An upgrade to the education system in India – especially higher education – was long overdue. The COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown gave the authorities the excuse to do so. Taking upon the available opportunity, it was declared in Budget 2022 that India will have a digital university, one that would connect the local and national levels and reach out to the country’s most remote regions, as well as improved internet connectivity in rural areas.
What is Digital University?
Digital University was proposed to be established for the first time in the Union Budget 2022 of India. The goal of Digital University is to expand access to high-quality higher education programmes by utilising cutting-edge ICT tools and platforms.
Digital University is presented as a hub and spoke concept, with Digital University serving as the hub and numerous top higher education institutions from throughout the country serving as spokes. Under its umbrella or in partnership with the spokes, Digital University will provide programmes at the degree, diploma, and certificate levels.
The digital university ecosystem will consist of three key elements: a technological platform provider, a digital content developer, and higher education institutions (HEIs), with Digital University at its centre.
Webinar on Digital University: Making World Class Higher Education Accessible for All
In a webinar organized by the Ministry of Education, Government of India, the educational experts said, this has the potential of increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) from 27% to 50%.
As part of the ministry’s ‘Achieving Atmanirbharta through the Amrit Mantra of Digital Education and Dynamic Skilling,’ the education ministry hosted a webinar titled “Digital University: Making World Class Higher Education Accessible for All.” The goal of the webinar was to engage stakeholders in discussions about the implementation of Budget 2022 in the education sector.
Outcomes of the Webinar
Improving the Digital Connectivity through BharatNet
In his introductory remarks, DOT Secretary Rajaraman stated that the Digital University will make education more accessible and inexpensive through the installation of BharatNet.
“BharatNet will eventually cover 6 lakh villages in India and will provide high-speed broadband to rural India. The architecture that we will have will enable learning for different segments of the society for college and certificate level learning,” he said.
“We believe that BharatNet will act as a vibrant hub and with active collaboration with the AICTE and State Governments we can maximise the onboarding of millions of students to Digital University,” said Rajaraman.
Need for Increasing GER
Secretary of State for Higher Education K Sanjay Murthy thought that a digital university combined with high-speed internet connectivity would double the country’s GDP.
“With the kind of infrastructure that we are expecting, we are hoping to increase the Gross Enrolment Rate from 27% to 50% as laid out by the NEP. This means we will have an additional 10 million students in the higher education system,” he said.
“The GER of tribal students is much below the national threshold. We need to increase the rate of this segment along with the women population of the country,” he added.
Prof. Sahasrabudhe also stated that brick-and-mortar universities will not be able to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio.
“Digital education is a way of reaching out to those who are unreachable in remote areas, villages, and mountainous areas,” he said.
“For them, it is very difficult to move to cities for quality education as it will put a lot of pressure on their living expenses. Digital University is one of the best things that has happened to India under the Digital India initiatives,” he added.
Reduce the Drop-out Rate of Females
Dr. Swati Piramal, Vice Chairperson, Piramal Group, emphasised the importance of a digital university that provides access to everybody, claiming that it might prevent girl children from dropping out of school.
“Online education across the globe witnessed a great spike due to Covid norms but the solution must be unique for our country. We know many girl children have dropped out of school even though they had access to digital education,” she said.
“Apart from children education, digital universities are important in healthcare to train ASHA workers, adult education, and upskilling. The only way we can do it in change management and involved people on the ground,” she said.
“Piramal Education University has 5000 young people who are doing groundwork and it has been successful working with NITI AAYOG, the government and having experience in rural areas for reskilling where it needed most,” she said.
Affiliation of Colleges to Digital University
Prof. V Kamakoti, Director of IIT Madras, believes that if colleges become connected with a digital university, access obstacles will be reduced.
“We actually understand certain access barriers in a much clearer way and we were able to address access barriers. For instance, we are trying to get such a local chapter which can bring these people together that can become a sort of a very interesting thing in the digital university,” he said.
“Also, colleges can get affiliated to the digital university. And it can admit students to the local program and provide local support to local students,” said the professor.
Collaborations with Ed-Tech Companies
Prof. M. Jagadeesh Kumar, Chairman of the University Grants Commission, said the government is working on legislation that would allow them to collaborate with ed-tech businesses to help students from remote places become exceptional learners and contribute to the country’s economic prosperity.
“India is ahead of the curve in terms of the educational technology there is an enormous talent within our own country either in terms of ed-tech and start-up companies that are coming up,” he said.
“As per regulatory reforms that we are bringing in, universities will be able to have collaborations with ed-tech companies and utilise their cloud platforms, and the technological facilities they have in terms of animation, visual effects, gaming, comics to create high-quality digital contents to enable these students to become outstanding learners and contribute to the economic growth to our country,” said Prof. Kumar.