As part of our University of the Future series, we spoke to leading institutions from across Asia to understand their vision for the future and how they plan to realise these ambitions.
The following article stems from an extended interview conducted with the Hon’ble President (Vice-Chancellor) Dr Gopalakrishna Prabhu at Manipal University Jaipur as part of the research for our University of the Future eBook. Read more from the University of the Future series or download the eBook – University of the Future: Transforming Asia’s higher education in the new normal and beyond – to explore how universities can embrace the opportunity to reimagine the university of the future.
The role universities have played in education is beginning to shift, and because of this transformation, changes are necessary to accommodate the evolving landscape and help encourage collaborative learning environments. The most significant variable speeding up this development is the COVID-19 pandemic and the way it caused a halt in regular schooling operations. The surge in the already rising education technology (edtech) sector in the APAC region accelerated further due to the pandemic and the new urgency for technological methods for students to participate in higher learning. With lockdowns and restrictions, the University of the Future is closer than ever, and the expedition of digital transformation and tech solutions is necessary to fit the needs of students.
The education technology sector grew significantly during the pandemic, and Manipal University Jaipur (MUJ) recognised how important adopting a new learning strategy is for their faculty and students. The Indian education regulatory body, the University Grants Commission, granted certain eligible universities the option to move undergraduate and postgraduate programmes 100% online. MUJ was able to take advantage of that and now has Management and Computer Applications courses available to students who wish to pursue their education entirely online. The university plans to expand the platform further by offering arts, journalism, and commerce programmes. MUJ is pushing forth into the new education technology landscape, but the true satisfaction rate among students regarding online learning will only be realised post-pandemic.
The COVID-19 impact on university education
The unprecedented changes that COVID-19 has brought on the world affected all industries. Those farther away from the digital scene felt it the hardest, needing to adopt technology in ways they had never considered in the past. Higher education, in particular, had to act to mitigate the impact so that they could continue operations as best as possible. The national lockdown in March 2020 saw universities struggling to adapt and catapulted them into a series of academic journey disruptions for students and the entire education ecosystem.
MUJ, like other universities, had to adapt to minimise those unavoidable disruptions as best they could. By adopting technology, the university could then restore a semblance of academic regularity for students. In-class learning was swapped for virtual classrooms using video conferencing programs. Written exams moved online, access to the library converted to an E-library, and evaluation of students moved from central to on-screen. Restrictions stifled convocation, transforming it from in-person to eConvocation. The shining example from MUJ showed that successful implementation of eLearning is possible with the right tools and infrastructure.
“The online mode of education has brought its share of problems like availability of the required IT infrastructure, design and development of content conducive to online teaching, online assessment tools, and non-familiarity with usage of online tools,” said Hon’ble President (Vice-Chancellor) Dr Gopalakrishna Prabhu. He added, “The well-known proverb ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ had started the commencement of the educational system journey towards digitisation by forcing the students, faculty, and administrators to transit to online and digital mode by embracing available, new and innovative technologies.”
The role of technology in the University of the Future
Technology has played its role in the advancement of all industries, including the educational system. However, does technology improve the academic experience for students in higher learning education systems? The answer isn’t yet clear cut. According to Dr Gopalakrishna Prabhu, “Going back to the pre-COVID lifestyle seems nearly impossible and teaching is no exception. Technology will play a bigger role in the future learning and teaching models catalysing a pedagogical shift in how we teach and learn.” He also added that constructionism and collaboration would be critical processes going forward. “Focus will be on cooperative teaching, simulation of concepts, and gamification to encourage learning through an immersive experience.”
The return of in-person learning isn’t likely to disengage the speed of the digitalisation of the education sector. Higher education will likely adopt a triple-pronged system. “In my opinion,” Dr Gopalakrishna Prabhu continued, “universities of the future … will be offering three different modes of education. Regular mode, where the primary source of information and knowledge is the teacher who extensively interacts with students as per a structured schedule in a classroom setting and at a fixed pace. Online mode where the primary source of information and knowledge is the learning management system (LMS) which provides the student with flexibility of time, place, and location. Hybrid mode of education which will have the best components of regular and online mode.”
The Hon’ble President (Vice-Chancellor) also sees the future collaboration of universities and the innovation-driven edtech industry. He believes that large-scale adoption will take place in the next 3-5 years. “The major technologies which are going to shape the future education system are artificial intelligence for personalisation and proctored online examinations, blockchain for data storage, distribution and security, learning analytics for personalisation of learning, intervention to support students and data driven decisions for administrators, and virtual reality and augmented reality for making books, lectures, exercises more immersive, interactive, and engaging to students,” he said.
Edtech companies and their role in the University of the Future
With the widespread technology adoption taking place globally because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a certainty that edtech companies will be relied on for bringing the tools needed to help universities effectively provide academia to students. The $100 billion USD education industry in India is also likely to benefit from some of that growth, with projections stating that it could expand fourfold in the next five years. Collaboration between edtech companies and universities is needed to help move things along seamlessly.
“The relationship between universities and edtech companies will move towards from the current vendor model to that of equal partners who collaborate to provide the seamless student experiences from academic and support services point of view,” Dr Gopalakrishna Prabhu said.
The edtech opportunities and the education ecosystem will have to move forward together if the adoption of technology in the educational sector is to work as it should in the University of the Future. By working together towards a brighter future for students in higher education, the changes coming don’t have to hit hard.