Prof. Parimal V Mandke, Vice President, NIIT University

With formal qualifications of MSc (Bombay University), MSc Tech (BITS, Pilani) and PhD (BITS, Pilani), Prof. Parimal’s experience spans over 35 years. As Chief, Higher Education, NIIT, Prof. Parimal contributed to the design of innovative GNIIT/ANIIT/FNIIT programs and industry-linked Professional Practice. She developed educational alliances with over a dozen Indian and international universities. Since 2002, she has been involved in the establishment of the NIIT University. Prof. Parimal has presented papers and co-authored four books in the areas of R&D Management, S&T and Education. In a conversation with Higher Education Digest, Prof. Parimal talks about predictable changes in the higher education sector after COVID-19, the NIIT -model that other colleges in the country can follow, and much more.

 

COVID‐19 has disrupted many aspects of higher education, including how students are recruited, admitted, and enrolled. How will higher education institutions meet the realities of a post‐pandemic world?

For the past one-year, higher education has faced considerable headwinds. The change came abruptly, as the pandemic demanded immediate responses and the institutions have been consumed with prioritizing safety, communication, and education continuity. To meet the realities of the post-pandemic world, universities and higher education institutions need to shift their focus on upskilling the students to make them job-ready, and every profession demands a digital skill attached to it. Secondly, digital learning, which was a compulsive requirement during the pandemic, will need to be leveraged in the post-pandemic world in the form of blended learning for an effective learning experience.

One of the core beliefs at NU is to provide industry-aligned and research-driven education. All the courses that we offer have been designed to meet the industry needs and to supplement students with digital skills to meet industry standards, especially in the current context. Students with skills that are aligned to new-age technology will be of huge value. Following the pandemic, we at NU moved to NU digital, a platform that was created by NU and NIIT Ltd. to enable the teaching/learning process to be as effective as regular classroom teaching.

What are the predictable changes in the higher education sector after COVID-19?

Online has become the default mode of education for the past year. Due to COVID-19, the education sector went through a tectonic shift. This forced universities and higher education institutions to re-think and re-invent the way mainstream education was being conducted. They had to respond to demands for greater access, life-long learning and multiple competing demands from students & society. Though the conventional mode of learning will never be obsolete, blended learning will become the new norm going forward. With the emergence of the digital era, technology will be the key driver going forward, and AI and ML will create new job roles due to their transformational reach. Specialists with the right skill sets could find themselves with job opportunities across a wide range of industries.

In India, how badly are students going to be set back by not having formal instruction? What are the efforts of NIIT University to control the damage?

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of students across the globe have been driven out of their university spaces and professors confined to their homes. It was not possible for all institutions to shift to digital learning due to the lack of required IT infrastructure. So, understandably, their education has been adversely affected.

To deal effectively with this situation, NIIT University (NU) introduced NU Digital – a digital platform that provides easy access to all the required learning resources to students with single sign-on. We have integrated multiple platforms for this purpose which include an industry-standard Learning Management system, Video conferencing system, Assessment management system, Virtual Lab, Digital library and academic ERP system. We ensured a holistic approach to digital teaching practices, which go beyond just using an online video conferencing tool. It is a comprehensive approach to do everything with a digital mindset and in a digital fashion. As technology has always been a focus at NU, we were able to launch this platform at a record time. NIIT University has also offered to the GOR to provide a model of blended learning that can be replicated across institutions in the State.

What are the precautionary measures universities must take when they reopen? What is the NIIT -model that other colleges in the country can follow?

NU has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of every person on campus be it students or staff. Being a fully residential campus, NU was the first to move students to their homes. And while students were at home, we took up the social responsibility to set up and support a large Quarantine Centre in the Neemrana neighbourhood. Over the years, by consciously maintaining high standards of environmental awareness and hygiene, NU has established credibility as a Green and Clean Campus. A series of accolades like the Swachhata Award and the Greenest Campus recognition point to this fact. In a recent survey of students and parents, NU was endorsed as being a campus “As Safe as Home”.

As students returned to NU and resumed their new normal Campus life, they live by the new Standard Operating Procedures that have measures such as educating students on COVID, arrival in small batches, frequent testing, counselling, outdoor health exercises, etc., as part of our reopening protocol. Distancing in physical classes and Mess, and the high hygiene standards in the washroom facilities, etc., every aspect has been covered. We have one of the finest standards of safety at the NU campus.

What is currently the employability status of young Indian students? Despite being a developing nation with many young talents, do we have appropriate skilling infrastructure in our country?

This is an area where the highest attention is needed. Skill development has been given the highest priority by the Government. The corporate sector can invest in developing skilling infrastructure as part of CSR.

Considering that many present jobs and skillsets will soon become redundant, what are the significant changes that we can expect in future employment?

The world is becoming digitally equipped faster than it was pre-COVID, and therefore having a foundation that is digital is imperative for any professional today. Regardless of your profession, job recruiters are in search of candidates that are well versed with digital methods and tools. Every field is demanding to hone one’s digital skills. Whether you are a banker or a doctor working in a digital environment using digital practices has become integral. Hence, it’s no surprise that there is a huge demand for subjects that have digital content such as AI or Machine learning going forward.

What should universities focus on to equip students with the skill to survive in the post-modern world?

Going forward, jobs in software and IT, Digital marketing, Data and Financial Analysis will see a huge surge. In the post-modern world, the focus needs to shift towards building courses that would be beneficial and relevant in today’s time. Programmes that are industry-linked that enhance student’s technical skills should be of top priority.

To accommodate the needs of today and the pace at which the world is shifting towards the digital era, we introduced four new programmes to our curriculum. One of the courses introduced is B.Tech in Data Science, which is built keeping in mind the growing demand for data science experts worldwide. The programme aims at the deployment of data sets models to solve real-world problems. The programme emphasizes providing industry-academic synergy for our students to establish careers in /DS/AI/ML, entrepreneurship research and higher studies. The programme has been introduced at NU to make students future-ready for the new world of work. Combining both theoretical and practical models, coupled with industry experience, the course curriculum focuses on holistic learning while keeping students at par with technological advancements. These ensure that students are industry-ready as they graduate to work in today’s dynamic environment.

What are your views on leadership? How should education administrators ensure that their faculty members and students transform into world-class leaders?

Education administrators must ensure that their faculty and students get access to the latest technology. They need to provide individualized learning paths for their students and individualized career opportunity to their faculty. They must go for a flexible and decentralized management approach. Right or wrong is contextual, and therefore, to be a world-class leader, one should be able to translate goals in the context of the local framework.

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