Shantanu Rooj is the Founder & CEO of TeamLease EdTech (previously known as Schoolguru Eduserve). TeamLease EdTech is India’s leading Online Learning Services company which Universities launch, run and manage their own Online Programs, helps Institutes improve employability of their students through its skilling program and helps Corporates build talent supply chain and improve employee productivity. TeamLease EdTech has exclusive partnership with 30 of India’s largest Universities across 16 Indian states, trains 3.5 Lakh students on its platform through 9 Indian languages and manages over 200 degree, diploma, certificate programs. A serial entrepreneur, Shantanu founded Paradyne Infotech in 1997 which had a hugely successful IPO in 2005 and Broadllyne in 2005 which got acquired in 2009.
The Covid-19 pandemic hammered higher education in many ways – campus closures, disruption of learning owing to sudden shift to online mode, discontinuity of research, meltdown of the examination process, spiralling financial challenges and above all, the health of staff and students. Passing out students also faced a diminished labour and job market due to the covid induced setbacks to the economy. Some of these will cast long shadows and continue to resonate and haunt us for long. However, the pandemic also presents a silver lining. It beckons universities to re-examine the teaching learning process, the assessments, the way they do research and pursue collaborations amongst academia and the industry. It calls for the industry to re-examine how it works and de-regulate the rigid bureaucracies of the system and envisage a greater role in the new world.
Several times in the past, Universities have weathered environments that are unstable, disruptive and unpredictable. They’ve endured political upheavals and demonstrated resilience against financial crises and disruptive trends such as globalisation and digital transformation. They have smartly handled various competing demands from the industry, students and society that include greater access, lifelong learning and modularity. But the pandemic posed a unique, unprecedented and formidable challenge interwoven into existing socio-economic conditions. The sudden migration to remote online learning exacerbated some of the existing fault lines hampering the actual benefits of online education.
Universities have a unique opportunity now – to reimagine and restructure the role and purpose of these academic behemoths – to be innovative, proactive, relevant and resilient. Campus life, a harbinger of socialising, relationship building, networking, collaboration and character building, will look different now. Use of online learning to optimise multiple delivery modes and embrace creativity and innovation in teaching and learning will be explored. Pre-recorded lectures and flipped classrooms would provide the flexibility the learners yearned for. The new campus designs will be a hybrid of our familiar old campus and new spaces designed with better versatility to accommodate flexibility of usages. This will allow them to adapt when needed and shall be useful in normal times. Resiliency must centre on flexibility: adaptability to a changing world and versatility to change purpose – this requires the will, the skill and an ability to imagine our future.
The relevance, viability, suitability and sustainability of university operating models are under threat. If they are to survive and thrive after the pandemic, universities must reassess and adapt to new realities. Several of them are struggling with this transition. This is mainly due to pre-existing health deficits of the university system, inadequate investments in information technology infrastructure, limited expertise for online teaching methods and the digital poverty amongst its students. This pandemic is an opportunity to embrace a multi-modal blended learning model and use it to expand access and strengthen excellence in teaching and learning. This would prepare the learners for a changing, evolving and unpredictable job market.
The financial outlook of universities need a relook. In the face of increasing costs of providing higher education and rising number of student, an overly inclination towards government funding isn’t helping. Universities must contend with a variety of changes to traditional revenue sources, navigate fragmented funding streams and weather economic fluctuations. As the country contemplates the future of higher education, it must create the right conditions for multiple life forms of higher education to thrive; a system that’s adequately funded to foster excellence, affordability, equitable access and sustainability.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what you do today”. The pandemic provides an inflection point, a springboard for re-thinking the future of higher education. It presents an opportunity to bring in structural reforms and re-define the rigid bureaucracies that characterise the system. It behoves universities to re-examine the way they do research and pursue collaborations to strengthen the relationship between universities, government, industry and society. Many universities demonstrated their research capabilities during the pandemic – this includes vaccine and drug development, epidemiology and the socio-economic impact of the disease. This research presents universities with an opportunity to restore and strengthen trust in their research capabilities and expertise while demonstrating their commitment to the society. Universities must pursue bold responses to enhance their sustainability, relevance and contribution to the country’s socio-economic advancement. The future looks bright, but different!