Digital University can focus on reskilling and upskilling professionals
The recent Budget announcement by the finance minister regarding the plan to set up a Digital University is a welcome move. The two key significant dimensions are the plan to impart teaching in regional languages and the plan for collaborating with other central universities. This is a well-thought-through approach to building a new Digital University that would help address the need for enhancing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education.
While the GER has increased to 27.3% in 2018-19, another developing country like Indonesia is ahead of India with the GER of 36.4% and China and Brazil are at 51% and 49% respectively. For a country which has the advantage of demographic dividend, without the expertise gained from higher education and skills, demographic dividend would be a myth and not translate into tangible advantage. In order to move the needle of GER close to 50% in the next five years, we need a cost effective, high quality education deliverance possible in vernacular languages. Hence the idea of setting up Digital University is an extremely important step.
Many of the existing universities, particularly open universities such as IGNOU, YCMOU and others, have been in the forefront of providing distance education using digital tools, however they cannot be considered as Digital Universities as their founding principles, the approach to education and the competencies available are very different. Born in the cloud university would have to be different—being able to offer unique product offerings, curriculum, pedagogy and assessment methods. It would be important to leverage the curriculum and the core domain expertise of central universities and possibly offer the students a bouquet of course options to the students, thus making it possible to have multiple certifications and qualifications from the certification bodies of their choice.
The possibilities for collaborating with industries for designing courses and building internships as part of their offerings would make the learning experiences unique. There’s the example of Delhi Skills and Entrepreneurship University which, within a year of its inception, has been pioneering industry relevant programmes through meaningful partnerships with the industry, thus creating a niche for itself in the higher education system in the country.
Digital University could also focus on reskilling and upskilling professionals and offer myriad courses to working professionals using NSQF in its core. This segment is currently being addressed by private players and the new university has an opportunity in this segment, particularly if its education programme with the focus on digital led capabilities can motivate teachers, government servants, bank staff and others to pursue second careers building upon their domain knowledge and experience and acquiring new qualifications offered by the Digital University.
The contours of Digital University need not be limited to India alone, there are significant opportunities to tap into the international market as well and also to partner with international universities to offer unique programmes. Drawing inspiration from some of the world-class initiatives of the Open University of Milton Keynes, UK and others, it would call for a visionary leadership, sound understanding of technology in education management, robust technology structure, and above all the commitment to make learning student-centric by delivering a transformative experience to the first-generation seekers of higher education in rural areas of the country.
Originally appeared in Financial Express