The rapidly evolving workplace calls for agility in academic programmes. Universities and faculty need to be completely tuned in to the latest developments, trends, and industry connections. To build a sustainable future workforce, Plaksha University's founding vice-chancellor asserts that one must be intensively involved in research to reinvent learning. Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.
As job markets constantly evolve, it is clear that a dynamic and adaptable higher education system will be needed. What kinds of reforms do you think are required at the academic level to prepare the future workforce?
There is a need to discard the "one-size-fits-all" approach. Institutions must press the reset button and introduce radical changes that demand flexibility in higher education. Introducing agility in academic programmes is of utmost importance. Allowing students to enrol in courses from other departments and learning to be flexible to grant autonomy to extend a course duration is extremely important in the current scenario.
I believe that higher education should be interdisciplinary to create the next generation of problem solvers. For this, departmental structures need to be more receptive. The National Education Policy (NEP) provides a really good framework for introducing agility in the curriculum.
Universities also have to be completely tuned in to what is happening in the real world. It is important for faculty members to be in touch with the latest developments, current trends, and industry connections; and that can happen only when one is deeply engaged in research.
Education is crucial in shaping our future workforce. How can academic institutions redesign their approaches to address labour shortages and income disparities?
Labour shortages are usually related to something that suddenly comes in vogue. It could be something like a new technology that industries line up to adopt, thus creating an obvious demand for people with expertise in that area. A case in point is digital transformation. Today, all companies are talking about digital transformation and looking for engineers with expertise in cloud technologies and cybersecurity. Universities can help by not only providing different levels of education but also ensuring that these programmes are interdisciplinary, as that is what the industry needs.
Do you have any collaboration with any of the well-known companies to provide additional training/internship/work exposure etc., or even funding for bursaries/scholarships?
Industry partnerships with companies like BCG, Fractal Analytics, InfoEdge and Paytm span student mentorship, capstone projects for hands-on learning, as well as placements. With a strong belief that research will play a key role in creating solutions for the bigger problems facing us, research centres and faculty chairs have been set up with support from corporate companies such as Havells, Indegene, and Mphasis to name a few. Additionally, Bharti Foundation and Mphasis have set up scholarship funds to ensure access to education for talented students. Besides, there are partnerships with top global academic institutions like UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Purdue University, IIT Bombay and IISc, for curriculum design, delivery, faculty and student exchange and joint research.
There is an undeniable need to train the next generation in emerging digital competencies. At the same time, it is equally important to learn human skills. How can academic institutions inculcate these non-automatable “human” skills among the younger generation?
There is a need for technology education to include humanities and social science in its curriculum and at the same time literacy liberal arts and social sciences education should include essential technological competencies in their curriculum
All students should know how a society functions, how to be compassionate to fellow human beings, and have a work-life balance. These are the kinds of humanities courses that students need to be taught. All students should also be digitally competent. This could be a little more challenging. After all, to teach digital competencies, one needs a specific subject background, like science or math, which all students may not have. New courses need to be introduced that cater to this demand.
How important is it to embrace the T-shaped approach to knowledge while preparing the contributors to the future economy?
It is imperative to have a T-shaped approach. The original T-shape has changed. Earlier, the horizontal part of the T is based on how broad an education you can get so that you can have a dialogue with anybody. The horizontal part has significantly expanded because of the interface with businesses, the government, the industry, venture capitalists or investors, and customers.
And the vertical part of the T-shaped model is about one's domain knowledge and depth in a specific area. The depth is as important as the breadth for preparing future contributors to the economy.
Interdisciplinary education and experiential learning embrace the T-shaped approach to knowledge. It is a must to have both the curriculum and the courses interdisciplinary. It ensures that the student is gaining a perspective that is deep and simultaneously broad. These graduates will bring technological depth to the business discussions and understand the language of others on the table.