New Delhi, July 6 : The Union Budget, presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday, has laid down a roadmap for the National Education Policy (NEP), which is currently in its draft form. Prepared by a panel headed by eminent space scientist K Kasturirangan, the NEP seeks to address the challenges of access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability faced by the current education system.

In her budget speech, the Finance Minister assured that the government will bring in a new National Education Policy to transform India's higher education system to one of the global best education systems. The new policy proposes major changes in both school and higher education among others, better governance systems and brings greater focus on research and innovation, she said.

The draft Policy provides for reforms at all levels of education from school to higher education. It seeks to increase the focus on early childhood care, reform the current exam system, strengthen teacher training, and restructure the education regulatory framework. It also seeks to set up a National Education Commission, increase public investment in education, strengthen the use of technology and increase focus on vocational and adult education, among others.

One of the recommendations made by the draft NEP is to constitute a National Research Fund (NRF) to bolster research in the country. The recommendation found a mention in the Finance minister's speech as she announced setting up of the NRF to fund, coordinate and promote research in the country.

"The NRF will ensure that the overall research eco-system in the country is strengthened with focus on identified thrust areas relevant to our national priorities and towards basic science without duplication of effort and expenditure. The funds available with all Ministries will be integrated in NRF and would be adequately supplemented with additional funds," Sitharaman said in her speech.

The draft policy has recommended setting up of NRF "through an Act of Parliament, as an autonomous body of the Government of India, to fund, mentor, incentivize, and build capacity for quality research across the country in all disciplines, primarily at universities and colleges, both public and private. Appropriate infrastructure and a trained staff will be provided to enable it to fulfil its mission".

According to the draft policy, the NRF will consist of four major divisions -- Sciences; Technology; Social Sciences; and Arts and Humanities - with the provision to add additional divisions. In addition to directly funding the outstanding research proposals, the NRF is recommended to "help seed centres of research in select disciplines at various universities, through providing institutional funding, bringing in research mentors as well as postdoctoral and doctoral students to grow an ecosystem for research at institutions where it currently does not exist or is limited".

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