Richard V Reeves, a writer and senior fellow at Brookings Institution, has described the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a “collision of crises”. According to a UNESCO report, the closure of schools and higher education institutions in India has impacted more than 300 million students. To combat problems, focus is required to combat social inequality, communication bottlenecks, and developing a holistic approach to learning. A higher educational system founded on resilience and compassion as the foundation is the need of the hour.
The adoption of technology has restored momentum by bridging the communication gap, but it alone is not enough and digital divide must be addressed. It requires significant capital investment, the onus of which cannot be left solely upon universities, which are already affected due to fewer admissions and the costs of maintaining physical infrastructure. Instead, establishment of a robust public-private framework to shoulder these challenges at scale is required. Government can also provide tax concessions and other financial incentives to organisations that focus on improving the digital infrastructure in rural and semi-urban areas that are home to a large percentage of students.
Chairman, Marwadi University
In the wake of the pandemic-led postponement and cancellation of the final year board exams, students are battling uncertainty, requiring a pivot in the admissions process. This however, shouldn’t prevent aspirants from pursuing higher education. Institutions are taking steps such as revising of application criteria to focus on pre-board and pre-final year results to ensure uninterrupted education. A realignment of administrative processes at scale is required to make a tangible difference. Furthermore, a relook at placement strategies is necessary since effects of the pandemic will linger; with some experts estimating a third wave by Oct 2021. Educators must prepare students for this possible future initiate innovative ways of integrating emerging models, such as remote work, human cloud, and gig economy into the current framework, to enhance opportunities.
At the individual level, a number of steps have been taken to mitigate impact of the pandemic. Plans are already underway which we want to scale up even further, driven by the Marwadi Education Foundation Group of Institutions, CSR arm of Marwadi Shares and Finance Limited, under which Marwadi University operates. Attempts have been made to systematically allocate funds for COVID relief, up-skilling students and faculty alike, R&D Innovation, entrepreneurship development all with the aim of fostering a more self-reliant India. Some of the existing initiatives include the Marwadi University Innovation and Incubation Research (MUIIR) Centre, with the aim of aiding entrepreneurs, focusing on sustainable development, energy conservation, AI & big-data analytics, EV tech and Industry 4.0. MOU’s with initiatives such as the Energy Swaraj Ashram (ESA), and Technology Hub Foundation (T-Hub) to enhance social entrepreneurship and start-up development.
We currently operate on a new paradigm, centred on upliftment and sensitivity to save ourselves from the pandemic. A collective consciousness is key to unlock a smarter, healthier, and self-reliant future. All that is required is a decision of not if but when to begin.