. by the end of 2030. (10.8). It emphasizes on adequate infrastructure and access to better tools and labs. It mentions that the focus of Higher education institutions will revolve around establishing research centers, startup incubation centers, technology development centers, and interdisciplinary research, including humanities and social sciences research, to meet the needs of the large youth population of India. This will bring out vibrant student communities flourishing across various disciplines, including arts, sports, analytics, creativity, and core subject areas. Breaking down the harmful silos will enhance the overall development of an individual.

Pitfalls & Promises of NEP in terms of Increasing resources to facilitate access to education

The current pandemic, which has put everything at a halt, has made us realize that the importance of being virtually connected. The closure of schools and colleges disrupted the lives of about 1.2 billion students and youth across continents and the subsequent adoption of online education, which instead went smooth in the developed counties because they had the requisite infrastructure, was affected in the developing countries, which lag in the educational support.[xi] The NEP has acknowledged the need for “undisrupted” education and attempted to increase accessibility by making provisions for adaptation of digital/online mode of learning. Installation of the latest educational, technological devices, digital-enabled classrooms, and digital libraries (13.2) It also emphasizes online programs and Open Distant education to improve access, increase the Gross Enrollment Ratio, and provide enhanced opportunities for lifelong learning(10.10). It also promises that the ODL  will be of the same standards and highest quality as offered by the HEI in their campus programs. The use of technology to improve access is welcomed; however, the current state of technological infrastructure in India is not very promising. There are multifarious challenges when it comes to making India a digitally empowered society. Even after the tremendous growth of ICT, internet penetration in India still stands at 40%.[xii] And out of this percentage, only 2/3 falls under the age group of 12-29 years. The facts and figures of rural India are inadvertently more disappointing. There are more than 566 million Internet users in India, but just 200 million are from rural India. According to the 2017-18 National Sample Survey on Education[xiii], only 8 percent of all Indian households with members between 5 and 24 years of age have access to both the computer and the internet. Although it’s possible to take online classes on a Smartphone, only 24 percent of Indians own a Smartphone. And there too, the usage of the devices is not always with the student.

In cases where parents can arrange Smartphone/laptop access for their children to attend online classes, it interferes with their office schedules, and, for many, the expense of 4 G data packs turns out to be a costly affair. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (“TRAI”)[xiv], in September 2019, India had 687.62 million internet subscriptions. Even if we presume that each subscription is connected to a different entity, about half of India’s over 1.3 billion people do not have access to an Internet subscription. India has 104.25 subscriptions per 100 population in urban areas, while 27.57 subscriptions per 100 people in rural areas. Such figures reflect the scale of India’s emerging rural-urban divide.

The digital gender divide also should not be overlooked. Out of the total internet users, only 35% are women, and as compared to 73% men only 44.1% of women own a mobile phone[xv] The divide deepens in the rural areas. The Govt of India has launched various schemes and policies like digital India and national digital literacy mission, to empower each citizen in basic digital literacy; however, 90% of our population still lags on necessary digital skills.[xvi]

An online scholarship platform, in its recent survey, found that the education of more than 75% of students has been severely impacted as they have found it hard to pursue studies online for not having it done before. About 90% of students mentioned that they needed handholding to make a shift towards online learning, and another 30% said they require a trainer to pursue online education.[xvii]

To make India digitally literate, 3.5 million people must be made digitally literate.[xviii] The availability of resources is not enough when people aren’t aware of the skills and knowledge to access them. In the 21st century, knowledge of internet usage is a fundamental human right considered at part with reading and writing.[xix] The policy speaks about digitalization in education, but the challenges of unequal penetration between regions, population, classes, delayed infrastructure development, bandwidth availability cannot be ignored. In a country where we are hearing about a milkman selling his only source of income to buy a smartphone for the studies of his children,[xx] teachers[xxi], and children[xxii] climbing up trees and hills to catch internet signals for online classes, there is a long way ahead. The policy is not very vocal on the guidelines to increase digital literacy to use the technology more effectively. There is a need to prioritize these issues, or else there might be a possibility that the digitalization of education remains a distant dream for the majority of the stakeholders.

The NEP is welcomed by millions of students as it has the potential to reshape the lives of future Indian generations if the provisions are implemented effectively. However, as with other plans and policies, the success of NEP will also be dependent upon its proper implementation.   Cooperation between the center and states is a must to achieve the success of the policy, but many states are speaking against the policy and have alleged that the Centre has attempted to “centralize” the education and tried to bypass the states.[xxiii]

The NEP indeed has many significant provisions, but grand plans require impressive infrastructure.  The Govt. has allocated 6% of the GDP for the implementation of the policy; however, this target was recommended by the Kothari Commission a long time back in 1965 also. Moreover, it will be interesting to see the Government investing double the amount it has been spending on education in all these years.[xxiv] It is after 34 years the new education policy has come into existence, and even though certain priority areas have been not given due consideration, the provisions are nonetheless crafted with the best of ability to solve the majority of problems connected with the archaic education system in India.


[ii] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education (Art. 13 of the Covenant), E/C.12/1999/10, 8 December 1999, <>.

[iii] Sharon E. Lee, ‘Education as a Human Right in the 21st Century’ Democracy & Education, Vol 21, No. 1 <>.

[iv] ‘Implementing the 2030 Agenda at Higher Education Institutions: Challenges and Responses’ (2019) Global University Network for Innovation, pg. 17 <>.

[v] ‘Destination Guides, Study in India’ (Top Universities) <’s%20higher%20education%20system%20was,Bangalore%20and%20the%20prestigious%20Indian>.

[vi] ‘Higher Education System Strength Rankings’ (Top Universities, 2018) < rankings/2018#sorting=rank+custom=rank+order=desc+search=>.

[vii] Younis Ahmad Sheikh, ‘Higher Education in India: Challenges and Opportunities’ (2017) Journal of Education and Practice Vol. 8, No.1 <>.

[viii] Ian Jack, ‘India has 600 million young people – and they’re set to change our world’ (The Guardian, 13 January 2018) <>.

[ix] Ministry of Human Resource Development, ‘National Education Policy, 2020’ (2020) Government of India pg. 33, para 9.1.3 <>.

[x] Ibid, pg. 4.

[xi] Cathy Li and Farah Lalani, ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how’ (WE Forum, 29 April 2020) <>.

[xii] ‘Mobile Internet Report’ (2017) Internet and Mobile Association of India, pg. 3 <>

[xiii] ‘Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India- NSS 75th Round- July 2017- June 2018’ Ministry of Statistical and Programme Implementation 22 July 2020, <>.

[xiv] ‘Information Note to Press (Press Release No. 04/2020) Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicator Report for the Quarter ending July-September, 2019’ Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, 8 January 2020 <>.

[xv] Sahib Sharma, ‘Mobile phone penetration in India set to rise to 85-90% by 2020: report’ (Livemint, 17 May 2017) <>.

[xvi] FE Bureau, ‘A look at India’s deep digital literacy divide and why it needs to be bridged’ (Financial Express, 24 September 2018) <>.

[xvii] ‘COVID-19 unveils the great Indian digital divide as curricula neglect computer science’ (National Herald, 2020) <>.

[xviii]  ‘National Digital Literacy Mission’ (Digital Empowerment Foundation) <>.

[xix] ‘Access to Internet is a basic right, says Kerala High Court’ (The Hindu, 20 September 2019) <,in%20the%20eye%20of%20law.%E2%80%9D>.

[xx] Anmol Sharma, ‘Man sells cow, his only source of income, to buy smartphone for kids’ online studies’ (Inshorts, 23 July 2020) <,needed%20smartphone%20to%20continue%20studies.>.

[xxi] PTI, ‘Teacher climbs tree to cross internet hurdle to teach students during lockdown’ (Times of India, 21 April 2020) <>.

[xxii] PTI, ‘Students climb trees, hills to attend online class in Odisha: Minister’ (India TV News, 15 August 2020) <>.

[xxiii] Nidhi Sharma, ‘New Education Policy an attempt to centralise education: Opposition-ruled states’ (Economic Times, 18 August 2020) <>.

[xxiv] Sonal Khetarpal, ‘National Education Policy 2020: Great plans, but little investment’ (Business Today, 30 July 2020) <>.

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