Making Indian universities stay in the business

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September 21, 2020 8:47 AM

Over 250 universities may go out of business in four years if they don’t digitise: Schoolguru Eduserve

Rooj also adds that 50% of the college teachers are still not comfortable with teaching online, citing a recent Schoolguru study.Rooj also adds that 50% of the college teachers are still not comfortable with teaching online, citing a recent Schoolguru study.

Now that a large number of institutions across the educational spectrum have undertaken the shift to online, competing effectively in this space will be more challenging for those institutions that have thus far delayed their decision to venture into online learning. “It is not enough to simply offer online education; institutions must also figure out ways to make their courses engaging and differentiate their offerings to make them attractive to students,” says Shantanu Rooj, founder & CEO of Schoolguru Eduserve, the online learning services organisation.

Universities in particular, Rooj adds, must quickly get their act together to ensure that the new normal does not compromise on the learning outcome for the student. “The focus must be on employability, apprenticeships, on-the-job trainings and capstone projects, and a lot of peer-to-peer learning can help navigate this better. Unless universities think about their strategies in advance, a large number of them would face the same fate as that of engineering colleges in India,” Rooj says.

Almost 600 engineering colleges have closed down in the last four years, and 800, reportedly, are in the process of shutting down as they could not deliver on the intended outcome, which is employment.

“There are today talks about a multi-university degree, where a student can go to, say, five different universities to learn five different courses, and then go to yet another university and get a degree from there. With credit mobility happening, there is going to be an oversupply of capacity in terms of the number of seats available,” Rooj says.

He adds that those universities in India that have not currently focused on employability and outcome may cease to exist, going forward. “It is not the physical infrastructure, but the digital infrastructure that will define universities of the future. Those universities that have become degree-churning machines may go out of business.”

Engineering colleges, Rooj adds, didn’t go out of business because there was an oversupply of seats, but because they were not providing the right return on investment to students in terms of employability and outcome. “There are seats, but students are not taking these seats,” he says.

If universities take digitisation steps they can stay in the business, but then digitisation is only one of the things towards return on investment. “Universities have to think of product marketing delivery of education; they have to focus on faculty and obviously digitisation … all of these will be important,” Rooj says.

In addition, non-performing universities, Rooj adds, are not just in the private sector, but also in public sector. “If you go to the eastern part of the country, a large number of universities in the public sector are not performing well.”

Digitalisation has created oversupply of faculty—not in terms of faculty numbers but in terms of education delivery. In the physical world, a professor would have probably taught, say, 5,000 students, but in the digital world she can teach 5,000 students in one classroom session. Also, education is becoming nano-sized; it is coming in small sachets. For example, if a working professional wants to commit three months at a university for upskilling, she may not want to take an entire course, but just a module that will help her upskill.

Recently, the UGC announced on mandating examinations, and Rooj says that it’s a forward-looking verdict protecting the interestof students. “Getting a degree without exams may have given some students an easy way out, but it would have caused long-term damage to the credibility of their degrees. Also, universities who have not prepared themselves would find it challenging to meet the guidelines. Universities need to adopt a blended model of exams using digital infrastructure, and without compromising the health of students and faculty,” he says.

Rooj also adds that 50% of the college teachers are still not comfortable with teaching online, citing a recent Schoolguru study, titled ‘The use of Technology in Teaching & Learning in Indian Higher Education Institutes’. The survey, conducted with over 1,200 teachers, deep dives into the current trends in the higher education ecosystem, especially analysing the acceptability of digital learning among educators. According to the survey findings, nearly 50% of university teachers are uncomfortable with online teaching.

Rooj says: “We are all aware that, in India, the shift to digital learning has not been driven by choice, but rather by coerced need. Hence educators were not completely prepared—in fact, 89.92% of teachers had never used technology at all before and 83% of teachers had never delivered a virtual lecture. This strongly reiterates their discomfort with digital learning methods. The reason for the distress teachers are facing is the skill gap—82% teachers have noted that colleges have not offered any training to them on online teaching tools and techniques. Better preparedness is the need of the hour. Institutes should conduct continuous skilling and upskilling programmes to assist educators to effectively use digital tools for teaching, preparing course material, facilitating peer-to-peer engagement, conducting assessments and providing feedback. A robust education continuity plan should combine adoption of advanced technology and location-agnostic learning systems and continuous and constant knowledge upgrade of educators.”

Rooj adds that, for staying relevant, universities will have to focus on digitalisation, focus on outcome (i.e. employability, so as to provide return on investment), think about product (the new set of learners demand a product that is modular, always-on, on-the-go, distributed, gamified and crowd sourced), improvement of curriculum (make it more contextual), think about student service (students are getting more demanding and have higher expectations), think about financing (in the world of financial autonomy amidst reducing public subsidy, universities will need to get creative about how they improve revenue and mobilise funding), think of marketing and brand (in the world of too many suppliers of educational services, students have the choice to select the best perceived), and improve governance to raise their own game (get more efficient and improve performance).

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