Understanding the Indian Higher Education Landscape
With a large student population in India, i.e. an estimated 37.4 million total enrolments in HEIs, the Indian higher education system is faced with a challenge to redefine and reinvent itself to overcome barriers in the times of uncertainty posed by the current pandemic (COVID-19) in delivering the education promised to the students. In the last few months, HEIs witnessed uncharted territories as they transitioned to e-classrooms overnight, while dealing with a myriad of other challenges. The biggest of these challenges was concerning the accessibility of education and availability of resources besides issues relating to curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment. While there have been obstacles, COVID-19 has also pushed HEIs to reimagine how to deliver engaging and holistic classroom experience to students and is driving a revolution of sorts in the education sector.
India has over 51,000 HEIs. This, along with the large student population, constrained pupil-teacher ratio, diverse demographics, and distinct rural-urban divide make the Indian higher education landscape unique and complex. The pandemic-related challenges add additional layers of complexity. There are approximately 394 universities located in rural areas in India. Several million students hail from remote, rural areas with minimal access to electronic devices, reliable internet connectivity, or stable electricity supply resulting in a digital divide. This means that Indian institutions need to go one step beyond online classrooms to build strong institutional capacity to maximise outreach. And while we respond to this educational transition and ongoing transformation during COVID-19, we also need to start planning for the future of HEIs for a time during and post COVID-19. Given the diversity in our institutions and challenges faced by them, Indian HEIs cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all strategy. Diﬀerent approaches will need to be applied while planning the reopening of HEIs and continuing the classes after reopening of the HEI, until a COVID-19 vaccine has been developed and administered to control the ongoing pandemic.