Just as Covid-19 has changed our work environment, it has pushed higher education towards a hybrid model of teaching and learning. Both teachers and students show a marked preference for blended learning (combining the physical and virtual through classrooms and online platforms), which is here to stay, suggests a report by PwC India and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
The report, titled “Re-envisioning higher education through digital adoption”, is based on a survey of the management, staff and students from over 50 central, state and private higher education institutes in the second half of 2020 to gauge the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It shows that online degrees and certification courses are finding greater traction among these institutes during the pandemic. Eighty-nine per cent of the institutes have integrated technology solutions, but 64 per cent of the management faced difficulties in adopting digital technologies, the report adds.
Because of the extraordinary disruption of regular functioning since the onset of the pandemic early last year, institutes have been under distress. According to the report, in order to address the financial impact, one in four institutes delayed regular fee collection, while one out of three cut capital expenditure.
In a clear shift towards digitalisation, 43 per cent higher education institutes are conducting online admission tests, with 26 per cent also adopting digital promotion as an admission method. Connectivity issues — only 42 per cent of urban households have internet access — is reported as the biggest impediment in the digital journey of the institutes, apart from the lack of a one-stop digital solution for all functions and the challenge for faculties to keep students engaged and motivated.
The survey reveals that 58 per cent students are interested in certification courses, while 35 per cent would still prefer degree courses. Sixty-per cent students also expressed willingness to explore the option of a parallel supplementary online degree from another institution along with their current one. Fifty-three per cent students are open to the idea of an online course offered on a blended or university-owned platform.
According to the survey, 46 per cent of the faculty considers blended learning as the most effective. And while 62 per cent have faced challenges in switching to an online model, 83 per cent feel that students can grasp concepts easily online. Among students, 86 per cent have most of the prerequisites for online learning and 96 per cent are satisfied with the existing online course delivery.
The management of the institutes are actively looking to partner with edtech firms, according to the report.
It also notes that 82 per cent of the faculty are in favour of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which emphasises tech-enabled learning, while 58 per cent of the management in the institutes are prepared to implement the policy changes.
Adoption of technology was taking place earlier, too, but the pandemic has accelerated it, says Ashok Varma, leader, social sector development, PwC. “What is interesting is the blended model that has come up. It is largely an outcome of the lockdowns, since no offline classes were being held. We were not expecting such a clear shift, but the preference for a hybrid, blended model is definitely going to stay. It is evident from over 85 per cent of management responses indicating intent to go for holistic technology solutions,” he says.
Over 47 per cent of the faculty respondents believe that an online degree is the future of education. A resultant change is that physical infrastructure and facilities can no longer be the first criterion for students choosing a college of their choice. “The softer aspects of an institute such as its placement record, diversity of course curricula, qualified and experienced faculty will be more important now,” adds Varma.