A 100% cut-off for admissions into undergraduate courses may sound absurd, but it has become de rigueur at Delhi University. With well-recognised colleges posting no less than a perfect score for the first cut-off, the colleges down the pecking order post near-100% cut-offs. To be sure, these cut-offs are not entirely the colleges’ fault. At the root are grade inflation and the fact that colleges are mandated to take in all applicants that make their cut-off, notwithstanding how many seats they actually have. Grade inflation is a contagion—if one board does it, others have no incentive not to do it.
With marks flowing free, the number of high-scorers has been increasing—the number of students who scored over 95% in CBSE Class XII exams more than doubled this year over last year. Indeed, there are over 5,500 applicants to Delhi University colleges with 100% scores in the ‘best of four’ subjects, The Indian Express reports. With the tribe of high-scorers swelling each year, colleges are posting absurdly high cut-offs so that they don’t end up with ‘over-admission’.
With senior secondary boards treating liberal marking as competitive sports, the problem has to be addressed at the supply end. To that end, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has the right idea in aiming to create nearly 3.5 crore new undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral seats by 2035. The NEP proposes a sound regulatory framework for this—graded autonomy for colleges and universities, and ‘light but tight’ regulation by the new regulator, the Higher Education Commission of India. This will be a big change from the UGC regime, where colleges (even India’s best) didn’t have the freedom to start new courses/programmes, set fees as per requirement, etc.
Beyond this, the NEP also proposes to have degree-granting colleges. As per the All India Survey of Higher Education 2019, there are nearly 40,000 colleges in India; imagine the higher education boost if the top-ranking ones are allowed to grant degrees. Creating the required number of degree-granting colleges will require, apart from graded autonomy, significant funding support from the government (both the Centre and states).
While the NEP talks about pushing higher education spend to 6% of the GDP, a goal adopted in the 1968 National Education Policy, the fact is that the budgetary allocation of the Centre for education, as a share of the overall budget, has fallen between 2014-15 (4.14%) and 2019-20 (3.4%), as per an analysis by IndiaSpend—though the share of higher education within the overall amount budgeted for education has increased.
Another area where the NEP vision can prove transformative is online and open & distance learning. The UGC yoke had meant that this didn’t take off in the past despite policy tweaks to allow this. The NEP talks about the standard setting for online courses by an autonomous National Education Technology Forum; how effective this will be will depend on what the regulatory approach is—it took a pandemic for the government to allow the top 100 universities in the country to offer online education. As this paper has argued before, why limit this to just the 100 when the rest are allowed to the same via brick&mortar classrooms?