New Digital Opportunities in Education will Bring Better Governance, Access, and Relevance

New Digital Opportunities in Education will Bring Better Governance, Access, and Relevance

The strong digital push for education in the Union Budget 2022-23 has laid the foundation for a modern skill development ecosystem. The proposed ‘Digital University’ and ‘Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood’ (DESH-Stack portal) will potentially scale access to high-quality education online for millions of Indians. As importantly, these initiatives will create an ecosystem for citizens to flexibly reskill or upskill online anytime and from anywhere. It’s an upgrade we urgently need to build a workforce that can adapt and compete in the global knowledge economy.

We believe that the impact of digitization on education is transformative and far-reaching, unlocking solutions India needs to realize our demographic dividend while solving deep-rooted challenges in higher education.

Rethinking Governance of Higher Education

Our higher education system was designed for a very different time, much before the fourth industrial revolution accelerated the pace of technological change. Now, with greater digitization and more students learning online, policymakers have the tools and insights to steer education with agility, responsiveness, and relevance, to dynamically meet the needs of Indian students.

Data analysis can inform policymaking in education for diverse use cases — from understanding which industry skill gaps need attention and resources, to increasing skill-building opportunities for marginalized communities. Digitization in education would speed up administration and governance, increase transparency through decision-making based on data and offer flexibility to policymakers to explore new solutions that improve learning outcomes keeping India’s diversity in mind. Globally, countries have found success in digital approaches to skill development. Singapore’s SkillsFuture movement supports impactful learning for diverse groups of learners through a range of online and e-services — in 2021, 660,000 people are upskilled through SkillsFuture-supported programs.

DESH Stack is already exploring a gamut of possibilities including providing ‘API-based trusted skill credentials payment and discovery layers’ so learners can find relevant jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. Insights on in-demand skills will enable the government to realign the National Skill Qualification Framework, to dynamically meet industry needs.

The Dual Opportunity to Increase Access and Employability

The purpose and mission of higher education are evolving. Alongside foundational knowledge, educators now need to equip students with skills that make them job-ready as soon as they graduate. Yet the ground reality is sobering. According to the India Skill Report 2022, less than half of Indian graduates are employable, despite having degrees. The flexibility of reskilling and upskilling online presents a major opportunity to make students employable while bridging critical skill gaps. New NASSCOM research shows 65%-70% of digital talent gained by India in FY 2021 was through reskilling. DESH Stack and the Digital university can offer inclusive pathways to help to graduate students across India build in-demand skills online through cutting-edge curriculum offerings. We are already seeing colleges successfully integrating job-relevant courses online into their curriculum. Symbiosis International University partnered with Coursera to complement its own curriculum with skill-building courses on Coursera, to enhance learning opportunities for students. Without location barriers online, Indian and global employers could become active enablers in the digital learning ecosystem, developing job-relevant credentials and real-world learning for students that create better linkages between academia and industry.

Another major challenge educators grapple with is how to improve India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education. At 27.1 %, India’s GER significantly trails more developed countries. Reaching a GER of 50% by 2030, as envisioned in the National Education Policy, will need new digital solutions that massively expand access to top-quality education. The University Grants Commission’s recent order that allows 900 autonomous colleges — besides universities — to offer online degrees from the new academic year, will bring this reach and access. It will give students even in the remotest corners of India the chance to get a quality education from a high-ranked institute.

A new era of Collaboration

A digital ecosystem that brings together India’s best public universities will offer immense possibilities for collaboration. The Digital University could potentially offer a wider choice of course offerings, access to shared digital labs, and virtual research opportunities. Institutes within this ecosystem will be able to play to their strengths, without duplicating offerings. A digital network would also open the door to online faculty exchanges or jointly-developed courses between institutions.

Pooled resources and strategic alliances in the ecosystem would cut down on infrastructure and delivery costs, increasing affordability. In the UK, Jisc, a non-profit UK body for digital technology and resources in higher education is working with institutes across the sector, building synergies through shared services, partnerships, and common frameworks that save time, reduce costs and help colleges impactfully deploy digital solutions.

With the building blocks in place for digitization and the growth of a digital ecosystem, policymakers, educators and employers can work together seamlessly to reach and serve learners across India. This will be a game-changer that fosters a culture of lifelong learning, necessary for India to build a future-ready, resilient workforce.

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