NEP push for liberal arts education in public universities hobbled by lack of teachers, space

NEP 2020 proposed the liberal arts education structure for public universities. But shortage of teachers, infrastructure, funds are massive hurdles

Public universities do not have adequate teachers so much so that it has even led to protests in many universities (Representative Image: SFI Delhi)Public universities do not have adequate teachers so much so that it has even led to protests in many universities (Representative Image: SFI Delhi)

Atul Krishna | July 1, 2024 | 03:27 PM IST

NEW DELHI: In theory, a BA student in a Panjab University college can take up any subject of the 23 taught at the university and graduate with a BA honours degree with a minor in another of the 23 subjects. In practice, this is simply not possible.

Take GGDSD College, Chandigarh. Here, an honours degree, earned after the full four years of the four-year undergraduate programme, is possible only in three subjects – economics, political science and history in the arts segment, said principal Ajay Sharma.

Thus, the grand promise of choice and flexibility in the National Education Policy 2020, is getting seriously undermined on the ground, at colleges hamstrung by every type of shortage – teachers, infrastructure, funds, and autonomy to plan courses and assessments.

Also read ‘Rising demand for talents with cross-disciplinary exposures’: Liberal arts universities alliance

A key feature of the NEP is its emphasis on replicating the liberal arts structure of American universities in India – the flexibility to choose subjects without being constrained by disciplines and a continuous evaluation system in place of a single exam at the end of a term or academic year.

Four years since the policy was cleared by the last union cabinet – it was not voted on in Parliament – most public universities have only implemented it on paper. They simply lack the infrastructure and faculty required to implement the multidisciplinary choices that the policy promises.

With dwindling government grants, colleges and universities are forced to take loans to implement a policy that has been imposed on them, said teachers. Institutions are cutting corners and limiting options while hurrying to comply with the policy.

NEP’s liberal arts education a ‘farce’

As per the structure of undergraduate programmes prescribed by the University Grants Commission in December 2022, universities are offering discipline-specific electives that pertain to the ‘major’ subject, general electives, skill-enhancement courses (SECs), ability-enhancement courses (AECs), and value-added courses (VACs). Students can choose a set number of courses from each type.

Also read Virtual Liberal Arts and Sciences Expo for Class 12 graduates on July 6, 7

These courses are offered by different departments of the university and in theory, students can choose subjects regardless of how similar or not they are to their major. If a student opting for a three-year degree completes 24 credits of a subject, they can graduate with a minor in that subject along with the major in which they’ll earn their degree. In case of a four-year degree, students need 32 credits for a minor.

Teachers describe this structure as a “farce”. Most colleges and universities lack the infrastructure and teachers required to allow students these many choices. Therefore, on the ground, the institutions have found ways to cut down the options actually available.

Delhi University, for example, allows a course if at least 20 students opt for it. This instantly precludes all niche combinations. “The university said that no course will be allowed if the number of students opting for it is less than 20. So, there is no real choice then,” said Abha Dev-Habib who teaches at Miranda House and was elected member of DU’s executive council.

In Panjab University, which is implementing the NEP in all affiliated colleges from this academic year, most
are limiting the options to a few subjects as they do not have enough teachers or classrooms.

Top-down directive

Unlike private universities, which are free to decide on their syllabus, public universities are burdened with UGC regulations even on syllabus and ever-shrinking autonomy. Many of the so-called multidisciplinary options were forced upon universities without considering the existing systems and without taking feedback from teachers. “It is not about four-years or three years. The way the mechanism has been imposed on the universities is problematic. Let the teachers decide, let the university decide. We have to keep in mind the vision of the universities. NEP has been introduced without looking carefully at the capacities and human resources of various universities,” said Rajesh Jha, professor at Rajdhani College, Delhi University.

“Someone sitting somewhere in UGC has defined multidisciplinary education. Was the university not multidisciplinary before this? Even the history students used to study political science and economics. The courses were tailor-made to make the students achieve the required knowledge but the focus remained on the subjects they had chosen to pursue.”

Delhi University teachers had argued that the four-year undergraduate programme would dilute the honours degree courses such as the VACs are “academically-impoverished”. They said that, with the new structure, some of the multidisciplinary subjects that were taught five times a week in the old system are now only being taught thrice a week, thus diluting it further.

Also read NTA exam mess left Delhi University with over 1,100 vacant posts for 3 years

“There are private universities which will do better because we have been saddled with a structure whose weight we cannot lift. We cannot ensure the implementation. The courses like value-added courses are very lukewarm courses. Nowhere in the world will a student get two credits for yoga,” said Dev-Habib.

The teachers’ concerns were even echoed by a parliamentary standing committee on education headed by BJP member of Parliament (MP) Vivek Thakur in September 2023.

The committee report, titled Implementation of the National Education Policy, 2020 in Higher Education, noted that the approach recommended by the NEP “takes away the superiority of alpha discipline” and that institutions are not “equipped to augment such skills” mentioned in the policy. It also said that the “current capacities of faculty do not gel well with the requirements” of the NEP.

Colleges struggling

This top-down approach to implementing policy in resource-starved institutions means colleges are worse off than the universities they are affiliated to. “Colleges are the most affected. The university implemented one structure which might be suitable for one college but might not be for another college. That is the issue with the university being one unit. In colleges that are in far-off places their infrastructure may not be that great. They might just be running the course without providing the options. That will be more challenging. Then there is a difference between colleges based in cities like Chandigarh and those in remote areas,” said Amarjit Singh Naura, president of Panjab University Teachers Association.

Colleges in Punjab are limiting options also because they don’t have teachers for all courses. Finding qualified teachers also depends on where you are in the country. “For the skill enhancement courses and value-added courses we are going to employ guest faculty because we don’t have in-house faculty. We are managing since we are in the city but if you go to rural areas or hilly areas, even getting faculty will be a problem,” said Sharma.

In Karnataka, which has since withdrawn implementation of the NEP, all colleges were supposed to implement the four-year degree from 2021. But till May 2024 when they abandoned the idea, most of Bangalore University and Mangalore University colleges stuck to the traditional degree pattern as they did not have the faculty or funds for reforms. Rural colleges, such as the Dharmasagara First Grade College affiliated to Bangalore University, found it most difficult to find teachers.

The situation was similar in the North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) where teachers, in August 2023, protested against the administration for “pushing” the NEP 2020 reforms in a “callous manner”. “Combination and permutation of different groups require more rooms and more space. Very soon we will have students from both first and second semesters. Where do we get so much space?” a NEHU teacher had earlier told Careers360.

Some of the courses such as SECs and research programmes in the fourth year require separate laboratories and qualified teachers that many colleges just do not have.

In public universities, permanent faculty are paid by the central or state government depending on the type of university but guest faculty are paid by the university or college in question. Lately, governments have been less keen on sanctioning teaching posts leaving universities like DU to rely on guest faculty which also increases their expenses.

Funds and loans: Grant not revised since 1970’s

In addition to this, both central and state universities are struggling with funds shortage. With reduced UGC grants and government funds, colleges and universities are having to rely on loans. GGDSD College in Panjab University is considering taking up loans to meet the NEP requirements but the burden of repayment may fall on students.

“We are planning to build additional classrooms. Certainly, additional infrastructure is required. See, the government has not revised the grants since the 1970s and we are learning to be independent. We might have to raise funds, might even have to take up loans. Someone has to pay, if the government doesn’t pay, the students might have to. But the university has a fee structure so we can’t increase fees too much,” said Sharma.

Teachers resent the thrust on loans to fund infrastructure expansion in public institutions.

“For all infrastructure development you have to get loans from Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA). How are you supposed to implement a policy when there is no financial support? Overall, there are cuts in the UGC grants. DU is facing a financial crisis itself. The financial ecosystem in which we are working has moved on from grants to loans…Things are done in such a way that the advantage goes to private universities,” said Jha.

Delhi University, for instance, has already taken a Rs 930 crore loan from HEFA, a non-banking finance corporation set up by the education ministry, due to “very limited allocation” from the central government.

Follow us for the latest education news on colleges and universities, admission, courses, exams, research, education policies, study abroad and more..

To get in touch, write to us at

Download Our App

Start you preparation journey for JEE / NEET for free today with our APP

  • Students300M+Students
  • College36,000+Colleges
  • Exams550+Exams
  • Ebooks1500+Ebooks
  • Certification16000+Certifications