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National Higher Education Qualifications Framework


University Grants Commission (UGC) has finalised the National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF) to standardise qualifications and promote academic mobility. 


GS II: Education

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF)
  2. Issues with the NHEQF
  3. Way Forward for NHEQF Improvement

National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF)

  • Global Momentum: The idea of creating frameworks for higher education qualifications gained traction worldwide in the late 1990s.
  • India’s Delay: India lacked its own NHEQF until recently.
  • Deliberation: In 2012, the concept was discussed at the 60th meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education, leading to the UGC’s involvement.
  • Transparency and Comparability: NHEQF aims to enhance transparency and comparability of higher education qualifications across all institutions.
  • Aligned with NEP 2020: The framework aligns with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which outlines a visionary approach to India’s higher education system.

Main Features

  • Categorization: Education is divided into eight levels.
  • NSEQF and Higher Education: The first four levels align with the National School Education Qualification Framework (NSEQF), while the subsequent four pertain to higher education qualifications (level 4.5 to level 8).
  • Level Descriptors: Each level comes with descriptors specifying learning outcomes, learning volume, and qualification types and titles.
Guidelines for Program Development
  • Comprehensive Guidelines: NHEQF provides guidance on various aspects of program development, including program and course learning outcomes, curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment, and feedback.
Credit Framework
  • Credit Requirements: UGC’s credit framework mandates a minimum of 20 credits per semester.
  • Credit Breakdown: One credit encompasses 15 hours of direct and 30 hours of indirect teaching.
  • Study Hours: Students are expected to dedicate a minimum of 900 hours per semester, equivalent to nearly 10 hours per day.
Inclusive Qualifications
  • Diverse Qualifications: NHEQF covers a wide range of qualification types, including certificates, diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and PhDs.
  • Incorporation: The framework encompasses qualifications from technical and vocational education and professional and technical education programs. It excludes medical and legal education, all under a unified framework.
Quality Assurance Mechanism
  • Established Mechanism: NHEQF establishes a quality assurance mechanism.
  • Roles and Responsibilities: It defines the roles and responsibilities of regulators, higher education institutions, and external agencies.
  • Approval and Monitoring: The framework outlines processes and criteria for program and qualification approval, monitoring, and evaluation.

Issues with the NHEQF

Multiple Frameworks
  • Dual Frameworks: The UGC has introduced both the NHEQF and the National Credit Framework separately.
  • Academic Bank of Credits: Institutions must implement the Academic Bank of Credits independently, leading to redundancy.
  • Complexity: The presence of multiple regulations complicates the higher education qualifications system.
  • Lack of Clarity: While NHEQF outlines exit requirements, it lacks clarity regarding eligibility conditions and entry pathways for students.
  • Confusion: This ambiguity can create confusion among students and educational institutions.
Lack of Inclusion
  • Exclusion of Regulated Disciplines: Disciplines like agriculture, law, medicine, and pharmacy, governed by separate regulators, are not included in the NHEQF.
  • Fragmentation: The absence of consensus may fragment the higher education system and hinder academic mobility.
  • Hierarchy Creation: The framework appears to establish a hierarchy, allowing admission to PhD programs for students with four-year undergraduate degrees and a minimum CGPA of 7.5.
  • Potential Elitism: This approach may promote elitism, as academic performance can be influenced by socioeconomic factors.
Complex Equivalences
  • Equating Postgraduate Diplomas: The NHEQF equates postgraduate diplomas with four-year undergraduate programs, leading to confusion.
  • Challenges in Categorization: The attempt to standardize qualifications on a scale of 4.5 to 10 complicates categorizing degrees that do not neatly fit into this scale, making level determination difficult.
European Influence
  • Bologna Process and Dublin Descriptors: The NHEQF draws heavily from the European Bologna process and Dublin descriptors.
  • Complexity of Indian System: India’s higher education system is more diverse and complex than the European model, necessitating broader consultations with Indian states for framework development.

Way Forward for NHEQF Improvement

  • Merge Frameworks: Combine the NHEQF and the National Credit Framework into a single, unified framework to eliminate redundancy and simplify qualification standards.
  • Consultation with States: Engage in extensive and inclusive consultations with Indian states to capture the diversity and complexity of the nation’s higher education landscape.
  • Customized Learning Outcomes: Develop learning outcomes tailored to the unique Indian higher education system, considering socio-cultural and socio-economic factors.
  • Comprehensive Learning: Emphasize holistic personal and societal development in addition to employability in defining learning outcomes.
  • Eligibility Criteria Review: Reevaluate eligibility criteria for admission to Ph.D. programs to prevent the creation of an elitist higher education system.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: Establish an ongoing monitoring and evaluation mechanism for the NHEQF to make necessary adjustments as India’s higher education landscape evolves.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023