- What is your outlook on the higher education sector in India?
India represents one of the largest higher education systems in the world with about 35 million enrollments, more than 40000 colleges and about 1000 Universities. In the foreseeable future, the Indian higher education system will be shaped and impacted by the after-effects of COVID-19, the technological advancements (particularly Industry 4.0) and the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. While the NEP was announced in July 2020, the regulatory framework in the country is being transformed since the committee to frame this policy was formed in 2015. It may not be inappropriate to say that the changes effected in recent past are so profound that it puts the regulatory framework ahead of what Institutions and professors have been thinking about and if I may say, in a lighter vein, that now we as the teachers have no one to blame, except ourselves, for poor quality of education.
- Please acquaint our readers with your journey as vice-chancellor, JAIN University?
My journey as Vice Chancellor of JAIN (Deemed-to-be University) has been one of the most exciting, enjoyable and extremely satisfying. It is challenging, enriching and humbling, all at the same time, to be at the helm of a University with more than 20000 full-time students and is among the top ranked Universities as per NIRF, is NAAC-A accredited (A+ as per new scheme of grading) and is known for its focus on research, innovation and entrepreneurship. Starting in 2021, we have embarked on the journey called JAIN 2.0, which will have five pillars of its philosophy; viz, global benchmarking with local relevance, curriculum co-created with industry, leveraging technology to deliver differentiated contents, taking research to the intersection of research and practice and a curated organization culture. Articulation of JAIN 2.0 required intense thinking and its implementation is going to be exciting as well as rewarding for all the stakeholders. I am confident that what we are going to achieve, will make the nation proud of JAIN!
- Kindly tell us about your recently launched UGC recognized online degree programs?
NEP 2020 set an ambitious goal of increasing the Gross Enrollment Ration (GER) to 50% from its current level of slightly over 26%, which requires reaching the unreached. There are unprecedented changes taking place in job requirements caused due to disruptive technological advancements demanding upskilling of those who cannot leave their current jobs. JAIN (Deemed-to-be University) has carved out a plan that in future, it will offer a unique value proposition to its students even after they graduate and the group’s over 150000 alumni working all over the world. UGC recognized online degrees have been launched to serve these three segments who have historically been unserved or underserved. These online degree programmes have been designed in collaboration with industry and will offer specializations in cutting edge technologies like data science, digital marketing and e-commerce, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and full stack development. These specializations will prepare students for the sectors that have huge job opportunities. The active placement and internship assistance to students will be a unique feature. Also, as the nation implements the NEP 2020, the new education landscape will be significantly different from that in the past and will require flexibility, inter-disciplinarity and access, inclusivity and affordability of higher education with high quality, these online degrees will bode well with the changed environment.
I appreciate and congratulate the UGC for its decision to allow top ranked Universities like JAIN to offer online degrees. The timely launch of degrees in such emerging areas is indicative of the University’s futuristic approach and strategic thinking. This will be our definitive contribution towards achieving India’s national missions and priorities like Skill India and Atmanirbhar Bharat.
- Is there anything that Indian universities and colleges need to focus on to be on par with international Universities?
Many things in fact! First and foremost is the change in mindset that needs to be brought through regular and rigorous training of faculty and staff. At a time when all the institutions of higher education are struggling to implement outcome-based education (OBE), our thought process is still predominantly input-based. The need is to design programmes and courses starting with the end (learning outcomes) in mind and backward. Second, to attain the learning outcomes which should be in line with the demand of industry and society, particularly those involving higher order thinking skills (HOTS), we need to expand learning opportunities for students through innovative teaching-learning methods. Just defining the outcomes will not serve any purpose unless we train our faculty members to use innovative and effective pedagogies and andragogies. Third, we need major reforms in examinations and evaluation methods. The examination and evaluation methods not only assess the performance of a student during a learning activity, but also ascertain the relevance, efficacy and efficiency of a programme or course design. We need to adopt rubrics-based assessment in our Universities and Colleges, in addition to just awarding grades, which do not indicate much.
- What are the big challenges for a Deemed-to-be University in India?
In the past, there have been some challenges for all privately funded institutions and not only the Deemed-to-be Universities. But as the regulatory framework is evolving, there seems to be a more level playing field available for all. Since Deemed-to-be Universities are directly regulated by the UGC and the Ministry of Education, they are perceived to be more regulated than others. They need permission for almost everything they want to do, including but not limited to the appointment of Vice Chancellor. Having said this, I must say that if these Universities are accredited with high grades, the restrictions reduce and they start enjoying greater autonomy. JAIN (Deemed-to-be University) has already bee granted partial autonomy by the UGC.
- What’s your take on the support rendered by the Government towards creating a congenial environment to encourage private and deemed universities?
Of late, the Government has undertaken many reforms with the objective of creating a more congenial environment but a lot more needs to be done. Many developmental initiatives have been taken that encourage private sector participation in Higher Education. However, there are still many areas where differential treatment exists. One of the major discriminations faced is higher fee charged from private Universities for almost everything like accreditation, approvals, memberships etc. There is no justification or rationale for this. There can be many infrastructural facilities, softwares, databases etc. that can be shared with all Universities irrespective of the type. Private sector Universities and institutions account for 70% enrollments in higher education but face financial constraints due to such differential treatment. Fortunately, the future seems to hold some promise as the NEP 2020 proposes removing many such differences. Also, the mandatory accreditation will ensure quality and competition will keep the fee under control. In such emerging environment, there is strong case for equal treatment of all types of Universities and Institutions.
- There is still a degree of restraint among parents and students when it comes to getting admitted to courses offered by deemed to be universities. What’s your comment?
I don’t think so and I am surprised to hear this. On the contrary, Deemed-to-be Universities are considered to be better qualitatively since they are subjected to greater scrutiny by the UGC and the Ministry of Education, GOI on all academic parameters. In fact, when a University is granted the status of an Institution of Eminence (IoE), they turn into a Deemed-to-be University. All IITs, NITs and many other top-ranked Institutions are also Deemed-to-be Universities. If some parents, as you say, show restrain or reluctance towards getting their wards admitted to programmes offered by these Universities, should think otherwise and rather prefer them more than others.
- How can we bridge the skills gaps between academia and the professional world?
This is the need of the hour and my suggestions are as follows:
- Expand learning opportunities for students through innovative course design and shift learning to outside the classroom as we adopt outcome-based education approach.
- Make research an integral part of the education process and then take research to innovation so that we find solutions to real-life issues and problems
- Co-habit, co-create and co-own curriculum with industry. Instead of bringing cosmetic changes, the curriculum design needs radical rethinking. In fact, time has come when EdTech companies should be incubated on University campuses and Universities start having offices in company premises.
- Teaching-learning methods need overhauling involving projects and major examination reforms need to be undertaken
- Leverage technology to harness the human ingenuity of faculty and young students and implement blended learning.
- What are things to consider when choosing a course and career after 12th?
It purely depends on the aptitude and interest of students. The programmes chosen should be the ones that impart skills needed by the industry. However, one caution that needs to be exercised is that skills should not be emphasized at the cost of education because skills have a limited shelf life, whereas education is for life. Engineering and medical are not the only career options. There is a world that exists beyond them and there are many more exciting careers in fields like humanities, social sciences, arts, design, sports, allied healthcare sciences and others
- How could universities help students to boost career prospects?
Universities have a major role in guiding students in a manner that they make better careers. Counselling is no more a one-time activity at the time of admission, it is to be rather undertaken throughout the programme. In a fast-changing environment, newer and more exciting opportunities emerge and students should capture them. Engaging teaching-learning methods, an ecosystem of innovation, peer learning, meaningful and productive utilization of students’ time for students and making them responsible citizens with ethical values social sensibilities and sensitivities, in addition to being professionally competent, will go a long way in boosting the careers for students! Having said this, I would advise students to be more self-aware, be mindful of the purpose of being in an Institutions and take the onus of learning on themselves.