India Can Provide A Better Education System To Other Countries Through Hybrid Learning: AICTE’s Chief Coordinating Officer

University Grants Commission

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) might well be dissolved along with bodies such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) next year to make way for the Higher Education Council of India (HECI), as proposed by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. What does this mean for the functioning of the statutory body for technical education in the country? And what intent does the AICTE have with its recently launched mission to convert all engineering institutions approved by it into centres of hybrid learning?

At the sidelines of the launch event of the workshop on Hybrid Learning for over 10,000 heads of educational institutions, organised by AICTE and educational tech-solutions provider, Tech Avant-Garde (TAG), Edexlive caught up with Dr. Buddha Chandrashekhar, who is designated as the Chief Coordinating Officer of the AICTE to find out if India has the infrastructure for such a push towards digital learning, the future of core engineering subjects, and a low-down on the AICTE internship portal. 

What Plans Does The AICTE Have For Enabling Digital Infrastructure To Ensure Hybrid Learning Is Implemented?

The Ministry of Education has come up with a concept called National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) where we want to create the digital infrastructure for each and every institution. We are identifying what speeds and infrastructure they possess currently and what server requirements they have, and what is the current licensing structure there. We have collected all this information and understood that only 15% of our institutes have digital infrastructure at the 3G level. We decided to implement NDEAR via which we help upgrade the digital infrastructure of every institute. 

For example, from WiFi, we are moving them to WiFi-6 and LiFi (wireless communication technology that uses light to transmit data between devices at high speeds). The bit transfer rate will increase up to 10,000%. We are implementing NDEAR through a Public Private Partnership (PPP). We have drawn up an estimated cost of Rs 5,000 crores for the initiative, and so it is suited for PPP. It will start from this year-end. We have identified the institutes and collected information on existing infrastructure. And now we are going to act on it. 

What Is Required To Ensure The Digital Infrastructure Supports Hybrid Learning?

It is a step-by-step approach. On one hand, the Government of India implementing the 4G and 4G-Volte. The speed of internet connectivity has increased. But the content type that we are talking about, which includes Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) for Hybrid Learning, requires 5G connection speeds. We are upgrading all colleges so all students, both in and out of campus, can receive this content and download it. And 5G is going to change the face of the country. It is a hyper-local, high-speed connectivity service provider, and it will support content not only in simple text, image, and video formats but also in AR/VR/MVR-based formats, allowing for advanced, holographical education. We are planning for more in the next 10-15 years. In the next year or so, you will see digital infrastructure improvements in the institutes.

Will the Hybrid Learning Project Impact the limit on Seats in The Colleges? 

Hybrid learning is the best option for skill-based education and adult education. It has nothing to do with intake because this is being implemented on a course level. So you need to make sure you have shorter courses and execute them so that the hybrid model is implemented in the right way. Having said that for full-time courses too, a hybrid model can be implemented but Engineering subjects need some kind of a physical presence. So we can make a 50-50 model or 60-40 (40% hybrid) model because working together as a team is important for Engineering students. 

Education is slowly moving from degree-based education to skill-based education. Google, for example, has now said that even if you don’t have an academic qualification, but are skilled in coding, you are in. The world is moving from academic-based to skill-based employment. As the Ministry of Education, we need to focus on this shift and ensure skill-based, vocational, and adult education is provided. In countries in Africa and the Middle East, they need a better education system. So we can provide this to them. They can be a part of our education system using this hybrid model. AI and Data Science courses at IIT Madras are a great example of this. More than 60,000 students have enrolled from across the country and abroad. We need to open this window for the entire world. Let them come and acquire these skills so that we not only generate revenue, but we become global education leaders.

Much Has Been Said About The Higher Education Council Of India Which Is Set To Replace Bodies Such As AICTE. How Will This Impact The Focussed Regulation Of Technical Education In India?

The Higher Education Council is not going to have any work-related impact on AICTE or UGC. It is going to be a higher-level authority that will be a single point of contact for institutes as well as various stakeholders in education. The AICTE will continue with its functions, with the HECI as an umbrella organisation for better decision-making. In order to understand requirements from students and institutes, you need a body that knows both sides of the coin. The HECI is a body, and UGC and AICTE are like two eyes. This will help implement the focussed approach of the Ministry of Education.

Recent Years Have Seen A Paradigm Shift From Core Engineering Subjects To Computer Science. How Do We Ensure There Is Still An Ecosystem For The Advancement Of Core Engineering Courses In Our Colleges?

The AICTE doesn’t force anyone to reduce or increase seats in any domain. It is the institutes that do that. AICTE recognises future technologies and tries to add those and employable streams into the courses. There are a huge demand for Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and other core engineering branches. The institutes are not presenting this properly to the students and parents, who are under the impression that there are not enough opportunities in these streams. On the contrary, in countries in the Middle East and in Japan, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a halt in infrastructure projects. They are opening up now, and in the next six months, you will see more than a billion core engineering requirements in these countries. We need to make sure we not only produce computer science engineers, but also produce Mechanical, Civil, and Electronic engineers.

You Have Been Closely Involved In The Groundwork And Development Of The AICTE’s Internship Portal (Launched In 2009), And This Year, It Was Opened To Non-Technical Students As Well. Tell Us About How It Has Impacted Students In The Last Three Years…

When I joined, I realised there is a gap between academy and industry. Industry needs are different from what academia is producing. That’s where I started interacting with stakeholders in a bid to reduce this gap. Once we did that, industries started trusting us, and institutes began sending their students to the industries. The internship portal has allowed students to work with the best public and private enterprises. Internships are offered in three models — offline, online, and physical. We have students working for the National Highway Development Authority of India, the Women and Child Development Ministry, Ministry of Social Justice, Ministry of Urban and Housing Affairs, on Swachh Bharat programmes, Water Management systems, the AMRUT Project, and with private Multi-National Companies (MNCs) such as Microsoft and Google. Along with that, they are working with the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), including the eight core MSMEs. If each of these industries takes in two interns, we can produce 16 crore employment opportunities. 

We have already given 25 lakh internship opportunities. The way we are visualising this is that every student will do three internships by the time they graduate college. The first time they interact with the industry, they will learn the basic fundamentals of how it works, the organization structure, functions, operations, and so on. The second time, they will learn people management, process management, and so on. The third time they will be performing and executing crucial tasks. So by the time they leave college, they are ready for the industry, and they are ready to get better opportunities, so their salary range will increase and their experience will be enhanced too. They are not only leaving college with a degree, but with industry experience and skilling. We want to reduce the level of unemployment in the country, and so we are energizing internship and employable opportunities in college.

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