A school girl in India smiling and standing below a 'welcome' sign
Welcome opportunities. Image ©

Matt Wright/British Council

March 2021

With over 260 million students in its 1.5 million schools taught by upwards of 8.7 million teachers, the Indian school education system is the largest in the world.

Spurred by this significant progress towards achieving universal primary education the country’s higher and tertiary education system has also burgeoned. 

As predicted in our 2014 Understanding India report there are more than 37.3 million students at India’s 993 universities and 39,931 colleges. These students are being taught by 1.4 million academics and researchers with a gross enrolment ratio of 26.3 per cent. 

The challenges underlying these impressive numbers are, however, to do with poor learning outcomes at the school level. Issues that combine to contribute to a culture of rote learning include:

  • outdated curricula and assessment systems
  • lack of quality in pre- and in-service teacher education
  • uneven adoption of appropriate education technology. 

National Education Policy 

To address these challenges in their totality, the Indian Parliament approved the National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020. The policy was developed as a result of two years of wide-ranging consultations and launched by Prime Minister Modi on 7 August 2020.

The policy sets itself up, quite rightfully, as the ‘first education policy of the 21st century’. It attempts to align the development imperatives of India with UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 as well as to the country’s knowledge ambitions. 

The NEP is a significant step towards India’s journey to become a global knowledge economy. 

The NEP lays out progressive reforms across the entire education ecosystem, including reforms in assessment systems, continuous professional development of teachers, and quality assurance mechanisms in Higher Education Institutes (HEIs). This is done with a view to providing high quality education with better learning outcomes, enhanced research quality and improved employability of graduates. 

It is important to bear in mind that education is a ‘concurrent list subject’ in the Indian Constitution and within its quasi-federal political structure. This essentially means that states have a significant role in interpreting and implementing the policy, which provides a guiding framework for 28 states and 8 union territories, and it is possible to stitch together partnerships with one or a cluster of states.

The NEP also provides an opportunity to further strengthen the India-UK educational links to innovate and:

  • improve the skills base embed creativity in school education
  • strengthen assessments
  • provide equal access for marginalised groups, including harder to reach communities, and across gender, age and disability intersectionalities. 

Opportunities for pre-school and early childhood education

The NEP makes several provisions for pre-school and early childhood education, strengthening learning outcomes by strengthening teacher skills, both at pre-service and in-service stages, with some interventions recommended for learners directly as well. 

It also deals specifically with the development of resources for teachers and learners, including provisions for massive open online courses for each module of the syllabus. A further section focuses on the new national curriculum framework for teachers and national professional standards for teachers. 

All these areas provide significant opportunities for UK organisations to work with designated bodies in India at the central and/or at state levels. 

Opportunities for gender equality

Unequal access to education and employment opportunities significantly hamper prosperity and economic growth in India. 

To ensure greater gender parity, the NEP makes specific references to strengthening the participation of girls and women in school and higher education. 

The British Council is partnering with Brunel University, UK, and Savitribai Phule Pune University in India. They are collaborating on research to look at opportunities that the policy provides to integrate gender into higher education and support sustained UK-India partnerships at the university level.

At the school level, the NEP deals with the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas, a network of girls’ residential schools at the secondary level, aimed at mostly rural and socio-economically disadvantaged groups of the country. 

Opportunities for multilingual education

Mother tongue based multilingual education for early and foundational years has been laid out prominently in the NEP. The British Council’s position has always been to support the development of English as a skill alongside the development of learners’ mother tongues and other regional languages. 

Our most recent research collaboration, MultiLila, is led by the University of Cambridge, and supported by the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, University of Reading, Jawaharlal Nehru University and NIMHANS Bangalore. 

This research has provided a data and evidence base for the NEP’s recommendations. It indicates that using children’s home language or mother tongue in the classroom improves their literacy, numeracy, and cognitive skills, while developing their social value.

Opportunities for creative and blended learning

A significance of the NEP has been its stress on creativity in education and its espousal of blending arts with science, maths, and technology. This is one area in which the UK has deep expertise at levels of policymaking as well as practice. 

There are significant opportunities here for the UK to work in training needs analysis, research, capacity building, curriculum design and content creation. 

Libraries and learning resources are at the heart of the transformation in literacy, numeracy and 21st century skills that the NEP seeks to achieve. 

Without the investment in the learning infrastructure – staff, programming, and content – it would be difficult to achieve these outcomes, regardless of the structural changes in governance across the sector. 

The British Council in India has been and continues to remain popular through its libraries offer. British Council-run libraries are conversation starters for governments, businesses, and individual customers, acting as the shopfront of the organisation. 

If India is to deliver the NEP ambitions, it needs credible international partners.

Despite the highly competitive domain, the British Council is uniquely positioned to support core opportunities for international collaborations between the UK and India around the NEP with its longstanding and unique bilateral insights, networks, and expertise. 

Opportunities for Tertiary Education 

Tertiary and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) under the NEP matches its ambitions at the school level by establishing a more coherent link between school and higher education. 

The NEP maps out the terrain for:

  • internationalisation of higher education in India
  • international collaborations in education and research
  • student and faculty exchange programmes
  • Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
  • mutual recognition of qualifications
  • inclusive education and gender-affirmative action.

The focus of our work in tertiary and technical education sector is towards collaboration with the UK in student mobility, international faculty, joint research and sharing of best practice and insights on policy in those areas. Education and research are strong pillars of a successful India-UK relationship. 

The UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) and Newton Bhaba programmes have allowed the UK and Indian government stakeholders to work closely in the area of higher education – internationalisation of Indian higher education institutes (HEIs) and enabling student exchange. 

Great success has been achieved in strengthening education and research collaboration between the two countries to help achieve knowledge ambitions valued at £75million during the last 15 years that UKIERI has supported 821 institutional partnerships.

Opportunities for the UK

The UK is now India’s second biggest international research partner – and the largest in Europe – with joint research expected to be worth £400 million this year. 

UK-India co-authored academic articles are more impactful than those produced alone, and compared to articles India produces with the US, Germany and Japan. 

UK-India collaborations produced 12,068 co-authored publications between 2015-2018, which represents a 23.4 per cent growth over the period. 

In 2019 a group of leaders from 21 of the UK’s top universities visited India, supported by UKIERI. They were given the opportunity to discuss a range of important themes for international collaboration in research, mobility and capacity building with the top higher education leaders and policymakers. 

Opportunities abound for the UK’s share of the global market for international student recruitment by marketing the UK as a world-class study destination. 

The opportunities are clustered around:

  • increasing the UK’s share of the global market for international student recruitment by marketing the UK as a world-class study destination
  • more opportunities for UK students, TVET learners and researchers to study and work overseas
  • increased HE and TVET partnerships that support quality and internationalisation and grow the market for the UK sector with regulatory reforms to maintain UK-India partnership leads
  • supporting the UK’s international reputation for science and research 
  • creating more opportunities to learn from global practice and enhance the international reputation of the four education systems of the UK.

We have a unique opportunity to build stronger education systems through bilateral schemes like UKIERI –  to promote academic links, support development of the research talent pipeline, share expertise in assessment reforms, create diverse international classroom experiences for students through mobility, and deepen partnerships between HE education institutions in both countries.

Dr Debanjan Chakrabarti, Director, East and Northeast India, British Council 

See also

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