Another recommendation made by Deloitte is for improved student access and affordability calling for flexible, affordable, learner centric, skills-focused as well as online courses. EdSurge reports that more research dialogues, action related employer issued credentials and the alignment of employer issued credentials with curricula could benefit higher educational institutions.
India has given due recognition to these criteria in their position on flexibility of curricula design and research orientation in its following populations: “11.10. HEIs will have the flexibility to offer different designs of Master’s programmes: (a) there may be a 2-year programme with the second year devoted entirely to research for those who have completed the 3- year Bachelor’s programme; (b) for students completing a 4-year Bachelor’s programme with Research, there could be a 1-year Master’s programme; and (c) there may be an integrated 5- year Bachelor’s/Master’s programme.
“20.2. Professional education thus becomes an integral part of the overall higher education system. Stand-alone agricultural universities, legal universities, health science universities, technical universities, and standalone institutions in other fields, shall aim to become multidisciplinary institutions offering holistic and multidisciplinary education. All institutions offering either professional or general education will aim to organically evolve into institutions/clusters offering both seamlessly and in an integrated manner by 2030.”
The last two years have witnessed growing emergence and expansion of a number of online digital platforms that offer, in collaboration with Universities, certificates upon completion of short duration programmes to students all over the world. Some of the prominent study platforms are Coursera; Edx; Code academy; HarvardX; Khanacademy; Open2study; AcademicEarth; Youtube.com/education and many others.
While digital platforms have emerged and grown in partnership with universities, innovations have been made in launching platforms such as “Grow with Google” which have emerged as a new breed of institutions with focus on how to bridge the skill gap culminating in professional certifications with career pathways.
These and similar initiatives could complement the NEP 2020 to pave the way forward for employer/industry-sponsored professional certifications. In their final recommendations, Deloitte has disclosed that private-public partnerships, while partnering with the industrial ecosystem, have earned benefits for colleges and universities through internships, co-ops and job shadowing in virtual mode.
Deloitte would illustratively refer to [email protected] which is a collaboration between Deloitte and Wichita State University. Deloitte claims that the initiative will feature, inter alia, 40 robots, robotic programmes and cyber applications along with high-end data visualizations and professional engineering software programmes.
Such innovations could also provide triggers for colleges and institutions in India for entering meaningful collaborations with the industrial sector, particularly in the context of vocational education, technical education and research.NEP 2020 acknowledges the importance of stakeholders such as Industry and NGOS in its collaborative aspirations in vocational education as follows: “16.5 By 2025, at least 50% of learners through the school and higher education system shall have exposure to vocational education. Towards this, the secondary schools will also collaborate with polytechnics, local industry, etc.
Skill labs will also be set up and created in the schools in a hub and spoke model which will allow other schools to use this facility. Higher educational institutions will offer vocational education either on their own or in partnership with industry and NGOs. The B.Voc degrees introduced in 2013 will continue to exist, but vocational courses will also be available to students enrolled in all other Bachelor’s degree programmes, including the 4 year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programme. HEIs will also be allowed to conduct short term courses in various skills including soft skills.”
In conclusion, it would be worthwhile to recall the opening statements in the preamble to the National Education Policy 2020 which acknowledges as under: “The world is undergoing rapid changes in the knowledge landscape. With various dramatic scientific and technological advances, such as the rise of big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, many unskilled jobs worldwide may be taken over by machines, while the need for a skilled workforce, particularly involving mathematics, computer science, and data science, in conjunction with multidisciplinary abilities across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, will be increasingly in greater demand.”
The policy, while laying down fundamental principles to guide the education system in general, and, the individual institutions, in particular, grants prominence, inter alia, to the following: * flexibility, so that learners have the ability to choose their learning trajectories and programmes, and thereby choose their own paths in life according to their talents and interests; * life skills such as communication, cooperation, teamwork, and resilience; * extensive use of technology in teaching and learning, removing language barriers, increasing access for Divyang students, and educational planning and management; Hence, the National Education Policy 2020 has all the right intentions in place to propel the higher education institutions of this country in a trajectory of catalyzing innovative growth and economic development.
The challenge, however, is how fast these changes can be activated and how well equipped the key players, namely, educational institutions, participating Governments, the industrial sector, the connectivity architecture, and, most importantly, the student community and their guardians, are, to adapt to such innovations so as to upskill.
This is a watershed moment for the education sector which has to marry human capital with digital learning and respond very fast with flexibility and pragmatism in a collaborative stakeholder-based ecosystem to confront the drastic changes demanded by these extraordinary times. Translating policy into pragmatic implementation is hence the need of the hour which alone can, in the words of Dr Farnam Jahanian, President of Carnegie Mellon University, “succeed in driving innovation and catalyzing economic development.”
(The writer is former Secretary to the Government of India and the Government of West Bengal)