Due to Coronavirus most of the universities and colleges in India and also globally shutdown for the since mid -March, 2020  and may remain shut down for another 3-4 months. This will have a severe impact of on the revenues of the institutions particularly private institutions most of the institutions normally collect annual fee during Feb/March from the existing students which is substantial and is getting blocked as Government is saying that institutions should not insist on fee. At the same time these institutions are being directed by Government to ensure that all employees are paid full salaries. This is a very stressful situation for private educational institutions and they should infuse additional funds in the next three months.

At this point of time it is important for institutions and governments to work out several short term and long term measures so that educational institutions will not become sick and get closed. Such closure of higher educational institutions will have an adverse affect on education and economy.

The blessing in disguise is that education sector falls under the category of services which are not impacted by COVID 19 because everybody wants to continue education. This sector has tremendous potential to play a significant role in the revival process. In India education is influenced by emotional and cultural forces. Our culture also emphasizes education as one of the basic necessities in life and parents own the education responsibility of children. Indian parents sell their properties and land to get their children educated and give first preference, sometimes, beyond meeting basic necessities of the family to get children educated.

This backdrop makes education sector to have a strong potential to overcome the impact of COVID 19 in the shortest time and can propel economic growth in these tough times. Education sector is one among the key sectors like Healthcare- Medical Equipment and Health related industries, Pharma sector, Transport and Storage, Logistics and Supply Chain services, Retail including e-retailing, Chemicals and Fertilisers which can survive and grow during and after COVID 19 as these are essential sectors. Education and allied sectors like ICT services, online education support gadgets, mobile communication devises will experience an unprecedented growth.

It may be appropriate to state that higher education sector plays a significant role in building necessary human capital to enable the growth of the above sectors. Hence, it makes a strong case for providing all round support to education in general and higher education in particular.

Already several higher education institutions have initiated first steps towards online learning in order to overcome the impact of shutdown of education institutions at a very critical stage in the academic year. Most of the institutions have to complete final parts of the syllabus, conduct internal assessment tests, semester end examinations and Summer Projects.

Completion of syllabus is possible when the institute has prepared students and faculty to embark upon online platforms. Some forward looking institutions have initiated this preparation through the College Management Systems where students assignments, quizzes are being conducted, some are blending MOOCs with learning processes etc.

Students studying in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities are comfortable with online interventions and can easily adapt to new learning scenarios. Internet connectivity to their mobile devises is another plus point. But internet connectivity and even power supply is a big challenge for the students who are living in small villages and towns.

During this shutdown those colleges and universities who have moved on to online learning could reach 70-75 per cent students. The remaining students may not have required online learning tools and internet access.

Another key challenge is how the faculty members are trained and ready to use online teaching. In most of the institutions access to online teaching options, internet connectivity are projected as Unique Selling Propositions (USP) and a sort of window dressing features while marketing their programs. But in reality neither institute managements nor faculty members and students took the application part seriously. Now COVID 19 has forced institutions to use this blunt education tool which has been restricted to brochures and advertisements.

COVID 19 is becoming an eye opener to many institutions including government institutions to move on to online learning. But this is not as easy as MHRD or UGC to issue circulars directing colleges to shift to online mode of education. So far MOOCs Platforms like SWAYAM, NPTEL are moving in uncharted directions not with a strong focus as these initiatives are still in a nascent stage.

UGC has been advising universities and colleges to allow 20% of total courses being offered in a semester through online. SWAYAM and NPTEL courses are recognized for credit mobility. SWAYAM has currently uploaded 600 courses and aims to increase the same to 2000 courses. It is high time for educational institutions to start working on designing and making their own MOOCs to suit the learning needs of students.

The need of the hour is to initiate multi-pronged strategies by the apex higher education regulatory bodies like UGC and AICTE, universities and colleges. UGC need to come up with online learning friendly policies like encouraging universities to have 50 per cent online courses in each semester or introducing complete online learning in alternative semesters.

During online semesters students shall be made to take up full time internships in companies and study online simultaneously. The online courses need to be designed in partnership with companies providing internship so that the companies can blend their specific learning needs into the programs. The Universities can vet the courses, design and deliver in association with the companies. This is a win –win proposition for students, institutions and industry and will certainly strengthen industry institute partnership which is otherwise remains to conferences, seminars and research papers.

In this model alternative online semesters may be planned from II Semester. That is, II, IV, VI and VIII semesters are online and I, III, V and VII Semesters are offline with class room teaching and labs. This model enables doubling the intake in universities and colleges with two admission cycles June and December.

This initiative will help in Universities and colleges to have more funds at their disposal to invest in creating required online learning infrastructure. Universities and colleges shall be mandated to spend adequate funds on providing faculty members and students with required online learning resources like laptops internet connectivity without charging additional fees.

Immediate Transition Steps:

Design introductory online courses as qualifying courses before students joining programs. These courses shall commence as soon as a student takes admission. The student will complete the courses online before the class room sessions start in the academic year 2020. This will help in creating a level playing ground for students coming from different backgrounds or with different academic capabilities to join management courses. Such courses may also allow cross migrations for example students with Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry can take up courses in commerce and management or even in biological sciences at under- graduation level. This flexibility will help several students to change to right stream of education that suits their competencies, aptitude and aspirations and enable right mid-term career corrections. This is option is mostly needed in India as every parent and student aspires to be a doctor or engineer and may realize later that the stream chosen is not the right one.

The Universities need to prepare to offer qualifying courses and also start working on redesigning mainstream programs to facilitate alternative online semesters. It is equally important to ensure that students are engaged with right kind of full semester internships and prepared to study courses online while doing internships.

If the internships are planned and positioned with a strong value proposition to industry, it will not be difficult to get internships from companies. Most of the times colleges just roll out a letter requesting companies for internships and it is the student who has to get permission. In such cases students will approach through some known sources where they can get some certificate without doing internship and reports are available for sale at photo copy centers. This practice needs to be changed. Universities have to work in the direction of developing capabilities to work with industry. This is not difficult as all Universities and colleges have built extraordinary physical infrastructure with laboratories and equipments.

Prepare 2020 Batch Students for the New Normal:

Another important success factor is how to make students take this seriously and prepare to take the rigors of online learning and internships. Lot of reforms need to be initiated right from admissions. In 2020 a major part of First Semester instruction may be online till October/November due to COVID 19 extended impact. Hence, students and parents need to be prepared for online learning at homes.

Re-design Admission Forms:

Universities and colleges need to re-design application forms to ensure that students are informed about online learning preparedness and to learn right from admission confirmation. It is important to ascertain whether the applicant has access to online learning like possession of laptop/desktop, webcam, UPS etc. In the absence of individual level facilities it is appropriate to ask the applicants to provide details of nearest Internet Café in their village or town.

Most of the universities have already online admission processes that include online application , entrance test, Group Discussion and Personal Interview to finalize admission. When once the admission offer is rolled out and student pays the fee he/she will be directed to institute website and gets enrolled in foundation/qualifying courses for two or three months. These courses need to be asynchronous with certain hours to complete the course.

There should be a basic introductory course for about 5-6 hours which will brief about the university, the fundamentals of online learning and guidelines for successful completion of online courses with answers to Frequently Asked Questions. All students will complete foundation courses before they join institute for regular courses.

In order to support students without immediate Online learning, universities and colleges can have Third Part Agreements with the Cyber Café’s in different small villages and towns that students have applied to university. There could be an outsourced arrangement with an aggregator who will locate University Online Centers based on students applications and selection to a course and connect students to the designated learning locations.

It is also possible to identify some local colleges ideally PU Colleges or degree colleges to sign as Online Learning Support (OLS) Partners. Such partner institutions may be provided with mentoring support by the University. In fact such colleges will be feeder institutes to the University.

Another USP of the programs is to provide all new students and even existing students with Online Learning Kits comprising of a Tab bundled with all features of online learning and also writing exams online. This measure would bring lot of uniformity and institutes can easily align their ICT infrastructure to suit the student devises. The cost benefit of bulk sourcing of learning kits by institutions can be passed on students by institutions.

Support to Faculty Members:

Similarly every faculty member is to be provided loan support to buy laptop which will enable online teaching either from home or from university. The University branding material may be given to students as well as faculty members to keep as backdrop in the learning and teaching places at homes.

Training: Training faculty members is another important intervention in this transition. In most of the Universities and colleges there will be three generations of faculty members those who are in the age group of 25-30 years, 35-50 years and 50 years above. Secondly, faculty members belonging to some non- engineering faculties may not be having any exposure to usage of computers.

It is ideal to design a comprehensive course like Certified Online Teacher and every faculty member may be required to complete the course in One Semester Period. The Course may also have an instant certification option for those who are familiar with Online teaching-learning processes take test directly. Those who qualify with more than 85% score will be given the certificate instantly. Such faculty can provide mentoring support to other faculty members who are taking full semester course. Faculty may be spending two hours a day or full Saturdays for such learning throughout the semester. The Course to have some substantial  practical component.

Centre of Excellence for Remote Learning:

Universities and colleges may set up a Centres of Excellence for Remote Learning or Online Learning to provide a comprehensive support for training, designing, planning, implementation and monitoring of all online learning activities of the university. The Centre will support all Schools and departments in implementing online education smoothly.

The universities and colleges shall start building up capacities to create a strong asynchronous learning resource base covering learning materials, videos, PPTs Notes before commencement of new academic sessions. In order to expedite the process, the courses may be drawn from existing MOOCs from SWAYAM, NPTEL, COURSERA etc. These courses may be offered to existing students and to engage them completely during the vacation period.

Second part will continue in next article.

Dr.SK Prasad

Dr.SK Prasad, with more than 35 years of experience in management education field of which over 20 years in the role of Director/Dean/Principal is an accomplished institutional builder. He has also  held  positions as Chairman Board of Examiners, Chairman Board of Studies, Member Academic Council in State Universities and some prominent Private universities.


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