The popular belief that Necessity is the Mother of Invention is very apt for India’s higher education system. Necessity for change in India’s context has a multi-dimensional context and emergence of the digital era is acting as the catalyst for change. The factors necessitating the change include the goal to increase the gross enrolment ratio (GNER) from 18% to 30% by 2020, the need to ensure the youth experiencing the higher education system are equipped with the right skills, the need to bridge the yawning gap that exists between the academia and the industry today and the need to enhance quality of education delivered as well as make education affordable.
At the same time, with the number of universities established having risen from 20 in 1950 to 677 in 2017, universities recognise the need for creating distinctive value propositions that are appealing to the students and parents. Most Universities also face the challenges of attracting high calibre faculty, finding adequate funds for carrying out research and being aligned with the industry needs. The potential for transformation that digital era offers is a compelling reason for universities and education policy planners to rethink the operating models and the guiding principles of defining the outcomes from the higher education institutions. Digital technology can no longer be viewed as enabling the education system.
Before embarking on the changes and adapting to the digital era, the fundamental question to be asked is what is the purpose of the higher education system going forward. In the last hundred years, the purpose was to inform, educate and through this process develop the youth to be worthy citizens of the society. This is in turn led to the universities deciding what programmes to offer, what should be the curriculum, determination of the duration of studies and the type of end qualifications namely bachelors or masters degree. The fundamental shift that is taking place in the wake of digital transformation in the higher education system is triggering the transition from “educating” to “learning”.
In the past faculty were considered creators of knowledge as the boundaries for knowledge creation were tightly drawn. With the redrawing of boundaries for engagement with various stakeholders including students, industry and experts around the world, the opportunity for co creation of knowledge and making knowledge repositories richer is immense. With the process of learning being no longer restricted to a predefined physical space and format, education providers have to focus on the outcomes and the learning experience. With information and knowledge on any subject freely accessible to the learners, they will be rating the education providers based on their learning experience facilitated by technologies they are accustomed to in their every day life punctuated by strong two way feedback system and responsive change to the learning needs.
Leaders in the education sector think of the future in terms of additional campuses and the need for additional space as they grow. Growth in future may not be linked to the physical space but the ability of the institution to keep pace with ubiquitous computing including new forms of hardware and software fostered by the speed of innovation in the telecommunication sector thus enabling institutions to redefine their boundaries and access to students far beyond their current reach and segments.