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First published in The Souvenir, FICCI Higher Education Summit 2014

Viplav Baxi makes the case that MOOCs have arrived in India. Now is the time to reflect on what pitfalls we should avoid and how we can fully leverage them in the Indian context.

The past few years have seen the rapid growth of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). This emergence has been particularly interesting to follow in India, where we seem to have discovered online learning on a massive scale. Indians account for about 10% of the registrations in MOOCs from the top MOOC providers.

MOOCs actually originated out of a new theory of learning called Connectivism proposed by George Siemens in 2005. The first MOOC (the term itself was coined by Dave Cormier) was organized in 2008 by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Hailed as a disruptive model of education, the earliest MOOCs (also called cMOOCs or Connectivist MOOCs) offered a whole new way of teaching and learning.

Much later, in 2011-12, top universities in the USA jumped on to the MOOC bandwagon, lending it worldwide credibility and fame. The reasons behind the quick adoption of these MOOCs was the fact that anyone could learn (or get certified), for free or a small fee, from some of the top universities and top professors in the world. Large investments by private capital and university foundations shaped popular perception about the revolutionary potential of these MOOCs. Also universities viewed them as extending the reach and brand of the University. Open Courseware had existed for a very long time, but the shape and form of these MOOCs was far more accessible and exciting.

MOOCs have now progressed from being higher education-only to school, teacher and vocational education. The top 3 MOOC providers now service about 20 million students worldwide, about 5 times the open and distance learning enrolments in India. MOOCs have also taken over imagination at policy levels, with the Indian Government proposing SWAYAM as the open MOOC platform for India.

However, there remain significant challenges with the MOOC model.

Firstly, the pedagogy behind these MOOCs needs a rethink. The type of MOOCs that have gained worldwide popularity since 2011, adopted the title “MOOC” but ignored the rich underlying Connectivist origins. They merely extended traditional online, instructivist Web Based Training (WBT) and Instructor Led Training (ILT) methods to a massive audience, earning them the term xMOOCs, the “x” standing for “eXtension”.

WBTs and ILTs were designed as eLearning equivalents to reduce training delivery costs and standardize instruction for large scale corporate training. But nearly everyone realizes that this type of eLearning is not scalable because it is designed for learner stereotypes, does not account for real world diversity and in general, predates and ignores the entire social learning revolution.

Both for WBTs/ILTs and xMOOCs, the model is largely teacher (and/or instructional designer) led and content-driven. It not based upon socially negotiated & distributed learning, the hallmark of the Connectivist MOOCs. This is why it is perhaps more appropriate to call them XBTs (or “massive” extensions of WBTs and ILTs) rather than think of them as a variant of the original MOOC approach.

The XBTs augment the traditional systems, giving importance to institutional pedigree, clearly defined institutional structures & processes (such as courses, terms and exams) and certification mechanisms.

The Connectivist MOOCs are very open, emphasize sense-making, operate in a distributed fashion, legitimize learners at the periphery (legitimate peripheral participation or “lurking”) and do not impose the strict conformance to traditional notions of course, exam and certification. For them, learning is the process of making connections and knowledge is the network, which means that the competency and capability to learn critically determines the learning itself. This is the central theme behind heutagogy – the study of self-determined learning – that, unlike pedagogy and andragogy, marks a significant move away from traditional teacher-centred learning.

It will be critical for MOOC providers to evaluate the Connectivist approach as we move ahead, if we are to build meaningful massive open online learning courses and platforms.

Secondly, engagement and retention are key aspects of the learning experience that the MOOCs, in general, have not been able to address effectively. The long tail of learning, which is that a really large number of learners end up not completing the MOOC or remain at low levels of engagement, is nothing new. It is just that the massive nature of MOOCs amplifies some of these known issues.

It is here that the MOOC providers need to spend a lot of time experimenting with techniques such as gamification, badges, adaptive learning and learning analytics. The Connectivist model relies on learners to build capability for their own learning, something that is the desired endgame for any educational system. By increasing learner capability to learn in the digital medium, cMOOCs can potentially flatten the long tail. The traditional XBT model can only reinforce and amplify it.

The third challenge is in establishing sustenance & growth models, whether MOOC providers are for-profit or not for-profit. So far, providers have looked at monetization/cost recovery through various methods such as charging institutions or teachers for MOOC development; charging potential employers; platform provision; training & support; charging students for blended (online plus offline) learning, mentoring/coaching, special finishing school programs and certification.

For example, Coursera now has about 10 mn students and is supposedly making USD 1 mn a month from its verified certificate courses that cost between USD 30 and USD 100. However, even though these models do not appear to have garnered explosive acceptance from a retail student perspective since they are not really integrated into formally recognized certifications, the hope seems to be to acquire large enough numbers to translate into sustainable and/or profitable ventures.

An interesting comparison for XBT providers are the formal open and distance learning systems, where regulated degrees & certificate programs drive enrolments and fees & endowments drive the income. The UK Open University in 2012-13, earned more than GBP 200 mn as fee income (about 60% of which were supported by student tuition loans) from over 200,000 students. The Indira Gandhi National Open University in India, has an annual enrolment of about 500,000 students (in 2012 annual enrolment was 465,000 students), but the fee per course would be a fraction of the fee charged by the UKOU. Of course, the XBT providers are looking at multiples of these figures as they go about targeting a global audience.

The fourth challenge lies with a weak private/non-profit investment climate for MOOCs in India. Significant public effort and money has and is being spent across various pioneering Government initiatives to build open education resources (OERs), MOOCs and MOOC platforms. These can be leveraged by anyone under a very permissive OER policy, which even allows commercial use. However, barely any private investment is flowing into leveraging these resources.

Innovations and investments are required in multiple areas such as awareness generation, access to technology and communications, capability development, content development (including multilingual), pedagogy, development/enhancement of MOOC platforms, collecting and managing learner progress and performance data to improve the learning experience, as well as areas like gamification, Virtual LABs and other forms of technology augmented learning. These innovations and investments should directly impact our education system in terms of improved access, improved learning outcomes and higher employability.

To summarize, MOOCs have arrived, but if we do not deal with these core challenges of MOOCs, we will end up having a dysfunctional system. To avoid later disappointment, stakeholders must reorganize and focus on how to avoid the pitfalls of the current wave of MOOCs.

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I had the occasion to put some thoughts into what a national policy for Education Technology/ICT for the XIIth Plan (2012-17) should look like. This is purely a personal effort at visioning, planning, putting an operational plan and budgets in place. I am hoping that the EdTech community will want to contribute to these ideas (or suggest alternate approaches).

Link to the web version.

In summary, the main areas of the document are as follows.

Approach

The approach to any policy on EdTech should, IMHO, embrace the following key principles.

  1. Democratization of Education: In addition to thinking of Education as for the people, a democratic view of education also considers education to also be by the people and of the people
  2. Leverage Scale to meet Scale: Rather than trying to impose more structure, we should invert the challenge and allow our very large and diverse scale to meet its own challenges through the power and scale of a very large number of intersecting networks.
  3. Dis-aggregation and Decentralization: The need of the hour is to unbundle the formal constraints of the educational system by dis-aggregating its tightly packed structure. The need of the hour is also to decentralize, in a manner that is integrative – aligns to local, regional and national goals – and in a manner that respects autonomy and individual creativity.
  4. Capability not just Capacity: At the root of any system lies capability, not just capacity.
  5. Glocalization – Go Local, Go Global: Our educational system must understand and adapt to local conditions while staying connected with global networks.

The Vision Statement

Educational technology must enable in every Indian who wants or needs to learn or teach the capability to shape and be shaped by the Education System. This education system must be democratic, equitable, scalably networked, dis-aggregated, decentralized and glocalized.

Mission

The achievement of this Vision will require:

  1. Infrastructure: Provide energy, network and computing infrastructure, access and support at scale to all stakeholders
  2. Community: Enable every stakeholder with the capability to build their network of people, information and resources
  3. Content: Strategic identification of content and digital formats to be developed, instead of a blanket approach to content development (all courses, all subjects).
  4. Education Technology and R&D: Create the technology systems for extremely efficient creation, integration and deployment of learning resources
  5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Engender the growth of micro to large scale entrepreneurs and NGOs to support the mission and generate employment opportunities
  6. Policy: Create structures and accountability mechanisms to support this vision

Goals, Outcomes and Budgets

The rest of this document outlines the major goals, expected outcomes, an operational structure and a summary of possible budgets for the XIIth plan. It is important to call out my recommendation to set up a National Learning Corporation head by a Chief Learning Officer for India.

Contributors

If you are interested in contributing, please let me know and I will provide access to the Google Doc for your comments. Thanks!

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Particularly in Higher Education in India, I have long been bothered by a systemic gap in Teacher Education. The gap lies in the preparation of teachers for HE. Today the minimum entry criteria for an Assistant Professor in HE is the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the State Level Eligibility Test (SET/SLET) [UGC Regulations 2009, and the most recent one UGC Regulations 2010], a good academic record and 55% marks at the Master’s level. PhD holders are exempt from the NET requirement.

The norms of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (faculties of agricultural and veterinary sciences), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (medicine, dentistry, nursing and AYUSH), National Council of Teacher Education (faculty of education), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE, Engineering and Technology, Pharmacy and Management) and the Rehabilitation Council of India (rehabilitation and special education) will supersede these regulations. Of these, the most striking exceptions are for education and those under the AICTE (which excludes perhaps 30% of the HE institutions in the country).

Essentially then, these regulations are majorly for Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, Commerce, Education, Languages, Law, Journalism and Mass Communication programs across HE in India, not really affecting professional education in most part.

The selection process include advertising at a national level and a Selection Committee that is formed on the basis of the guidelines laid down by the UGC (typically university nominees, college principal and governing body member, a couple of subject experts, college Head of Department and so on).

For the direct qualification at a Professor level, the requirements include 10 years of high quality work, atleast 10 publications, atleast 10 years of teaching/research experience including guiding doctoral candidates, (surprise) contribution to educational innovation (read innovation, design of new curricula and courses, and technology mediated learning process) and a minimum score in the Performance Based Assessment System (PBAS) indicator called Academic Performance Indicator (API)  [must read: Pratiksha Baxi on Kafila : The UGC Dictates]. A Professor could also be directly recuited if her credentials prove that she is an outstanding professional with established reputation in the given field, having made significant contributions.

A college principal, on a side note, is expected to have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, must have been an Associate or Full Professor for 15 years and must have a minimum API.

An Associate Professor must have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, atleast 5 publications, atleast 8 years of teaching/research experience with evidence of having guided doctoral students, significant contribution to educational innovation  and must have a minimum API.

Norms in the 2010 UGC regulations also vary slightly in other disciplines such as Music and Performing Arts. Regulations in professional programs like Management/Business Administration at the institution level include a focus on past work experience and credibility in the industry, but let go of the more rigorous requirement of being an educational innovator.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. What does it take to teach vs. what does it take to become a teacher?

I strongly believe that domain expertise is really crucial, but coupled with that must be some amount of knowledge/skill/passion for teaching. The regulations sort of assume that you are born a good teacher or that you have become one through experience. The regulations attempt to quantify in the PBAS what constitutes quality in research or innovation in education (but fail miserably, IMHO). For example, educational innovation is thought to be:

Participatory and Innovative T/L Process with materials for problem based learning, case studies and group discussions etc., with points given for interactive courses (5 points), participatory learning modules (5 points) and case studies (5 points). If the teacher uses ICT (Powerpoint/Multimedia/Simulation/Software) in addition to chalk and board, she is entitled to 5 more points.

The PBAS provides a maximum score of 20 for “use of participatory and innovative teaching learning methodologies, updating of subject content, course improvement etc.” in an overall score of maximum 125 and a minimum required of 125.

Similarly, if you look at Paper 01 of the National Eligibility Test, called General Paper on Teaching Aptitude and Research [samples here], there is some attempt to gauge whether the test taker is a good teacher or not (atleast in the limited manner of a multiple choice question diagnostic test). The test covers analytical reason, math, english, data interpretation, general knowledge, basic IT knowledge, and a bit of knowledge around education and our education system. I am guessing some intrepid test preparation institutes would have a good amount of printed course material and question banks already around these to help students get past this death-defying assessment.

And in typical style, someone in the bureaucracy decided they want a review and have posted an undated questionnaire online which seeks to “elicit the views of a cross-section of the society regarding utility, effectiveness and continuity of UGC-NET”. The questionnaire (and you will miss it if you don’t click on the link to the MS Word quiz labelled “questionnaire” in the last paragraph) is a multiple choice quiz of 4 survey (Yes/No) questions. There is no mention of the results so far though the NET has been running since 1989.

There are perhaps better ways to elicit views.

Directly impacting these issues is really the availability of technology (hardware, software) and content at the institutional level given the scale and diversity of the Indian HE challenge (now 33000 institutions, 600+ universities and about 20+ mn students). I am hoping that over time, these conditions will evolve and improve – the existing resources being Sakshat-NMEICT, InfLibNet, Journals access etc. – to embrace OERs and low cost hardware riding on the National Knowledge Network itself which is being now extended to private institutions as well. Infrastructure is required in order for a teacher to teach.

Other direct impacts are can be derived through focus on areas such as

  • providing an ecosystem (and infrastructure) at the institutional (or group) level that encourages innovative practices,
  • the building up of a community of teachers, facilitating their interactions through techniques such as peer coaching, peer conferences, awards and recognition
  • devising a program for teacher educators for HE,
  • devising programs for pre-service and in-service teachers that are embedded, not in the traditional system, but in precisely the new age education systems that they will seek to further
  • embedding appropriate andragogical and heutagogical techniques in the curriculum and building teacher skills to adopt these in their own learning
  • investing in open and distance learning at the institutional levels
  • providing a more rigorous system of assessment and evaluation for teachers at the entry level without acting as a bottleneck

So what is the UGC doing in the area of HE teacher education and training. According to the UGC website, it has established 66 Academic Staff Colleges. It is interesting to read through the Refresher Course rules and regulations. They lay down career progression linkages through the Career Advancement Scheme which stipulates the number of refresher courses that must be taken in order to considered for the next higher level. At this point, it seems that they have to attend at least one orientation and 1-2 refresher courses.

The curriculum coverage is as follows:

The content of the Refresher course will have essential percentage of the core material in the subject discipline along with required percentage of areas of emergence and priority, (both national and global), essential laboratory and practical component, computer application and I.T. Contents, if required with relevant advancement to the subject discipline.

The Orientation Programme provides opportunities for newly appointed teachers as well as for in-service teachers to make them familiar with the use of tools (software) and “Internet Literate” as Orientation Programme has I.T. based contents and about one week time will be devoted to I.T. based contents and training.

The curriculum for the Academic Staff Orientation Course may have the five components with 144 contact hours, i.e., 6 hours daily for 4 week programmes and 3 week Refresher Courses may have a minimum of 108 hours as already communicated to the UGCASC/ RCC. In addition, computer awareness and application of computers in teaching and research in different areas as relevant for the subject disciplines. All UGC-ASCs and UGC – RCCs have been requested to take steps to implement the programmes/courses accordingly.

If you take a look at the responsibilities of the ASCs, the overwhelming focus seems to be on subject and (assuming very basic) IT skills. Teacher participation is all paid for by the government. The detailed list of Orientation programs in 2009-10 gives very little reason to cheer. Organizations like JNTU, Hyderabad and MANUU, Hyderabad are actually talking workshops on effective teaching and open source software in education, but the vast majority are definitely not. One thing that may be good is that I see a lot of focus on principals and administrators based workshops.

Of course, none of these are in any way open or visible. Like much of Indian education. Which is not to say that innovation does not exist, that  there are not people with cutting edge thinking in education and that the future is grim – just that those dark corners need to be illuminated soon.

In school teacher education, however, the situation is richer with the National Council for Teacher Education (which has been although recently superseded by the government for 6 months on account of malpractice). NCTE has come up with many publications and I would suggest that they are worth a look, particularly the National Curricular Framework which has good ideas such as the Teacher Learning Centre. They have also got a Teacher Education Institute evaluation and accreditation mechanism.

It also has developed a Central Teacher Eligibility Test to select teachers fit to teach in schools for Classes 1-8 (essentially for BEd students). Please do look at the curriculum and sample tests – it will be an interesting exercise for teacher educators around the world to contribute and critique these.

Of related interested is how organizations like the Distance Education Council address the problems of faculty development and certification for blended programs and those offering academic (tutor) support online. This is something that is quite important to address as well.

In summary, it remains a challenge for us to figure out a more effective system for teacher education in HE today. The existing mechanisms need to be reviewed and the hidden dialogues around this issues needs to emerge.

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There are both champions and detractors of para-teacher schemes in India. Champions claim that these schemes reduce pupil-teacher ratios (PTRs), eliminate single teacher schools, lower the cost of providing elementary education and may increase teacher accountability to local panchayats. Detractors, on the other hand, rue the lower professional training and allegedly lower educational qualifications of para-teachers (compared to regular teachers), and they also dislike the dual salary structure whereby para-teachers are paid much lower salaries than regular teachers within the same schools.

This snippet, taken from Geeta Gandhi Kingdon and Vandana Sipahimalani-Rao’s article titled Para-Teachers in India: Status and Impact, from the Economic and Political Weekly (Mar 20, 2010, Vol XLV No. 2) intrigued me immediately as a debate that needs to happen more strongly.

The fact that we need para-teachers (defined variously, but broadly as non-full time teachers) as a possible quick solution to the immense teacher shortage in India (1.2 mn required or more based on other reports), which could grow exponentially if you were to start improving the student-teacher ratios, is undisputed. So is the fact that we need them dispersed over a large geography. The equally important fact is that these educators need to be brought into the mainstream over a period of time as well, reducing or eliminating some of the more obvious disparities with their full-time colleagues.

The skill and talent exist – within existing teachers, para-teachers, and very importantly the competitive tuition or coaching private marketplace – but the economics is skewed and inclusive utilization of these resources is a challenge.

As always there are multiple parts to the problem:

  1. Teacher Education itself needs to concentrate on investigating ways to upskill and make supporting infrastructure, including technology, available; while at the same time making sure that existing teachers are set higher standards and given the right kind of training environment
  2. Educational providers and education technology companies must make a concerted effort to enable teachers to transcend distance through the use of technology and innovation in pedagogy (an important piece of which, in my opinion, is going to be portability with network access)
  3. Policy makers must concentrate on providing an easy to implement career progression for para-teachers – sort of a vocational strategy for the educators profession strand
  4. Students need to be more exposed to using technology and participating in distance education initiatives. The state of educational data mining or learning analytics in even the largest distance education providers is abysmal, to say the least.

The challenges can be met, but require strong leadership at local levels supported by policy changes at the top. And as I said, there needs to be more broad-based research, especially around effectiveness and productivity.

 

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During the EDGE2011 conference, Ernst & Young, came out with a report called 40 million by 2020: Preparing for a new paradigm in Indian Higher Education, building on its earlier report with FICCI (Making Indian Higher Education Future Ready, 2009). This post deals with the salient analysis of and in the report.

At the outset, overall I really appreciated the rigor of the report. The data supports the arguments and there is a coherent case made for five game changers in Higher Education – Financial innovation, use of ICT/technology, focus on research, thrust on vocational education & training (VET) and changes to the regulatory framework. Here are some of the top data points and analyses of the reports.

In 2010, India had about 26,500 higher educational institutions compared to about 7,000 in the US and 4,000 in China. This is the largest in the world. Close to two-thirds of these are general education (Arts, Science and Commerce) colleges and these account for about 80% of the enrolments. Engineering is the most preferred professional course, followed by Pharmacy and Management courses. Despite the sheer number, barely 1-2 Indian institutions make it to top rankings such as the FT-Top 100 Global MBA Rankings.

Which is also perhaps the reason why there is a growing number of Indians who prefer education abroad. This market is growing at a 24.5% CAGR with close to a 160,000 students going abroad for studies in 2006. This import of education itself is valued at 0.46% (or USD 3.1 bn in 2005) of GDP or 80% of the government central current spend on higher education!

In the last 25 years, Higher Education enrolments have been growing at a CAGR of 6% with the current tally of 16 mn students expected to be 40 mn by 2020. Capacity utilization is a key concern and directly impacts the 33,000 new institutions target of an additional 24 mn students. We have 15-30% underutilized capacity. This is because of quality issues in HEIs which really arises from the shortage of faculty (we need about 45,000 PhDs and an equal number of M. Phils) and poor infrastructure. We have an extremely high student to teacher ratio (22:1) as compared to developed country averages of 11.4 students to a teacher.

The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is extremely low (12%) , even as compared with other BRIC countries (Brazil is at 34% and China at 23%), despite having the third highest number of students in the world. Not only that there are regional skews and the system is more or less an elite system of education. And the last 10 years show GER growing at a 3.09% CAGR as opposed to Brazil’s 13.39% and China’s 19.24% (2000-2007). India’s 2020 target is 30% GER.

Distance Education (DE) and VET have shown about 7% CAGR over the past 20-30 years with ITI/ITCs accounting for 43% while vocational education in senior schools accounting for 33% of capacity. Since India has a large young, independent population with a median age of 25 years, this demographic dividend (68% of population in 15-64 years segment by 2020) has to be capitalized upon using DE and VET. This can enable India to become a global source of manpower aided by the track record indicators such as a third of NASA being Indian. Globally, a shortage of 56 mn workers can be potentially met by the surplus of 47 mn workers from India.

VET (a potentially $4bn market in 2012, growing at a CAGR of 25%) has traditionally been a government led initiative, but now the private sector has started making inroads here. However key problems are that enrolment & utilization is low (51% levels as estimated by FICCI). We have about 7,000 ITIs/ITCs (Industrial Training Institutes/Centres) with a capacity of a million students. The kind of budgets being spent on creating quality capacity in the face of a huge enrolment potential we have, in my opinion are ridiculously low, in a country with the state of development that India is in. A look at the National Skills Development Council statistics would be enough to convince anyone of that.

The VET problems are essentially teacher quality (61% of teachers with less than 12 years of schooling), lack of effective funding and inadequate infrastructure. The worst finding seems to be that curricula are not consonant with market needs! Other problems include VET being unattractive as an option, poor placement track record and poor employer perception of certifications. The governance structures are also myriad and complex with two different ministries (labor and human resources) involved in VET and low autonomy in ITIs. There is low mobility between VET and mainstream Higher Education, which further adds to the problems. The result – today, less than 10% of our workforce undergo VET.

The sectoral growth is being pegged at 18% CAGR till 2020, from INR 46,000 cr (USD 10bn) to about USD 50 bn in 2020. However, universal higher education is still a distant dream with most states falling into the elite category as per the Martin Trow classification. Not only that, “the Indian higher Education system suffers from a large rural-urban divide in access, gender inequity, and large differences in GERs in various communities”.

Private sector spends are 2/3rds of the total spend on Higher Education. Government spends 0.6% (USD 4 bn, Central Government) of its budget on Higher Education which has the potential to grow compared to countries like Finland who allocate 1.6%. The largest allocation of this spend is General Education (about 38%). This share is growing (35%+ CAGR). But there are certain skews in the distributions of central and state funding across general and professional education.  For example, states spend the bulk of their budgets on general education while the Centre spends a large part of professional education. The Centre’s spend is also skewed towards a very few

Given that tuition fees are extremely low (accounting for only about 19% of total public plus private education expenditure, 2007; or less than 15% of expenditure of Indian Universities) and the fact that most of the State government spend is on operations rather than expansion, on general education rather than professional education, there is a problem with the sources, distribution and use of funds. Shockingly, scholarships account for only USD 10 mn, targeted at only 2% of the student population.

Student financing currently has problems like high interest costs, heavy documentation, high administrative cost and lack of provisions for economically weaker sections. HEIs also under-utilize other revenue streams like foreign students at differential fees and research and consultancy services. Fee regulation is an important issue, sufficient political in nature as well.

The current regulatory framework is a significant barrier for creation of new capacity (State leads the governance and infrastructure provision for education with legislative and policy barriers to entry). This is changing now with relaxation of these barriers on the cards.

The report makes the case that we must replicate the private sector higher education success story, given now that the private sector accounts for a large and growing proportion of the higher education segment (63.21% in 2006, with a predominance in professional education such as engineering and Pharmacy).

Technology emerges in the report as an important enabler. And within technology, network infrastructure, management software, content availability, research collaboration and distance education platforms garner a mention. Mobiles, Television and Radio are also mentioned as carrier channels for education. There need to be reforms led by the regulating authority, the Distance Education Council, to facilitate the growth and expansion of distance education in the country. Special Education Zones and Special Knowledge zones are being seen as a mechanism to allow greater autonomy and space for innovation for private players. We have to improve key ratios such as the number of students to a computer, which stands at 229:1 for the average Indian college as opposed to the 4:1 or 2:1 imposed by AICTE.

Technology infrastructure is also analyzed in the reports on the basis of indicators such as Internet penetration, PC ownership, computers per 100 (average number of computers per college is 6, according to the UGC survey in 2008) and other parameters. Unfortunately, the reports leave out mentioning the fact that the underlying infrastructure is also very weak – basic needs, electricity and telecommunications – in many areas of India, which need to be solved before we even start discussing computers per college. Local language content/interactions are also a huge challenge identified by the report. English is an understood medium for only 17% of the 368 mn rural literate Indians.

Interestingly, the reports have data indicating that there has been rather poor administration and implementation of technology led schemes like IGNOU’s radio/TV programmes – which is eminently believable. It is perhaps here more so in any other part of the reports that I find the core problems being addressed directly.

On the Research aspect, Higher Education spent 4% of it’s total budgets on R&D (much lower than other countries in India’s peer group such as China with 10%) in the context of an already low national expenditure of 1% of GDP. The number of researchers are also abysmally low with the HE sector contributing to only 14% of the research manpower in the country. Only 18% of the research manpower have PhDs, another shocking statistic. In terms of the number of research papers that are published, India is 13th in the world, 1/15th of the number in the US. What’s worse is that there is a huge skew with 10% of the institutions in India contributing to 80% of the research papers. The same grim picture holds true for patent filing.

The reasons for poor levels of research have to do with the quantity & quality of PhDs (less than 1% of total HE students complete a PhD and these numbers are declining), the existing quality of teacher-guides being an important factor along with the time spent on research activities. Grants for research are at a miserable USD 0.25 bn, about 5% of Harvard University’s spend on research in 2008! Specialized government interventions in research have virtually isolated themselves from Higher Education, adding to the malaise. Interestingly, private HE sector R&D is not performing too badly in comparison to public HE counterparts. Key issues are funding, system of rewards, IP frameworks, collaboration and raising the quantity & quality of manpower for research. 

On the aspect of governance, the reports make a strong case for streamlining the administration. It is a valid point, which is recognized by the Government and steps are being taken there to make the system more efficient. The key groups of stakeholders are Central Government, State Government, Regulatory bodies & professional councils and Accreditation bodies. There are too many of them, sometimes with conflicting or duplicate objectives and jurisdictions, some of which I have covered earlier in other posts. So far, this complex systems, which allows only not-for-profit entities (all others are unapproved), has been inimical to the balanced growth of the HE sector making them unattractive for high quality players  with high entry barriers. Obviously a politically charged arena, HE also suffers from lack of strong managers and low operating flexibility.

The three pillars to focus the growth on, according to the report, are Access, Equity and Quality.

Recommendations include:

  • HEI Quality: Mandatory accreditation, better governance, branding & marketing, development of international centers of excellence
  • Privatization: create special frameworks and conducive state policies, PPP arrangements, tax concessions for infrastructure providers, relaxation of Foreign Direct Investment restrictions to encourage foreign capital, legislative improvements for enablement, efficient governance and transparency.
  • Innovation: Enhance use of technology, promote new distance delivery methods, encourage industry focused models such as education cities and innovation universities
  • Financial: Increase capacity with a  focus on low GER areas, world-class infrastructure provision, enhanced student financial support, performance based funding component, rationalise tuition fee structure, monetize revenue through other sources (such as IP), attract higher fee paying foreign students, improve existing utilization/processing
  • Technology: promote development and free delivery of quality tested localized educational content; improve infrastructure & IT systems; help create communities of practice (!); and provide a way to tap expert internal knowledge through indigenous eJournals
  • Research and Development: reward research systematically, connect research centres to HE to industry for collaboration, build a conducive environment (time devoted to research, infrastructure, grants, resources, connections), improve quantity and quality through special measures 
  • VET: Streamline administration & governance, build VET-HE bridges, make VET align to market needs, give public VETs more autonomy and improve infrastructure
  • Regulations: Simplify and reduce, more transparency, promote autonomy and accountability, encourage foreign universities and correct structural flaws/skews.

These reports are not quite comprehensive insofar as they do not bring out certain systemic aspects of failure of the HE sector in India such as that of a heavy weight curricular structure, absence of basic livelihood infrastructure, deficiencies in teacher training, systemic shortcomings in educational planning, education management capability, innovation in learning technology, weak educational data collection and analysis and so on.

The malaise that threatens our educational futures is not manifested in just lack of innovation, financing models, R&D, VET and regulations, it goes deeper than that to a mindset – whether private or public – that is far more critical to change immediately. Once the mindset changes, it will be easier to design and implement a transformation strategy. This mindset is a chalta hai mindset (everything will do) and a reluctance to deal with the harder issues. In fact, if you really think about it, the answers have less to do with jobs that need to be done and more with doing correctly the jobs we have right now.

We need to work on the 3Cs of education – Capacity, Capability and Conscience. More on this later…

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