Getting ready for the 4th industrial revolution

The government is putting in place an education ecosystem to boost advanced learning in new-age technologies

Last month, Microsoft India said it plans to train five lakh youth in artificial intelligence across the country over the next three years and set up AI labs in 10 universities. There is no doubt that the announcement is being seen as a potential game-changer for the fledging sector in India. It also indicates the direction higher education in the country should be taking in the next decade.
After the Third Industrial Revolution of personal computers and internet, the next wave of global progress and growth is being driven by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where a bouquet of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, internet of things, 3D printing, biotechnology and 5G merge together to change the dynamics of how industries operate.
For a country that has the world’s largest population of young people, how does India’s higher education sector capitalise on this revolution? To begin with, it is important to note that the path to create a market for higher education in emerging technologies is fraught with multiple challenges.
In this regard, some of the biggest obstacles include the inadequacy of curriculum and trained faculty since the technology itself is evolving rapidly. So, the only way for students to gain knowledge in emerging technologies is to learn directly from an industry practitioner or join online resources.
In a country already dealing with structural and regulatory challenges in the higher education sector, creating a favourable scenario for advanced studies in new-age technologies is a tall order.

The groundwork

However, the groundwork to gravitate the youth towards a career in such technologies has already been laid by the government. In this respect, there are three pillars that have been created for this structural change.
Firstly, the Graded Autonomy status granted by the University Grants Commission (UGC), has given the freedom to higher education institutions to launch new courses, off-campus centres, skill development courses, and foster other academic collaborations with industry. In simple terms, this means that new-age courses in emerging technologies can be easily launched by universities without being delayed by the regulator’s approval. Even as the country is debating liberalising the education sector, with an emphasis on autonomy and quality, our academic institutes lack a performance-based public ranking system. The gap is set to be filled after the Ministry of Human Resource Development launched the Atal Ranking of Institutions on Innovation and Achievements (ARIIA).
Under this initiative, by April 2019, over 800 higher education institutes will be ranked on parameters related to innovation and entrepreneurship development. For example, universities that create an ecosystem for students to launch market-ready products, launch start-ups etc., through new courses, will be highly rewarded under the rankings. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), on the other hand, has reduced the minimum credits needed for a degree from 180 to 160, thus effectively reducing a full semester of academic load for students and faculty. Through the AICTE-formulated National Student Start-up Policy, India’s engineering education regulator is enabling bright students to take up courses in emerging technologies and learn practical engineering skills by working on prototypes and gain a “minor degree”.
If the student continues to build the prototype into a start-up, the knowledge and experience acquired by the entrepreneur will be recognised as an MBA in Entrepreneurship Programme. This is possible under the new AICTE guidelines.
The interlinking of these pillars, helmed by R Subrahmanyam, Secretary, Higher Education, MHRD, will let institutes adopt new technology courses (elective and minor) with industry partnerships and, for example, introduce a degree in MBA in Technology Entrepreneurship through incubators, which stand a greater chance of going up in innovation rankings.
To my mind, the best students will gravitate towards these institutions, which have higher flexibility and a modern outlook to the industry. These students will acquire better skills and drive up new job openings in emerging technologies and build up a new generation of products and start-ups from India.
The advent of the fourth industrial revolution is already being seen as transforming skill-based sectors in developed countries, apart from increasing investments in R&D measures in countries like US, China and Japan.
In such a scenario, India needs to catch up with the anticipated changes in its own labour market, where the ground seems ripe for these technologies to flourish. In any case, India needs more jobs for its 50-crore youth that will be in the labour market by 2030, and the need of the hour is a plan of action to create a model for higher education that addresses these tectonic shifts. The above-mentioned pillars are India’s bet for transformation of higher education and our collective future.
The writer is member of Prime Minister’s Champions of Change in Higher Education, and Chairman of Startup Village Collective. Views expressed are personal

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