To successfully implement the recommendations of the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP, 2020), the top priority for the Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission (UGC) is to transform the higher education sector in India.

The higher education sector in India is booming; however, the critical challenge is to manage its massive expansion.

Currently it lacks quality and suffers from falling standards, inadequate human resources, and an absence of professional expert systems. Indeed, the most challenging part is to cope with globalisation, financial challenges, demographic forces, and growing technological innovations such as robots, automation, artificial intelligence, big data and deep learning. Further the digital divide and, more recently, Covid-19 have created huge challenges to the education system.

Moreover, the institutional support systems have remained static over the decades. As a result, Indian higher education institutions (HEIs) cannot compete with the standards set by the international educational institutions and the ranking framework.

The universities can achieve their goals only if they successfully blend human resources, financial resources and physical infrastructure. Among the three aspects, human resources play a crucial role in the university's overall development and sustainability.

Human resources focus

The importance of Human Resource Management (HRM) and its existence in the university system, particularly given the changing academic environment worldwide, is not given priority in most Indian universities. There is no focus on key HRM instruments, including recruitment and succession processes, training and development, performance management, career development, talent retention, and grievance redressal systems. HRM duties are fragmented and executed mainly by the Vice-Chancellor’s office, the Registrar's office, the establishment department and other sections.

The existing Establishment Department plays a very minimal role in human resource management, such as assisting in issuing the job contracts/appointment letters, assisting in the recruitment and promotion processes, maintaining the attendance and personnel records etc.

There is no scope for HRM to play a strategic role, and in the absence of a professional HRM workforce, universities cannot deal with domestic and international challenges. There is hardly any attention being paid to the development, motivation and focused training system for the non-teaching staff members. Only a few institutes of national importance and private universities are in the formative stage of developing HRM systems.

On the other hand, the universities in the West are practising cutting edge HRM systems. Their HRM systems are in sync with the organisational strategy and goals. Strategic HRM helps integrate the strategies and systems to achieve the higher education institution's overall mission and success. Professional HRM supports the teaching and non-teaching staff to be more proactive, efficient and helps in maximising their overall productivity.

There are efficient HRM polices for teaching and non-teaching employees, including focused and targeted training programmes. Given the swift changes and substantial global transformation in the universities, particularly during the last few decades, the universities in India need to upgrade their organisational structures. It is quite possible that most HEIs in India are likely to expand significantly in the wake of the recommendations of the NEP 2020 and Indian HEIs cannot afford to continue with the conventional systems.

The approach adopted by the government, regulators and the universities in India needs to change and the focus needs to be on restructuring and modernising of universities.

In this context, the erstwhile establishment department in the universities needs to be replaced with a professional and empowered HRM unit. Such a strategic HRM division would prioritise developing the university, its employees, including academic and non-teaching staff, and the students.

The core responsibility of strategic HRM could be to exhibit progress in the transformation of HRM strategy development and practice proactive HRM instruments, such as recruitment and selection of employees, retention of faculty and staff, performance management, training and development, managing flexible employment, institutional rules and regulations.

They could also assist in designing job responsibilities, incentive systems, university leadership training, social welfare schemes, two-way communication, managing poor performance, succession planning, employee development planning etc. The HRM could also help in designing good practices and policies, which will help to boost the employees' morale.

Additionally, they could also take initiatives in digitalising the HRM systems, which could boost the overall efficiency of the university. The fundamental goal would be to build motivated, trained and committed human resources.

To sum up, there is a dire need to develop a sound and proactive professional HRM team in Indian universities that could take initiatives toward developing high-performing institutions and shift from transactional to strategic and transformational HRM.

Such a team could be instrumental in executing and implementing the recommendations of the National Education Policy, 2020.

The writer is Registrar, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, and a Fulbright Scholar