Leveraging digital tech to take education to higher level

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Published: July 20, 2015 12:07:13 AM

Immediately after attaining independence, India chose to focus on providing Higher Education opportunities within the country and as a result managed...

Immediately after attaining independence, India chose to focus on providing Higher Education opportunities within the country and as a result managed to establish institutions of repute that have successfully attracted top quality minds both in terms of students as well as teachers. However after more than six decades of independence, the country is continuing to cope with the challenge of providing access to quality higher education to the growing number of young people of this country. It is unfortunate that there is not a single Indian university among the top 200 global universities as per 2014 QS ranking. At the same time, our country needs to provide opportunity to access higher education for additional 10 million students, taking the current GNER (Gross National Enrolment Ratio) of 18.1% to 30% by 2020. Although the number of Universities has increased 34 times from 20 in 1950 to 677 in 2014, in order to meet the GNER goals for 2020, we would need to create almost twice the number of seats currently available in the university system. While this task in itself is daunting on account of the huge investment required for setting up of the universities as well as the number and quality of faculty and other resources required to deliver education, the bigger question related question is the quality of output from the present day education system. It is a well-known fact that not more than 15-20% of the graduating students pool is found to be of acceptable standards for the industry and even those entering into the corporate world are mostly trained by the employers for a period of three months to a year before they become productive. Hence the topmost concern that is required to be addressed is establishing quality standards in the Higher Education System and maintaining quality as we scale and expand to deliver services to millions of students.

In recognition of the importance of quality standards in the higher education system, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) was established as the autonomous unit under the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 1994, to assess and accredit institutions of higher education in the country. Assessment and grading by NAAC is certainly an important step and this has been made mandatory for all institutions interested in seeking grants. However only around 15% of the 36,000 plus colleges in the country have come forward for grading and only one third of the applications make the final cut for NAAC. Accreditation.

Almost 65% of the colleges are those set up by the private players and majority of these institutions have not come forward for accreditation yet. Since these institutions are not dependent upon Government funding, they do not see a compulsion to offer themselves for accreditation.

Awareness about accreditation and using its grading as a filter to select the higher education institutions for enrolment is not yet a widely practised phenomenon in the country and hence most institutions do not accord priority to this activity.  It is important therefore to spread awareness about the significance of NAAC and make the institutions more competitive through recognition of their grading.

It is also useful to heed to the criticism of the current grading system which assesses the institutions and not the programmes offered by them. Hence even those who may be choosing the institutions to be part of, have no avenues to check the quality of programmes offered.

Another important dimension is the comparative standing of the institutions and the individual departments on a number of parameters including employability, quality and quantity of teachers, use of technology in learning, research publications, investments made in infrastructure etc. There are a few privately run surveys which cover limited number of institutions and are not scientifically designed with the long term perspective and hence are not very reliable. Such a comprehensive comparative analysis that is authentic will enable students and parents to make the right choice and for the institutions to consciously enhance quality of delivery and the fulfilment cycle.

With a substantial number of families having first generation college goers in the country and a large number of unsuspecting parents taking hefty loans to pay for professional programmes, it is essential that they make their decisions regarding admissions based on reliable information about the institutions and not merely based upon hearsay or glitzy advertisements.  This is where career advisory support delivered by digital technology platform with indepth analytics could be extremely helpful in providing counselling support by the experts in different fields.

Using the digital platforms for matching the interests and the strengths of the students with the requirements and standings of the programmes offered by various institutions could enable students and parents to have virtual walkthroughs and converse with the students and the faculty of the institutions of their interest.  Both pull and push information on various dimensions of the education institutions leading to better throughput should be made accessible in a user friendly manner in local languages through the digital devices which in turn would catalyse educational institutions to be more open and competitive on real factors impacting the outcomes of the education system.

The below par learning experience and education delivered to students may make them qualified on paper but it is an unimaginable loss to the nation to be denied an opportunity to tap the fullest potential of the youth. Hence the critical need of the hour is to maintain a strict vigilance on the practices of higher education institutions and encourage them to put in place voluntary measures using digital technologies that would make them committed in terms of outcomes that are impactful.

Encouraging access to information, transparency, cross pollination of best practices and showcasing of talent have to become the cornerstones of the digital strategy that would drive quality standards in the educational institutions.

Leveraging digital technologies it would be imperative to come up with the minimum common curriculum across programmes, common standardised assessment mechanisms enabled by online testing tools establishing national standards, access to MOOC and samples of teaching by faculty from every college through Youtube and incorporate sector skill council affiliated modules co delivered by the industry as part of the curriculum. These are some of the ways by which not only minimum quality standards could be accomplished in the near term,  it would also be feasible for enabling better informed decision making on the right match of institutions for the students  thus paving the way for creating new benchmarks for quality in the education system and move towards global standards.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company

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