TMC govt move to implement National Education Policy in Bengal creates a stir | Kolkata - Hindustan Times
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TMC govt move to implement National Education Policy in Bengal creates a stir

Mar 24, 2023 08:59 PM IST

The West Bengal government conveyed its decision to implement the four-year undergraduate programme under National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 from the forthcoming academic session to universities on March 17

KOLKATA: The West Bengal government has created a stir in academic circles by asking all universities to implement the four-year undergraduate programme under National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 from the forthcoming academic session.

West Bengal governor CV Ananda Bose interacts with chief minister Mamata Banerjee and John Felix Raj, Vice Chancellor, St. Xavier's University, Kolkata during the 4th Convocation Ceremony of St. Xavier's University. (ANI FIle Photo)
West Bengal governor CV Ananda Bose interacts with chief minister Mamata Banerjee and John Felix Raj, Vice Chancellor, St. Xavier's University, Kolkata during the 4th Convocation Ceremony of St. Xavier's University. (ANI FIle Photo)

The March 17 order, a copy of which was seen by HT, was sent to the registrars of all state-aided universities by the higher education department. In Bengal, students pursuing graduation with honours (specialization) in one subject currently undergo a three-year course while those with no specialization pass out after two years.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) government ‘s decision has come as a surprise to students, teachers and academicians because TMC and chief minister Mamata Banerjee have opposed NEP, claiming thaat it was an effort by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to “saffronise” the country’s education system and open up the sector to private players.

Critics said lack of infrastructure and funds will make it idifficult for Bengal’s universities to launch the new undergraduate programme at such short notice. The next academic session is due to start in about three months.

Bengal has 20 state-run universities that offer general degrees. There are 49 government-owned and 433 government-aided degree colleges under these 20 universities. In addition, there are 11 private universities that offer degree courses.

The Bengal government’s order is accompanied by a circular issued to all states on January 31 by University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman M Jagadesh Kumar. The circular said that based on NEP 2020 recommendations, UGC has revised the choice-based credit system and developed a curriculum and credit framework for undergraduate programmes. The new system will allow students to opt for courses from multiple disciplines through a three-year or four-year programme with multiple entry and exit options and also flexible degree options with single or double major (subject specialisation).

The new system, said the circular, will allow “multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary education, integration with vocational courses, internship and skill and ability enhancement courses.”

Since education is a subject in the Constitution’s Concurrent list, which gives a state government the power to have a say on implementation of central policies, Mamata Banerjee formed a 10-member experts committee in April 2020 to examine the NEP and make recommendations.

A member of the committee said on condition of anonymity that the experts committee report was “never made public or brought up for discussion”.

“I was not even aware that NEP 2020 is going to be implemented till someone told me about the March 17 order,” the member said.

Columbia University professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jadavpur University vice-chancellor Suranjan Das, Indologist Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, NIT Durgapur director Anupam Basu and Harvard University professor Sugata Bose are among the 10 members of this committee. Bose, the grand-nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, represented Kolkata’s Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency for the TMC from 2014 to 2019.

Principal secretary of the West Bengal higher education department, Manish Jain, could not be contacted despite several efforts.

An official of the department, who did not want to be named, said: “The state has no option but to implement NEP. Our universities will not get the UGC grant if they don’t follow it. Bengal is already facing a lot of financial crisis because of suspension of Central funds under other heads such as MNREGA.”

Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri said: “The committee accepted the four-year undergraduate programme only because refusal would stop UGC grant. We cannot fight the Centre on every issue. Some compromises have to be made. The committee, however, decided not to implement certain policies in schools, for example, the semester system from class 6 onwards.”

“Implementing the four-year undergraduate programme will be extremely difficult because our colleges don’t have the infrastructure,” Bhaduri added.

TMC Lok Sabha member Saugata Roy, a former professor, had opposed NEP 2020 inside and outside the Parliament.

“I am a member of another committee of the state higher education department. I was not aware that orders for implementation of the undergraduate programme has been issued. The state government possibly had no option. The Centre would stop the funds,” Roy said.

Amal Mukherjee, former principal of Presidency College, which is now a university, welcomed the four-year undergraduate programme but with a rider.

Mukherjee said: “NEP 2020 has some good sides as well as some bad aspects. Starting a four-year programme is a great decision. This is what most foreign universities offer, enabling students to become professors once they pass out. The main problem in Bengal is lack of infrastructure. The government is bankrupt. The bad aspect of NEP is that it has no provision for central grant to states for setting up new infrastructure.”

Pabitra Sarkar, former vice-chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University, asked why the state’s March 17 order is silent on the duration of the post-graduate or master’s degree programme which currently is a two-year course.

“The experts committee raised a lot of questions on duration of degree courses. It seems this is a political decision taken in a haste to keep the Centre happy,” Sarkar said.

Partha Pratim Roy, general secretary of Jadavpur University Teacher’s Association, said the state’s move point at the TMC’s eagerness to allow PPP (public-private partnership) in the higher education sector as proposed in NEP 2020.

“Pushing universities to meet unrealistic goals and deadline without setting up infrastructure indicates that the state wants private players to step in. This is happening at a time when top functionaries of the education department are facing probe in the recruitment scam,” said Roy.

Parthib Basu, former general secretary of the Calcutta University Teachers’ Association said the teacher’s body will hold seminars on this issue to raise public awareness.

Mayukh Biswas, national general secretary of the Students Federation of India, the students’ arm of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said his organisation has started a referendum on NEP 2020 in campuses across India.

“We started the exercise at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. We will also hit the streets in April,” Biswas said.

Keshab Bhattacharya, general secretary of All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisations, alleged that the state passed its order to help BJP champion its cause.

“We had been demanding talks with the state government for a long time. But there was no discussion with college teachers. We don’t know what the experts committee recommended. The state government is not bothered with what students and teachers feel,” Bhattacharya said.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has been demanding the implementation of NEP 2020 across India, welcomed the TMC government’s decision.

”Mamata Banerjee has done the right thing. Bengal is the birthplace of great educators such as Swami Vivekananda and Rishi Aurobindo. It is only natural that Bengal will take a positive step to reform the education system,” Jishnu Basu, general secretary of the RSS south Bengal unit, said.

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