If the National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 is followed to its logical conclusion, then institutions would no longer be the same. Curriculum, regulation, finance - almost every aspect of higher education is bound to change. Architectural education would significantly shift. Some of the proposed changes are refreshing and long overdue. Some raise serious concern.
After 2030, there would be no affiliated colleges as we now know them. Each institute would be an autonomous degree giving college or University. New colleges set up between 2020 and 2030 will be independent and need not be affiliated to any university. The NEP envisages such institutions to be large-sized with multiple disciplines and prescribes enrolment of 5,000 to 25,000 students for a University and 2,000 to 5,000 for colleges. This raises a few questions, which I will return to later.
Council of Architecture (CoA) will no longer exist in the way it is. The role will be limited to addressing professional issues, and education will entirely be the concern of universities. CoA can, at the most, become what the proposed policy calls PSSB – Professional Standard Setting Body. PSSBs will specify professional standards and broad curriculum framework which the institutions will take as guidelines.
CoA can no more issue mandatory regulations, conduct inspections, and impose controls. Institutions would determine what to teach, how to teach and whom to recruit. They can recast existing qualification requirements, determine salary structure, and smoothly run multiple campuses.
The ideas of autonomy and `light’ regulation are welcome. Institutes cannot piggyback on some distant affiliation and rote recognition. They will have to demonstrate their quality through performance. Currently, the idea that CoA recognises a college gives a false sense of quality. All the 400 plus colleges recognised by CoA appear to be of equal standard, which in reality is not true. Going forward, with no authority to blame and no burden of imposed regulation, each institute has to demonstrate its commitment and quality through outputs. It is here the idea of accreditation may prove useful. The NEP mandates accreditation once in five years, and by 2030, it would implement a binary – yes or no accreditation system. However, one has to wait to see what architecture-specific processes emerge.
In terms of curriculum, NEP has a clear preference. Architecture, it says, should change from the “current solution-driven, utilitarian approach to an interdisciplinary approach encompassing urban planning, social sciences, and economics, with the intent of preparing future architects who can resolve the gap between technological considerations and the need to develop living spaces in consonance with people’s aspirations.” At one level, this statement is so broad that everyone can easily claim to be offering it. At another, it contradicts the idea of academic autonomy and impedes the freedom of each institute to choose their approach. It may even skew the priorities, which are often locally determined.
The NEP opens a window of opportunity when it states that the undergraduate programmes could be for four years, and an integrated postgraduate programme is possible. Architecture could use this and comfortably adapt the useful 3+2+2 UK model, where the liberal undergraduate programme is only three years, followed by two years of professional experience and two years post-graduate programme (PG). Thus the first professional degree could be the post-graduate degree.
Continuing with the issue of practice, the NEP states that the gap between education and practice will be removed, but it remains silent about the transition from education to profession. Here, I refer to the issues of professional registration and licensing. The policy does not state whether it favours a licensing exam after completing a college education. Perhaps, the thinking is that universities have to worry only about education, while professional bodies would worry about other issues.
One of the other critical issues with the policy is the way it approaches funds and financing education. The views are pastoral, impractical, and would ultimately favour only those with deep pockets. It is surprising to see this critical section is mentioned in the addendum and not the main text.
The section on financing starts with noble intentions. It wants the government to double its investment in education and raise it from the current 10 percent to 20 percent of its public expenditure. Most of this increased amount will go to the state-funded institutions. When it comes to the private sector, which has substantially invested in higher education, the policy flounders. It implies through some severe restrictions that the private institutes cannot entirely rely on the fee-based revenue model. NEP states conditions such as that only 25 percent of the revenue collected through fees should be used for expenses. In my experience of administering a university, salaries alone.