Interview




About M Nagarajan

Is an IAS Officer of 2009 Batch, Gujarat Cadre. He is working as Director of Higher Education, Government of Gujarat. Prior to this, he was the Deputy Municipal Commissioner in Surat City, Gujarat. He is also the CEO of the Surat Smart City Project.

"In a couple of years- 25% to 50% of our pedagogical activities especially in higher education will be in online mode- either in Synchronous or Asynchronous mode. There will be an increase in use of collaborative tools, marking and evaluation tools. One thing is sure, the institutions that are adopting technology will have a legacy- and the ones that had an infrastructure are going global in terms of quality", said M. Nagarajan, Director of Higher Education, Govt. of Gujarat while speaking with Rana Jyoti, Associate Editor, India Education Forum.




Question: How do you see COVID 19 changing the face of higher education in India, in both short run and long run?
COVID 19 has brought a paradigm shift in every field and education is no exception. It is crucial because it has certainly accelerated the digitalization trend that was taking place. If you look back Demonetization gave push to digital economy, now with COVID digital collaboration and digital education has got a much awaited shift! It was sudden so we were caught unprepared. But by and large, as a society, we have managed it to some extent. It has changed our assumptions- the behavioral pain points that we had in adoption of digital technology have been broken, however it has also brought a lot of challenges.

So in the short term it has affected- the academic calendar, placement cycle, final year exams etc. But it has also given prominence to virtual classrooms, elearning. So I believe that in a couple of years- 25% to 50% of our pedagogical activities especially in higher education will be in online mode- either in Synchronous or Asynchronous mode. There will be an increase in use of collaborative tools, marking and evaluation tools. One thing is sure, the institutions that are adopting technology will have a legacy- and the ones that had an infrastructure are going global in terms of quality. Digital is here to stay, but the adoption will depend on the maturity of the institution and digital culture that they are going to make.


Question: Online is a different pedagogical tool, and it requires a different approach- so how are we planning to enable the enablers?
Here change management is the key, institutions will have to reskill their teachers. There are different technological tools that are available and how the institution wants to use them will make the difference. For example- In assignment marking, some institutions would want a Word Doc or PDF while others would want form- the idea is to pick and deploy the right tools. The PROs and CONs of each tool has to be explored by the institution and faculty should be involved in the designing of the technological solution so that they can understand better. For teachers, it is important to break the apprehension about the use of technology, loss of control- institutions will have to train their faculty and build trust.


Question: Only 16% of Indian women were found to be using mobile and internet services, a 2019 report from the GSMA, a body which represents mobile operators revealed. In such a scenario, with digital divide of all types- how do we aim at taking online education to everyone in Gujarat?
The Challenge is not only for Gujarat- even countries like USA, UK face similar challenges. Yes India has a combination of divide- right from rural-urban divide, access divide (one might have availability but not access) and of course gender divide- the bottom line is to provide basic access to education to everybody! Government of India and Government of Gujarat have taken steps in this direction that will help but COVID 19 has certainly made it urgent.

Gujarat government used V-sat technology in delivery of e-governance services, we have given broadband access to villages through Bharat Net Project. Private players like Jio are helping in the penetration of data access, We can have a scheme under which we can provide data access assurance to college going students from financially weak background so that their education or learning is not affected. The data provided can be used to access any educational website- this can help.


Question: "Concentration of Higher Education Institutions in India"- a report by National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) revealed that over the past 7 years, Gujarat has recorded the sharpest drop of 22.4% in the share of government higher education institutions in the country, however the share of private institutions rose by 20.2% . What is the reason behind this?
I haven’t read this report but going by the comment – I think, this is two sides of a coin. As far as I know government has not shut any government institution but yes there has been a tremendous increase in the number of private educational institutions that have been allowed to start by Government of Gujarat. This initiative has been a part of policy to give push to higher education and market oriented- self financed courses. In Gujarat, we are seeing an increase in enrollment of students not just from other states but different countries as well. Recently we launched a campaign called “Study in Gujarat”, for which we did road shows in various countries like Doha, Qatar, UAE, Africa, Uganda, etc,- we had majority of delegation from private institutes, and we received a great response. Private institutions are leading role in providing quality education and they are building a name for themselves!
Question: What are the initiatives taken by the Department of Higher Education Gujarat in order to support Institutions?
UGC has given broad guidelines; universities are drawing up their own academic calendars. I believe that Universities won’t have big challenges in facing it. Small issues can be resolved by institutions themselves. We have rolled out scholarships to support students from weak financial backgrounds. These are applicable for all courses- be it BCOM, BA, BSC, Medical upto 40 lakhs for students studying in private institutions.

We also have student start up and innovation policy, this is one of a kind initiative in the country- this initiative was launched 3 years ago and till date our students have filled more than 800 patents. The government is providing funding between 25,000 and 2 lakhs to students for any idea that student wants to pursue. We are teaching students about valuation and design thinking. We have realized that there is a gap between what students are taught and what the industry requires- we are trying to bridge that gap. We have also started finishing schools- we are imparting soft skills, confidence building, communication skills, self awareness, emotional intelligence, team work related courses- currently we are conducting them online between 9 am and 11 am every day. In Gurajat, Universities are ready for this shift-there are various funds for educational upgradation. They can make use of central government schemes like Atal Innovation Mission

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