Prime Minister Modi’s Rs 20 lakh crore plan for self-reliant India is a punar janma for the purna ayush of Bharat. The policy contours of Atma Nirbhar Bharat and the implementation guidelines need to be ring-fenced and safeguarded from antiquated thought processes that are, in Nani Palkhivala’s modified comment, the work of a five-year government, with four-year life, using three-year tenure bureaucrats, preparing two-year action plans having an annual budget and quarterly reviews hoping that common man solves his problem on a day-to-day basis. The policy direction clearly needs to charter the route with realistic milestones for a self-reliant India.
In the tussle between the best-case scenario and worst-case scenario, the use-case scenario gets buried and the winner is always either of the two. Proponents of the best-case scenario rarely see the best and likewise, the worst never see the worst. In both cases, resources are neither over-utilized or under-utilized. There are exceptions to this, but policy-making is not about exceptions but understanding the majority behavior of various sectors. Defense, healthcare and few such strategic assets may have exceptions. The Covid-ian times have taught the education sector a variety of lessons. Is it enough? Learning is a continuous process and for a continuously learning policy environment, higher education is no exception.
Higher educational institutions had, are and will have their own set of policy issues that need to be smoothened at the contours to ensure a smooth academic journey. Despite this, many universities have progressed with their own set of differentiators with the available progressive reforms. The post-Covid-ian landscape of higher education is poised to undergo a tectonic change that shall trigger a tectonic shift from status-quo to the various new norms.
Higher education stakeholders comprising students, faculty, institutional resources and statutory bodies need to coherently synergise to understand the emerging paradigm of the teaching-learning mechanism. One of the important norms and standards that various statutory bodies such as the UGC, AICTE, NCTE, etc. have is the physical building area per student.
The current UGC requirement of 30 sq mt/student is almost equal to the affordable housing norm requirements and is far from the much-needed affordable education norms. Assuming it’s affordable, the utilisation of such massive resources in most of the institutions have remained less than full. While capacity utilisation in physical infrastructure is sub-maximum, faculty vacancy in all institutions, including IITs, has been concerning. Covid has accelerated the movement of higher education campuses to become phygital (physical and digital) in its march to deliver online education in addition to offline.
Millennial and generation alpha learners along with anxious faculty will certainly change the conventional classroom transactions that need to build on the growing need for meta cognitive skills of students and the changing role of faculty as a facilitator. The existing norms and standards for higher education institutions need to pave way for a fine blend of physical and digital assets. Pure physical assets have neither worked well in best-case nor in worst-case. Higher education needs to move the use-case way. Norms and standards need a contemporaneous review. When the winds of change blow hard, best build windmills, not shelters. Is anybody listening?