By Vijay Balakrishnan
As we embrace 2023, it is also a time for reflection and renewal for both individuals and organisations. It is no different for the higher education sector, which has been faced with numerous challenges and disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools and universities begin to re-open and return to some sense of normalcy, there is an opportunity for a reset in the way that higher education is approached. This reset can take many forms, from reassessing the traditional model of in-person, campus-based education to embracing new technologies and approaches to learning.
Recently, at the Transforming Education Summit, held in New York in September this year, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres cast a sombre note when he said that, instead of being the great enabler, education is fast becoming “a great divider”, noting that some 70% of 10-year-olds in poor countries are unable to read and are “barely learning”. With access to the best resources, schools and universities, the rich get the best jobs, while the poor – especially girls – displaced people, and students with disabilities, face huge obstacles to getting the qualifications that could change their lives, he said while also pointing out that the COVID-19 pandemic had “dealt a hammer blow to progress on SDG4”, the Sustainable Development Goal targeting equitable quality education.
With the increasing importance of skills and knowledge in the modern economy, it is important for all stakeholders to ensure that higher education to be seen as a valuable investment that leads to real career opportunities and success. This is particularly important in developing countries and India is no exception. Another potential area for reset is in the way that higher education is financed. The high cost of tuition and student debt has long been a concern for students and families, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. With many students and families facing economic hardship, there is a need for more affordable and flexible options for financing higher education. This could involve a greater emphasis on scholarships, grants, and financial aid, as well as the use of alternative financing methods such as income-driven repayment plans or employer tuition assistance programmes.
Indian education is not removed from these predicaments, challenges, or opportunities. With over 250 million school going students and the largest population in the world in the age bracket of 5-24 years, providing quality education for all is fundamental to creating a better tomorrow. Female literacy remains below the national average among social groups, and one needs to re-think about the creating equal, and quality education for all. The good news for India is that the education sector has seen a host of reforms and improved financial outlays in recent years that can be the catalyst that transforms the country into a knowledge harbour.
Overall, the reset for higher education in 2023 presents an opportunity to reimagine and reinvent the way that education is approached and delivered. By embracing new technologies and approaches, and by focusing on affordability, accessibility, and relevance, higher education can better meet the needs of students and society in the 21st century. Come 2023 and India needs to set a stage to achieve bigger goals in the process of learning for students as well as teachers. To enable this, the process is as important as the outcomes. As outlined in the country’s New Education Policy, the sector needs to endorse new methodologies of teaching that benefits students and teachers alike. Virtual and augmented reality in the education sector has the potential to completely revolutionise the way teachers teach and students learn. Experiential education is helping teachers to set their learning pace of their students, adding more flexibility to class schedules, and introducing innovative methods.
Since ages past, India, rich in the history of education, has been a source of personal dignity and empowerment and a driving force for the advancement of social, economic, political, and cultural development to the world. Today, aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Indian education needs to rise to the challenge of a changing world order and equip its young with the knowledge, experience, skills, or values needed to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
The author of this article is sr. vice president, chief marketing officer, Cambridge University Press and Assessment, India and South Asia. Views expressed are personal.