Co-founder & Partner – HR Mantra Consulting
The current global situation on account of the pandemic is going to change economies, societies and humans. The situation in some nations is quite alarming where India seems to be better off comparatively. However, the impact on industry and education system is still to be predicted.
Virtual meets and webinars covering impact on industry have become the order of the day; however, a similar effort is needed to protect the higher education system and the young students who will decide the future of the country. In India, published reports indicate about 1000 universities and 40,000 colleges (Higher Education Institutions- HEIs) have been closed, impacting about 4 crore students and 14 lakh faculty members. This excludes the number of students strandedin colleges and universities outside India. Even this number is large enough to cause concern.
Every year a lot of Indian students vie for the best colleges and universities outside India in search of globally acclaimed qualifications and degrees. Not sure when these countries would come out of the lockdown. This would also mean a substantial decline in demandfor international higher education. Will HEIs in India be able to come up to global standards of education and cater to the needs of these students?
Looking at the current infrastructure, it’s not clear if all HEIs have been able to provide students with laptops/computers, or if all students necessarily have access to computers. Even if they have, would it also pre-suppose a good Wi-Fi connectivity to attend online classes? Online education also means digitised content but is such content readily available especially in remote areas of the country? And when the campus does open up, social distancing norms will ensure lesser number of students in every class which mean more number of classrooms running parallel batches will be essential.
Faculty for higher education in India also faces challenges currently on account of:
- Lack of adequate numbers
- Student – faculty ratios
- Industry experience to prepare students for industry roles
Besides the above concerns, one concern is about the rate of adoption of technology by faculty to initiate virtual classes for students?It is easy to teach in a class on a whiteboard or with chalk but conducting online classes is quite different from this. How will diagrams be drawn? How will concepts be explained? How will practical be conducted? Training faculty members in all vital aspects still needs to be addressed.
Another challenge will be to ensure standardised education modules with similar assessment techniques. Will this also mean changing the course content and assessment methodology? There are also many e-learning platforms that can offer such courses online but the need is to evaluate and standardise such offerings so that quality of input does not get diluted.
Will virtual/ online teaching ensure student engagement? Looking at spans of attention for humans and comparing it with coursework to be completed will definitely impact in more than one way. Also, how will a 20 year old focus only on studies if he is not able to meet his friends over a cup of tea? Lack of student engagement could lead to drop-out rates going up. Here we are presuming that all faculty members are absolutely proficient in running zoom classes and also know how to keep students engaged during a virtual class. The need is to run FDPs and build faculty digital skills and digital facilitation skills. Equally important will be to teach counsellors and admission teams on how to engage the best students on a digital medium.
A source of revenue for HEIs is the hostel/ mess fee – with students being off-campus, will the fee structure go through a major change? Institutions will have to collectively take strategic fiscal decisions and look at rationalising the fee structure accordingly.
Another area to be looked at will be to decide on how to conduct exams? With study-from-home and remote classes now going on, how will student attendance and attention integrity be ensured? Will thenear future be adopting n open-bbok examination?If yes, will students be even keen to study and learn the subject with commitment?Student enrolments may itself take a dip and for certain courses/ programs, students may not be interested. Also, will percentages really matter now? How will HEIs ensure reach to diverse segments of students in remote areas and tier 2 and tier 3 cities? Will this also mean more girl students enrolling for higher studies from non-metros?
Industry not being able to offer as many in house internships, projects and a reduced number of final placements will adversely impact student morale. Remote projects may be an answer but this will hamper student learning. The need will be to createa pool of industry mentors and offer smaller internships/ learning opportunities to the students throughout the year.
Student employability skills, keeping in mind the world of the future, will be extremely important if we need to create future ready students. Behavioural skills like handling ambiguity, building resilience, remote working etc will have to be drilled into students by seeking active help from industry elders interested in mentoring students.
HEIs will also need to be more active on digital platforms and be able to attract students on a digital foothold. In the absence of campuses opening soon enough, student engagement models will have to be re-looked, and quite possibly, sports and extra-cultural activities may take a beating. This will mean development of a uni-directional personality in these crucial formative years.
Equally important will be the research projects and research work that is undertaken by these HEIs every year. These numbers will also change impacting the already challenged original research work happening at HEIs currently. The impact on the entire education system is going to be significant and requires focus at macro level and micro levels. Seriousand focused efforts are needed to ensure our students do not suffer. The morale of the younger generation needs to be supported.