Making World Class Higher Education Accessible for All

Making World Class Higher Education Accessible for All

The education industry is undergoing an enormous digital transformation thanks to the deep penetration of information technology in our day to day lives. This coupled with robust and high speed internet bandwidth along with the technology infrastructure even in the remotest areas in India, has given rise to a plethora of unexplored possibilities in the educational domain.

Digital University is one such possibility, which had a prominent mention in the national budget for the year 2022-23. It has the potential to be a game changer when it comes to implementation of the changes listed in the National Education Policy 2020 as well as to realise the Indian Prime Minister’s vision of bringing about universalisation of quality education.

To facilitate and accelerate the efficient implementation of budget, the Ministry of Education (Govt. of India) conducted a webinar on 21st February to brainstorm and engage with the experts from the academia and industry and various stakeholders, in attendance with government officials, to identify strategies and determine the roadmap for implementation.

Introducing Digital University

The webinar titled, Digital University: Making World Class Higher Education Accessible for All was held in alignment with the ministry’s vision of “Achieving Atmanirbharta through the Amrit Mantra of Digital Education and Dynamic Skilling”.

Brilliantly moderated by the AICTE Chairman, Dr. Anil Sahasrabudhe, the webinar was chaired by K Sanjay Murthy, Secretary, Higher Education, and K Rajaraman, Secretary, DOT. The esteemed panellists who presented their ideas for Digital University were Dr. Swati Piramal, Vice Chairperson, Piramal Group, Prof. V Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, and Prof. M Jagadesh Kumar, Chairman, UGC.

Digital University has the potential to unite the local and national universities, make quality education available and accessible in remote areas and increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) for higher education from 27% to 50%. The collaboration of academia, industries and edtech can pave way for pragmatic and effective learning through interactive and gamified digital content, multi-lingual courses, AI-driven personalised learning, dynamic assessments and more.

Learnings from the ground

Dr. Swati Piramal, in her presentation titled Learnings from the ground, says, “India has the highest number of edX users after the US.” The number of students enrolling in digital courses is promising indicating great interest and need for online learning. However, she points out that despite high enrolment of students in digital courses, very few students completed the course leading to a high dropout ratio. Dr. Piramal’s suggestions to navigate this and other challenges through Digital University.

Building a learning management system that’s multi-lingual and accessible to all kinds of learners, educators and learning facilitators, including those that are differently-abled.

Phy-gital learning experience that combines the benefits of physical and digital learning to get the best of both worlds.

Enable adoption, retention and completion of courses by introducing short learning modules, learning facilitators and support systems to help students complete the courses without any roadblocks.

Building strong hyperlocal learning communities among peers enabling them to collaborate on group projects and assignments.

Creating immersive learning experience by promoting healthy competitive spirit, instructor interaction, flipped classrooms and more.

Training to be imparted to online instructors on using technology, digital tools and using different pedagogical techniques for different learner types.

Digital University – A Proposal

Prof. V Kamakoti emphasized the fact that extreme competition in top educational institutes and high cost for quality education make it difficult for aspiring students to secure seats in the desired institutes. This leads to ineffective education resulting in low employability skills in graduates. Digital University can resolve these challenges through employment-oriented, high-quality courses at a large scale.

Prof. Kamakoti recommends building a digital university system (DUSYS) involves six major components:

  • Admission – Global and non-competitive, based on a qualification process
  • Publicity – Promotion among educators, learners and other stakeholders
  • LMS – Full featured, highly scalable and LTI compatible (Learner Tool Interoperability)
  • Customer Support – Reliable support through phone, messaging apps, email
  • Exams – Physical examination centres, proctored tests, autograding and manual evaluation
  • Administration and Student Workflow – Data-driven modern systems

Remarkable Regulatory Changes Proposed by UGC

Digital University not only enables India to reach every student across the length and breadth of India, but also makes it the largest educational provider in the world.
M Jagadesh Kumar
UGC Chairman

The UGC Chairman, Jagadesh Kumar, in his presentation, hinted at certain big regulatory changes supporting the Digital University. This new regulatory framework is likely to be rolled out in the near future, however here are some of the key points made by him.

Institutes that fall in the top 100 of NIRF ranking and have a minimum NAAC rating of 3.26 would have direct rights to start offering online/digital programs

Exclusion of minimum marks requirement in qualifying exams, any student that has passed in their Class XII exams will be eligible to take any course offered by the digital university

Digital University to make provisions to learn and acquire new skills while on the job

Providing unlimited seats and unrestricted access to quality education for all

Digital courses to take account of diverse cognitive needs of individual learners

Paving way for higher educational institutes to collaborate easily with edtech companies for digital infrastructure, learning platforms, finance management and so on.

Mr. Kumar ended his presentation by saying, “Digital University not only enables India to reach every student across the length and breadth of India, but also makes it the largest educational provider in the world.”

The Road Ahead

Experts from various leading academic institutes as well as industries also shared their recommendations and suggestions on implementing Digital University. Some of the patterns that emerged in their presentations are outlined below:

  • Building a strong educational leadership to take charge of this digital transformation
  • Conducting teaching programs on online pedagogy, digital content development etc.
  • Providing access to digital devices — computers, laptops, tablets
  • Developing of multi-modal, engaging and interactive digital content
  • Using user-friendly learning management platforms
  • Building robust testing and assessment structures
  • Making courses available in regional languages
  • Taking care of data security and threats
  • Recognising Prior Learning (RPL) and turning them into credits (driving towards Academic Credit Banks)
  • Introducing programs for specific purposes and professional training
  • Delivering physical lab like experience

Ronnie Screwala, Chairperson and Co-Founder, upGrad, introduced the 5 C’s of digital learning as Content, Collaboration, Completion, Coaching and Career Outcomes. The Digital University makes way for “inter-disciplinary, inter-professional and international education”, in words of Prof. Srikrishna Deva Rao, Vice Chancellor, National Law University Delhi.

It can become a single point of learning for the entire country ensuring standardisation and equal accessibility to quality education to all. India is on the threshold of a great digital revolution in every sector and industry, and we are one of the leaders in innovative educational technology. We are certain both these disciplines come together to catapult the nation on the forefront of the global educational landscape.

Here’s the complete recording of the webinar. Digital University : Making World Class Higher Education Accessible for All

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