Surendra Nath Tripathi, IAS (Retired), is a stalwart in the administrative and policy development domains. Having done his MA in Political Science, and MBA in Public Policy from Slovenia, Mr. Tripathi started his journey as a lecturer in the Allahabad University. After handling several responsible and challenging roles in government institutions, he took over as the Director General at IIPA in April 2019, while still holding the position of Secretary, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, Govt of India. Having an extremely insightful and dynamic thought process, he shared with us his views on the future of education, trends in administrative policies and much more.
What are the current trends in higher education that you see as being the most impactful and having long-term relevance?
A couple of trends are very clear. The first is implementing virtual classes for higher education. Earlier we thought that only skill development can be done through online education, but now formal education is also possible through online mediums. Students can interact with global universities at a global scale, without bothering for the capacity of limited faculty.
Secondly, skill enhancement is going to be crucial. Formal education in any stream will not be adequate to make you employable unless you have additional skills. The NEP 2020 emphasizes this point very clearly as the focus is on skill-based education. Moreover, the level of skill development is also enhanced. Now there is serious skill up-gradation and students are being trained in future skills. All educational institutes have been asked to upgrade their curriculum to match the current demands.
Lastly, a holistic course curriculum must be brought in. The NEP 2020 allows educational institutions to become multidisciplinary. Students can learn music and math, science and humanities, biology with political science, depending upon the course and aptitude. These are the trends that I am seeing clearly.
How can we ensure better administrative policies in India for the education sector, with a focus on accreditation and growth of institutes?
Accreditation is one aspect of it. The other aspect is whether institutions are eligible for it and ready for it. A multidisciplinary regulator will also have to understand the nuances of all the related sectors. For instance, a law regulator may also have to look into the aspects of medical or commerce education. That will enhance the capability of regulators also, because if they do not appreciate the concerns then the multidisciplinary qualities will be lost. So, making a multidisciplinary regulator will be the first administrative challenge and if that is set right, all other things will fall in place. Reducing the curriculum load of students and allowing them to be more multidisciplinary and multi-lingual will be possible if the regulator is conversant with that and the education system is capable.
Right now, the focal point in elementary education by the government is the nutrition program or midday meals. That is also being enhanced and students will have additional nutrition for overall health. But if the quality of study is not improved, then boosting the nutrition will not help them in literacy. So, we are looking at all the aspects, physical, mental as well as psychological. No one will be left behind through inclusive education. If a child lags in a subject, he can access additional resources through online mode. Faculty are also available online. Moreover, students can access the best of faculty of any subject online, from any place at any time. This will again be a challenge for regulators.
Higher education will be regulated by the Higher Education Council of India (HECI), which will have representatives from NAAC, NBA, AICTE, UGC, etc. They will be merged to create a huge educational bureaucracy. But it can be lean as well, in addition to being multidisciplinary. I hope these things will be sorted out as we develop and grow.
How has digitization helped in boosting the reach of education at all levels?
If I take into account the experience of IIPA and develop it as a scenario, about what digitalization has done for us and what it is going to do for the rest, I’m very sure that this change in the education sector has done a yeoman’s service for the students. Today teachers are ready to prepare and upgrade their notes through the digital medium. They don’t stay restricted to written notes but can prepare presentations, videos, podcasts, etc. for students. There are 24-hour education channels available, on television and the internet. Plus, we have app-based learning, which has allowed students to find the right knowledge without having to explore everything on Google.
Before the pandemic also there were some platforms, like Coursera, edX, but they were highly paid courses. Now EdTech has come in a big way. Even small institutions or teachers from small towns can create a course that is digital, as well as highly specialized. For instance, someone is good in Math of class VIII, so they can create a targeted course, which will benefit students across India. This is happening with the large-scale effort of the Department of Education and the Swayam Prabha channel. All higher education institutions are also doing a lot of digital content creation.
EdTech companies are coming in for providing supplementary education, while earlier they were only offering tutorials. They can provide the same education in a much better format and a child can see the resources multiple times till he can understand.
So, the biggest loser was the Education sector due to the sudden closure of schools all over the globe. But the biggest user is also going to be Education, due to this situation. Through EdTech, higher education can be made available to students across the country. Though we have over 1100 universities, 40000 colleges and so many other professional institutions, the same quality of faculty cannot be maintained across all colleges. But now, teachers from the best colleges can teach students virtually, and classes can be accessed on the go. So this is the biggest advantage.
Tell us about your experiences in government departments as an administrative head and what are the key learnings for you?
As Pablo Picasso said, “the chief enemy of creativity is good sense”, and we should remember it. Innovation is not something that can be planned and nurtured. It comes from three things: skillset, mindset, and toolset. If these are put together, the performance of any institution can be better. National Research Foundation, which will improve the research and innovation is a great idea that will help us sort out the issues that we had in the past.
was in the governing body of many institutions and was instrumental in setting up IIIT in Bhubaneshwar. My experience was that it is a big challenge to search for quality teachers and set a good curriculum.
But today, these are readily available. So you can choose the best teachers, and pick a suitable curriculum for the digital platform. You can also create a new computer-aided design to deliver the curriculum. To be it looks that those who are administering education in various capacities will find it easier than it was earlier.
Earlier, we were only confined to what is called the ‘input side’ of education, like having a good infrastructure, facilities of drinking water, etc. These things have already been taken care of. Now we must concentrate on high-quality education and learning outcomes. A good teacher, equipped with good technical tools, will make it easier to achieve these goals, by making learning easier and better. So this is a win-win situation for anyone, including the educational bureaucracy.
Another thing that I will highlight is the Mission Karmayogi that is being launched by the Government of India. A similar concept of the Diksha platform was launched for teachers earlier. Building the capacity of the governance structure is as important as the governance itself. The capacity of the state depends on the capacity of the bureaucrats who are in the front line. During COVID, we have seen that the COVID warriors were not the heads and medical superintendents of AIIMS, RML, or other major hospitals. They are the Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, and other frontline workers and volunteers. Similarly, for education, the capacity of teachers in elementary and primary education must be built up. A good teacher can make a generation, whereas a good administrator can only make a plan for one or two years.
The Mission Karmayogi, for building the capacity of serving bureaucrats, has twin objectives of increasing efficiency and citizen sensitivity. In the education sector, learning outcome must be the sole goal of the administration, instead of focusing on nutrition, toilets, and drinking water only. Though these are desired conditions, they are not adequate to improve the learning outcome. So, I think the new NEP will be the architect of the new India if implemented properly.
Educational bureaucracy must rise to the occasion and take this opportunity to deliver better education, irrespective of which area, language, or the region you are serving. Technology gives us an opportunity, and the dashboard approach of the government is creating new avenues. The over-the-counter platforms for delivery of content, as well as improved levels of internet connectivity, will fill the gaps and make the job of the bureaucracy easier when it comes to raising the level of educational outcomes.
Compared to other countries, how do you see India’s progress when it comes to automation and self-reliance?
In many areas, India is now feeding the world, apart from solving its internal problems. Take food for example. In the 1960’s we were living in a sieve-to-mouth condition till 1967, as we had PL480, where the food used to come from outside, and then we could get it. Today, we are self-reliant in the food sector, by being one of the largest producers of some grains.
But now the time has come for us to become thought leaders as well. The soft power of India must be visible globally. That is where automation and self-reliance, product development by software companies will play a significant role.
I believe that the Digital India initiative, coupled with the widespread optical fiber network, right up to the Gram Panchayat level, is going to make us a digital powerhouse of the globe. Billion plus people need billion-plus strategies, and no country can beat the size that India has. If India can automate its processes, reduce the bottlenecks at the bureaucratic level and deliver development more holistically, this automation will help in easing the life of citizens.
I also believe that if something works in India, it can work anywhere in the world. But if something is working in the USA, it does not mean that it will work equally in India. We have seen how our cooking techniques, software, technology, and pharmaceutical products have become popular globally. We have become suppliers in many cases, instead of being dependent.
So, the goal should be to improve the global supply chain, in facets where we have the competencies, like textile and pharma. At the same time, we have to develop self-reliance in areas where we are dependent on others like APIs, defence, educational material, etc. By inviting foreign universities to set up campuses in India, cross-learning is possible. This is a continuous process, as we can become self-reliant in some aspects for which we are dependent in coming years. However, becoming self-reliant in all areas is a fallacy. You can’t be self-sufficient in every area of governance or public policy. The globe is one family.
So, we need to invest time, technology, and resources in areas where we are weak. In our strong domains, we need more innovation, so that we can beat the world. And where we are dependent on others, we must focus on filling the gaps and developing world-class services. Anywhere in the country, people want a global standard of services. They are not ready to wait till the time the capacity of the state is enhanced.
Therefore, globalization, privatization, and liberalization are building a liberal economic order where democracy plays a role. India has improved its ranking in many areas. With a good demographic dividend, coupled with high quality of education, we can become the manpower supplier and knowledge capital of the world. This possibility is there and perhaps the government is also working on the same thing.
How far will the foreign universities be ready to set up campuses here? And will we see a significant change in trend regarding research-based education and patents for university researchers?
This is the age of knowledge economy and innovation, and that will come from educational institutions and academia. The proof of consent will come from academia. Once the National Research Foundation scheme gets operational, we can have the convergence of academics with industry and considerable investment in research. So, academic institutions, industry, and entrepreneurs – this trio will make a major impact.
Now, many of the foreign universities are already present in India but the type of courses they teach, pedagogy that they adopt, the background notes that they prepare may not be applicable in India. Let’s say the Boston Housing scheme study is not applicable if you want to study the same trends in Dharavi in Mumbai or Patparganj of Delhi. These case studies will emerge from the Indian academic institutions, like the IIMs, IITs, and many others. We have institutes of excellence, which should be promoted to do research, and research work must attract a premium. For instance, we have a scheme called Tribal Talent Pool, where about 5000 tribal students who are doing Ph.D. and D.Phil. are associated. We provide value addition by linking them with good teachers, quality libraries, reading material, etc. and this can improve the outcome of their research work.
At present universities are not going beyond academic research. They should go towards acquiring patents. Academic institutions like IITs are moving towards patents, but many other institutes, which are capable, are rarely working towards this. Now the time has come for teachers and professors who have innovative ideas to convert their ideas into products and make a prototype. Once it is successful in the market, it will automatically become a good product.
Why don’t we have a Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, or Google from India, whereas our people are managing these companies? Why can’t they do it here in India? Earlier there were many challenges like availability of seed-fund, venture capital, and more, but now the situation has changed. Now, several start-ups have become Unicorn companies, having a valuation of more than $1 billion. This has happened in the last few years, which means the ecosystem is there, and Indian entrepreneurship is second to none. Our people are hardy; so if they develop any product, it will be successful in the market.
Today, the conditions are ripe for such development. I believe that credit and education are two tools that must be used to develop a country’s population. Credit is available in plenty from the banking and finance institutions. Good quality education, if made available along with soft skills and professional skills, will motivate entrepreneurship.
Many people are taking the entrepreneurial route, as lesser people want a traditional job. COVID has proved that people can work from home without the productivity of the office going down. This is a good trend for the students who are going to be job-ready in near future. They should consider multiple jobs at different times, instead of focusing on getting just one job. The age of a single type of education, or a lifelong job till retirement, is gone and is no more possible. We need to prepare our youth for such trends and the New Education Policy gives that scope.
What will be your message for students aspiring for roles in public services domains?
My message is simple. Stop living someone else’s life. Your life is at your disposal to make it the way you want it to be. 10+2 structure has been replaced by 5+3+3 model, which gives enough opportunity to students to do course correction. With the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC), you get further opportunities to learn different things at different points of time, and you can learn while earning. This opportunity was not present earlier.
But certainly, the students must weigh the pros and cons of any course under the guidance of teachers and family, and be careful while choosing a course. Secondly, being digital is no longer a choice. As soon as you adopt digital technology, tools, and learning material, it is better for you.
Third thing is that it will always be a volatile, uncertain, and perhaps chaotic world. How you are going to adapt yourself to face the challenges depends upon your capacity for innovation and adaptive nature. Entrepreneurship is the order of the day, and a traditional job is not much viable and will be in a lesser number. What can be outsourced can at some point be automated also. There will be paperless bureaucracy, and everything will be less for more, which means that instead of being a job seeker, you must aim to be a job provider. So, learning these skills from the beginning and working towards them will be important. It is you who will shape your life and teachers, family and the ecosystem will only provide a helping hand.
Though I am what my teachers made me, I also played a role in my success. When I was a student, these opportunities were not there. We borrowed books from others to learn. But now books are available in plenty and even digitally. So, opportunity galore is there.