Since the establishment of first agricultural university at Pantnagar in Uttarakhand in 1960, agricultural education in the country has made huge expansion both quantitatively as well as qualitatively. The educational system in the country has been based on the National Education Policy of 1986. The NEP 1986 was reviewed to have a more comprehensive, holistic, sustainable and an inclusive roadmap for a paradigm shift in the country’s educational system.Thus came the New Education Policy NEP 2020 with sweeping reforms in the basic structure of education, curriculum, pedagogy and teaching learning process.
Blending education with technology, incorporating traditional knowledge and culture and leveraging it with skills and employability through vocational education and an evaluation (both formative and summative), NEP 2020 is all expected to bring about a quality transformation in the education sector by making it internationally competitive, well defined regulatory and governance structure and an accreditation mechanism. Coming 34 years after the last education policy of 1986, NEP 2020 is the first education policy of the 21st Century’s in India emphasizing on the creative potential of each and every student. The NEP rests on the basic principles of flexibility, no hard separations between subjects, curricular and extra-curricular activities, Multi-disciplinary education, conceptual understanding, critical thinking, Ethical Values, teachers as the heart of the learning process, the strong public education system in India.
It will require structural changes in the present system of teaching and learning. Keeping in mind the broad mandate of NEP 2020 to focus more on multidisciplinary and holistic education, the structure of institutions imparting higher education in agriculture have to be revisited. This is necessary to meet the requirements of large multidisciplinary universities imparting holistic education. These Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) have to reorient their curriculum, introduce multiple entry and exit levels, go for digital interventions to accommodate Academic Bank of Credits, forge strong partnerships with other HEIs to enable them to transfer credits earned by students from one institute to other.
At the same time the teaching and learning have to be made more technology enabled, skill oriented and culturally integrated to make it more inclusive and equity oriented. At the entry level in HEIs, vocational education has to be included. All the reorientation is to give the students flexibility in shifting from one subject to other, to get higher education in the form of certificates/diplomas/degrees and at the same time giving them an opportunity at a later stage of their life to convert their certificates and diploma into degrees. Students will be at liberty to complete their education both in terms of the length of the time as well as choice of courses.
As per the provisions of NEP 2020, the fragmentation prevailing in higher agricultural education in the country has to be ended by transforming agricultural universities or colleges into large multidisciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters or Knowledge Hubs. Each of these HEIs would have a minimum of 3,000 students. Another important provision of NEP 2020 is that of making HEIs in agriculture multi-disciplinary. Knowledge streams from various disciplines can give better insight to understand social, economic and natural phenomenon. Therefore multi-disciplinarity in higher education in agriculture has to incorporate academic programmes of basic sciences, social sciences and allied disciplines of agricultural sciences. Therefore, the single stream universities under the ICAR-AU system need to move towards multidisciplinary institutions by 2030 while continuing the focus on agriculture. Interaction of various disciplines can happen in various ways. NEP 2020 comes with Multiple Entry and Exit options.Agriculture education in India is already ahead of time and in a way aligned with NEP 2020.
The NEP 2020 prescribes a shift to four-year undergraduate degrees and agricultural degrees are already four-year programmes. Four years agriculture degree under NEP comes with the provision of Entry and Exit options with exit after one year leading to certificate, exit after two years leading to Diploma. Presently higher education in the country is at a stage of massification with GER of 26.3%. NEP 2020 aims to increase the GER from 26.3 to 50 by 2035. Another interesting fact is that although agricultural universities comprise approximately 9% of all universities in the country, enrolment in agriculture and allied sciences is less than 1% of all enrolment in higher education. This also means increasing GER in agriculture from the present percentage. Directives have been enlisted to enhance Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in agricultural universities with at least increase of 10% seats from 2021-22 academic session on annual basis and for this the scores of the common entrance test conducted by ICAR through National Testing Agency (NTA) for admission of the students in all the AUs for UG/PG/PhD may be used by AUs for the admissions. Entrance Examination for UG may be conducted in regional languages and compliance with Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) as per the directives of the Ministry of Education.
In the new paradigm, the ICAR is to act as a Professional Standard Setting Body (PSSB) for Agricultural Education in the NEP 2020 entrusted to develop the curricula and lay down academic standards for the agricultural education in the country at par with global standards. As a member of the would be General Education Council (GEC) under HECI, it becomes the responsibility of the ICAR to take all the necessary steps through PSSB for making a uniform academic structure across the country both in public and private institutions offering academic programmes in agricultural sciences. As member of the GEC, the ICAR will be able to contribute in the regulation of agricultural education through single regulatory body to be enacted as a National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), the first vertical of the proposed Higher Education Commission of India. As per NEP-2020, the National Accreditation Council (NAC) shall act as a meta-accrediting body and shall assign the task of functioning as recognized accreditor to appropriate number of institutions. The task to function as a recognized accreditor shall be awarded to an appropriate number of institutions by NAC. In this perspective, the National Agricultural Education Accreditation Board (NAEAB) of ICAR may be recognized as an Accreditor for the accreditation of Universities/Colleges offering agricultural education.
The teaching learning process in the HEIs in the agriculture and allied sectors have to be enabled with a blend of appropriate technologies to remove the distance and time lag. The necessary steps should be taken to avail the existing e-learning platforms such as Study Web of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA), SWAYAM-Prabha (an initiative of Ministry of Education to provide 34 high quality educational channels through Direct to Home (DTH) across length and breadth of the country. Agriculture and allied sector universities can develop their own short term e-courses for youth, farmers and farm women who are outside the physical reach of the universities. MANAGE, Hyderabad is already running various MOOC programmes. Necessary technology and tools for two-way video and audio interface for holding online classes have also to be strengthened. This technology enabled learning proved its potential at the times of COVID-19 Pandemic. Academic Bank of Credit is another innovation of the NEP 2020. It gives the students to store the credit earned by them for certain years for their susbsequent use in later years when they join back in case they have taken a break from studies. It also gives them the flexibility to shift their institutes also.
Agriculture is facing a peculiar 20:80 problem meaning only twenty percent of the candidates graduating from universities get placements whereas eighty percent remain underemployed/misplaced employed/unemployed.One of the reasons for this situation is because of separation of education from training. This results in a huge pool of qualified graduates who unfortunately do not have the necessary skills so that they can at least set up their income generating units. Skill development through trainings has to be made an inalienable part of the teaching and learning process. Agriculture education has to be leveraged with the necessary skills and competencies to enable youths to set up their own ventures.
Agriculture is an enterprise which provides a lot of opportunities for setting up off employment generation ventures. It should be made mandatory for the students to undergo skill trainings for a fixed no. of day during their degree programme. NEP 2020 talks of experiential education and the fact is that, it is already being incorporated in agriculture education since 2016. Experiential education is a teaching method in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities. In this regard, the student READY (Rural Entrepreneurship Awareness Development Yojana) programmes requires all students to undertake a six-month internship, usually in their fourth year, to gain hands-on training, rural awareness, industry experience, research expertise and entrepreneurship skills.
The country has a robust Agricultural Education System comprising of 75 agricultural universities. Still the curriculum has not been updated in tune with the various issues with which agriculture sector is confronted with. The SAUs are also facing a number of challenges. Agriculture sector also gets a meagre share in the budget which has adversely affected the research, extension and education of the universities. There is also a disconnect between research, extension and education.The rural youth have lost interest in farming. The NEP 2020 with some unique provisions like Academic Bank of Credit, Choice Based Credit System, Multiple Entry and Exit shall help in meeting the challenges relating to farm sector.
(The author is a faculty at SKUAST-K; can be reached at email@example.com)