Digital Universities, A Game-Changer For India
The key to being a truly Atmanirbhar Bharat is to strengthen and empower the nation, particularly the youth, through quality and meaningful higher education. The future of our nation depends on how equipped our youth is for the road ahead and this is only possible if we collectively address the pain points and disrupt the current higher education system. Just having a college degree for the namesake is not enough today. To be effective contributors in our society, thrive in the present hyper connected digital world, and excel in a knowledge centric society, our youth must have a global mind-set. Are traditional universities prepared or adequately equipped to make our youth future-ready? Let's deep dive a little to understand.
The Traditional University Learning Model
The traditional university model still follows the one-size-fits-all approach which lacks personalization and critical interventions. The current higher education system as a whole doesn't necessarily impart the skills that are needed to acquire future jobs. The current model has two-fold challenges. Firstly, the current content from the present university system is not tailored to effectively equip graduates for the working world. There's a dearth of a clear understanding of the key skills needed to succeed in the workplace. There is a clear mismatch between the jobs available and youth with the required skills for the job. Furthermore, a significant number of future jobs will be unpredictable and will require a different set of skills than those displayed by most graduates today. More needs to be done to equip students with the functional/technical or behavioural skills they'll need if they are to build successful careers.
Secondly, learning is a LifeLong process, and it doesn't end at a degree. To stay relevant and face the challenges that are thrown up by unprec-edented events like the pandemic or to seize the unseen opportunities that lie ahead, it is critical for the workforce to constantly learn, unlearn and relearn. The current traditional education system is not equipped for that and has limited career outcomes. Students cannot go back to their university to upskill or reskill neither can they leave their current jobs to do that. In spite of several studies on how the brain learns highlighting the superiority of active, interactive, and engaging models of learning, teaching is still restricted to monologue lectures where information is transmitted from teacher to student.
Even the final assessment and grades still depend almost exclusively on the final examination, despite the fact that continuous and varied assessments are much better tools to evaluate. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, higher education institutions were left with no choice but to go online with a streaming platform to continue classes. However, they did not fully grasp the concept and the premise of online learning or focus on the learner experience in a virtual environment. It became challenging for the educational institution as well as the students to comprehend their courses. And that has made all the stakeholders including learners to wonder how efficient traditional universities will be in the changing new world where online learning will be a norm.
Further, setting up a traditional university also requires a significant investment, limiting the scope and at times intent to invest in pedagogy or personalised learning or hiring the best talent across the globe, which can otherwise be engaged in a virtual environment. The connectivity and proximity are also other important factors due to which larger students' community from India are deprived of quality higher education.
Digital Universities – The Way Forward
Digital universities are the way forward that will pave the path for the new Bharat and for new opportunities. Building large top-level offline universities require a lot of resources which can be minimalized through Digital Universities without comprising on the quality of education. Through a virtual learning platform, you can have access to some of the best teachers from around the world, multilingual content, personalised learning; build individual career pathways, lifelong learning tracks with dynamic entry and exit points, no geographical barriers, and flexible degree programs making the workforce future ready. In digital learning, the student or the learner participates in a very engaging and interactive learning process which is a blend of recorded lectures, industry-driven assignments, quizzes, supported by an aggregated pool of industry mentors, byte-sized content, peer learning, games, group projects and more. This kind of interactive learning engages the learner’s cognitive ability to learn. It becomes productive learning when the student is ready and willing to learn. That is when you have the full attention to grasp what is being taught. The maximum engagement and focus are created when the learners are vigorously involved, rather than just sitting idle in the classroom. Prof. Jagdish Sheth, Global Thinker & Padma Bhushan Awardee, also believes India is poised to be a front-runner in education. He says -"India has the potential to emerge as the Teaching capital of the world. We have the Talent, Capacity, Content, Experts”.
Despite its Criticality, much Still Needs to be Done
According to India Skills Report (ISR) 2021, due to lack of professional skill sets, not even half of the Indian graduates are employable. This indicates the need for affordable quality higher education that leads to employment is more important now than ever. Digital University brings the advantage of versatility and flexibility while being cost-effective. It allows the learning pattern to be customised to suit an individual's preferences and uses tech-savvy tools, supported by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, to foster interactivity and engagement. In spite of the number of students passing out of 10+2 going up, our budgetary allocation hasn't significantly moved up. In order to make the workforce job ready and to achieve the target of 50 percent gross enrolment ratio (GER) by 2035 as envisioned by the New National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the state must give prominence to build alternate solutions and be deeply committed to build Digital Universities.
Technology is disrupting all sectors and education is not an exception. Our higher education institutions are not technologically advanced and don't have the capability to stay relevant and updated with the evolving technology. Online learning was anyway on a growth trajectory, while the pandemic has hastened the process. The year 2020 pushed large corporates to switch gears to accept online as a viable option to operate amid times when physical learning and hiring were brought to a standstill. This has given rise to online degrees getting acceptance among employers in both, India and overseas. This is the right time for India to build something for the world where this successful model of Digital University can be replicated in other developing countries.
How can India do what must be done? The Need for a Fresh Approach
It is time for the traditional education system to give way to the progressive. Prof. Rajeev Gowda, Former MP, Rajya Sabha & Ex-Professor, IIM Bangalore says – “A phrase that has become common in India is a 'Regulatory Sandbox' basically, the idea is yes, of course, we have all kinds of traditional rules, regulations, and restrictions but in some domains let's carefully create an opportunity for experiments for newer players to come in and prove themselves rather than wait for another 20 years before they can actually succeed. This is the kind of attitude we need".
Digital universities have a plethora of benefits to offer learners. They can get access to specialised mentors and teachers from across the world, for one. The best brains from the Indian diaspora globally can be leveraged for another. Learning paths can be customised too, with artificial intelligence creating unique learning paths tailored to the learner and his/her needs. Moreover, assessment and feedback too can be personalized, which again makes for a very impactful and meaningful learning experience.
To maximise these benefits, there is much scope for government support, which is summarised below:
•A first step could be to only allow Greenfield digital universities to come up, essentially enabling absolutely fresh set of ideas and enterprises
•The government could set a target of establishing up 3-5 digital universities in the next 2 years with a blend of innovation and technology-driven pedagogy
•It could also bring digital universities under the gamut of Digital India/Make in India umbrella and support these universities to target a million students each in next 5-7 years
•Make provision for 15 per cent students to come with 100 per cent scholarship that can reduce their financial burden and enable deep India penetration.
In conclusion, therefore, digital universities are set to bolster India's future, giving its youth a strong foundation and with effective government support can rightly make the country a leader in every right.