Started off with a bang. Sam Pitroda struck the right notes by questioning the dominant paradigm. He pushed levers when he raised a lot of questions that we have been discussing online – teachers as mentors, need to look at different educational model, need to scale, need to question our view of universities, need to question the structures in education, need to connect and so on. He revealed that the Indian government is rolling out the National Knowledge Network which will the telecommunications backbone for Higher Education at a cost of USD 4 bn. Even more ambitious is a backbone to connect, at a cost of about USD 10bn, the rural network of panchayats. When I asked why we are not moving away from a production system, he replied that we do need to leverage these innovations. I think the major bottleneck is the open-ness of conversation around these issues which currently is really behind closed doors.
The session on Internationalization led by Anand Sudarshan from Manipal, was interesting because it took a good look at the major issues surrounding greater integration of Indian HE with the rest of the world. Understanding why we want to achieve this integration (enlightened self interest) is an important step in this direction. There also needs to be a focus on policies and support infrastructure (Rahul Choudaha and Kavita Sharma) that provides a cohesive and articulate framework for internationalization.
Deepak Pental, ex VC Delhi University, chaired the next session on Learning in Higher Education. Petra Wend from Queen Margaret University, Scotland made the distinction between teacher and learner centered education. Prof. Lakhotia talked about decompartmentalization and greater mobility between disciplines. In view of the scale of the problems in India, he asked if we really need a 3 or 4 year degree? He also focused on teaching quality. SS Mantha from AICTE harped on building upon the strengths of the existing system. I think what he is saying is that the systems are good and robust, but people have failed. He does acknowledge that scale poses a problem to existing pedagogy. He also said we need a focus on students who did not make it to college after grade 12. I am not sure what he was really saying though.
Nitin Khanna talked about the realities of the kind of students that come in to college and the kind of graduates that emerge – there being some fantastic diversity. To teach such people, Nitin started experimented with games, activities, storytelling, outside classroom activities etc. But these strategies were not scalable. Then he realized that education given is not education taken. So he is looking at a shift towards learner centered consciousness and greater bent towards what students want. Deepak Pental made the important point that structural changes are equally important to help some of these things come into effect. He also exhorted industry to come in and offer domain knowledge for courseware development.
Some action towards the end. Pental and Mantha expressed their disillusionment about industry participation and FICCI executives went to some pains to explain that there was a lot being done.
Dinesh Singh started in an iconoclastic way by demolishing the need to prescribe a research environment, citing examples in history who had no research environment or support (Bodhayan, 800 years BC devised a proof for the Pythagorous Theorem, Newton, Faraday etc.) and also to explode the myth that research should be exclusive of any formal teaching work. Seyed Hasnain was quick to retort and quote the need for people like Venky Raman and Gobind Khurana to leave India and move to environments that supported research. Seyed focuses on qualitative expansion that he considers more important. At the University of Hyderabad, he focused on this not to the exclusion of the social equity goal, and talked about the way the University has transformed itself, thanks to a large funding support. He also talked about how Cambridge has partnered in order to peer review and publish Hyderabad University’s research. Pretty impressive stuff!
Wendy Cuiker took a different focus by looking at research and innovation. So this is essentially looking at a different purpose for research – that which drives and is driven by community needs. Innovation and opportunities for research for young students is very important. This is an important look at research capability building and ties in nicely with initiatives many universities are undertaking in building up Entrepreneurship Development cells. She had an interesting video to back this story up. Pete Downes from Dundee talks about social impact in the biotech area that has directly resulted in employment and the growth of industry. There was no strategy, but really driven by opportunities and people. That is not to say that the culture is not important – it is critical.
Couldn’t stay much longer, but it has been a very interesting day! Thanks, FICCI for getting so many good sessions together!