The higher education sector is facing unprecedented changes due to COVID-19. All around the world schools and universities are being forced to take their course material online. Nationwide closures are impacting over 60 percent of the world’s student population and governments are making efforts to mitigate the immediate effects. Most universities do not want to open at full capacity and are looking to platforms such as Zoom to help deliver lectures. This suggests that universities may look very different post-pandemic. In this uncertain time, one thing has become clear: the virus has led to numerous opportunities for Indian higher education to reform and grow.

As the higher education landscape changes and attempts to provide the same level of teaching as before COVID-19, the need for internationalisation has become more important than ever. Internationalisation is usually associated with mobility (i.e. exchange programmes and visiting professors), but the coronavirus pandemic has prompted a new definition as the process of integrating international and intercultural dimensions within the main functions of the education system.

Last year, Sannam S4 released a similarly titled article about internationalisation and trends in Indian higher education, but the pandemic-related changes in the sector will likely lead to the series of new trends addressed below.


Recognition of Online Education as a Necessity

A number of informed debates have started taking place within the upper echelons of government to ensure that online education platforms are underscored by India’s three pillars of higher education: equity, access, and quality.

As travel becomes almost impossible and students enrol themselves in ‘Zoom University,’ India gives us a reality check on the accessibility, quality and position of online learning. Recognizing the persistent problems with online learning (those stemming from socio-economic differences and a lack of digital literacy, creating a digital divide), the government is attempting to bridge the gap through initiatives like ‘E-Vidya Programme’ to help India internationalise and bring education to remote areas.

Moreover, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) are working to provide e-learning through e-books and journals accessible in an online library, and Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the UGC, along with other institutions, are offering educational channels through DTH. The UGC is also finalizing a list of 230 institutions which will now be able to offer online degree courses, provided they fulfil at least one of two criteria (featuring among the Top 100 in the National Institutional Ranking Framework Ranking or having National Assessment and Accreditation Council 3.26 CGPA (Grade A+) grade). These policy changes, as a part of Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, aim at making online learning more accessible to students across India.


Blended Learning: A New Staple for the Teaching-Learning Process

In a conference with Express Computer, Prof. V Ramgopal Rao (Director, IIT Delhi) expressed that flipped classrooms and blended learning were the next steps to progress. In the Indian context, DP Singh (UGC Chairman) revealed that the UGC is considering blended learning for post-COVID India; in all likelihood, 40 percent of classes will be taught online. Additionally, the UGC is working toward Open and Distance Learning in an online format, and we can look forward to a likely formulation of dual degree programmes which will allow students to obtain one degree online and the other offline, simultaneously.

Even EdTech providers such as UpGrad, have launched a range of online blended learning degrees in partnership with Jamia Hamdard University and OP Jindal Global University (JGU), both of which are Institutions of Eminence (IoE).

IITBombayX, another online platform, offers Massive Open Online Courses that use flipped classrooms, online classrooms and live interactions, and factor in the marks of online assessment in university courses. 

AshokaX is an online collection of international academic courses that offers inclusive and innovative learning experiences. The Academy on AshokaX offers live classes and a certificate of distinction on completion of each course.


Re-imagination of Partnerships with International Universities

COVID-19 has provided a unique opportunity for universities to redesign the way that institutions think about partnerships. Over and above exchange programmes, universities can now collaborate on classes and research through the online modules, without any geographical restriction. A majority of students will still be using online education in the Autumn Semester, and this facility can be extended by allowing students of the Indian University to access those classes. Further, students who would not have had the means to access international universities, would now be able to partake in international university courses, broadening their horizons and perspectives, through online learning. Although dual degrees from both the Indian and the international university may not be possible, a ‘double certification’ can be explored. Through online learning and partnerships with international universities, Indian universities may also attract a greater number of students.

International universities can also collaborate with Indian universities, and provide students, who are uncertain if they want to accept their international university admission, with an in-person semester in the Indian university, with classes provided by the international university. This will also lead to a drop in the number of students who reject offers, or who are deferring their offers to next years. Students are also less likely to accept offers if the first semester is done through purely online courses. Such a partnership exists between the University of Arizona and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham and SRM Institute of Science and Technology also has partnerships with various international universities through which students are able to study in India for a certain period of time, and can choose to study abroad at the international university for the remainder of the programme. 


Emergence of Private and Government-Backed Ranking Frameworks

In the last decade, India’s view to rankings has dramatically transformed. This has led to institutions ramping up their operations in order to compete with each other for a position on the ranking system. The frameworks and parameters of these rankings are also changing with the times. For example, THE Impact Rankings, a new ranking framework, assess universities against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is the first global attempt to document evidence of universities’ impact on society, based on Research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching. This year saw an increase in the number of Indian institutions included in the rankings: from 13 in 2019 to 26 in 2020.

With a change in the way education is now being taught due to COVID-19, there is a high probability of the emergence of new private and government backed ranking frameworks, which emphasise parameters such as internationalisation, digitisation, and partnerships. Indian Universities will work more on these parameters, in order to secure a place in these ranking systems, thus giving more importance to internationalisation.


Learning Outcomes for the 21st Century: Shift in Focus of Curriculum

For India, a shift in the focus of curriculum would mean internationalising the entire curriculum for all students. Internationalisation in this sense can mean a number of things but the area which needs more attention in the Indian context is intercultural learning. This means using the diversity of cultures brought in by international members to inspire the course contents or combine international models with Indian models.

O.P Jindal Global University set a good example of this kind of internationalisation of curriculum by establishing a new School of Environment and Sustainability. This can be considered an internationalised curriculum because of two reasons – one, environmental studies as a higher education course has been inspired from various different international universities such as those that offer a liberal education module, and second, since such courses will be in very high demand in the future (to make the world the best livable space possible for humans) and hence, universities all over the world need to be in the position to offer such subjects.


Need for Diversifying Course Curriculum

Projected future student mobility flows to key international study destinations have taken a hit with experts estimating a 40 per cent drop in demand for education in foreign universities. Similar trends are being tracked in Sannam S4’s education team survey wherein nearly 71% of queries to university representatives from students focus on deferral and refund requests for the fall semester. Studies such as that by Leverage Edu, show that a majority of students have applied to Indian universities as well in case they need to reject their offer from the international university. 

It is vital that Indian universities are able to cater to these students, both in terms of seats, as well as satisfying their expectations. Universities need to create more diverse courses and allow more flexibility in course structure. They need to be able to compete with international universities on all fronts, so an element of internationalisation must be included in the curriculum. This will also increase the appeal of the Indian university, potentially drawing more students to it in the future.


Augmented Reality

Updating educational technology is an important step in internationalising universities and curriculum, and the concepts of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are not completely new to India.  AR/VR start-ups have been receiving support from State governments, and AR/VR can make the internationalisation process easier and more thorough by allowing the flexibility to access educational content smoothly across various devices. It can also aid in collaboration and communication between international universities in the domestic environment. 

Another part of internationalising curriculum is creating a personalised learning experience and encouraging active learning, which AR/VR can expedite. AR/VR technology is already being used by some international universities: Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is using AR to create a catalog with packages, digital assets, micro-interactions, etc, to access creative sessions, video games, virtual tours, degree programme details, live chats and annual events. In 2015, the university offered a virtual reality experience in acceptance letter packages which contained customized Google cardboard VR goggles that allowed students to virtually visit SCAD’s campuses. Within a year, SCAD saw a 26 percent increase in admission applications.


Conclusion

COVID-19 has provided higher education a unique opportunity to digitise itself further. Although this sector has been working toward digitisation in recent years, the need has not been pressing enough to convert to a completely digital curriculum. Now, with digitisation and online courses, an entire floodgate of opportunities has opened up for the Indian higher education sector.
What we hope to see in the next few years is universities capitalising on this opportunity, to create a more internationalised curriculum as well as providing their students a border outlook and exposure. Just as it is necessary to change the means through which teaching and learning takes place, it is also important to change what is taught and learned, in a world where the pandemic has the potential to deepen inequalities.

Contributors: Priyanjali Roy-Chaudhury and Somya Wadhwa

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