Historically, in every era, education systems have responded to the needs of the society. In the ancient and medieval era, which gave rise to education 1.0, India a leader with universities such as Takshshila and Nalanda attracting students from all over the world.

The industrial revolution in Britain in the mid-18th century paved the way for Education 2.0, which needed skilled masses to carry out repetitive work in factories. The transition from education 1.0 to education 2.0 took couple of thousands years and was mastered by the western world. In early 1980s, the emergence of computer and internet made way for education 3.0. While the transition from education 2.0 to 3.0 took a few hundred years, in just three decades, exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, and internet of things have bought us to Education 4.0.

The new age

We all have got a glimpse of the future with examples such as advanced humanoid robot ‘Sophia’ that recently was given citizenship by Saudi Arabia; Hadrian X — an Australian based robot that completes task meant for three-four human bricklayers; Tally — the world’s first fully autonomous self-auditing and analytics-based robot; and Tesla’s new $5-billion fully automated Giga factory with limited human intervention. India, too has its own robot Lakshmi in Union Bank, Chennai, which greets customers.

When human have to compete with robots and cobots, it is essential to equip our children with 21st century skill sets such as cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence, creativity, and design thinking. Most progressive countries have rolled out various schemes to address the changing needs of labour market with an average, year-on-year increase of 25-28 per cent in funds dedicated for cutting edge R&D.

The US has taken measures to invest heavily in research on AI, cyber security, etc. with a spend of 2.7 per cent of GDP. China too has rolled out the “Double World-Class Project”, funding selected academic and research fields of studies with a spend of 2.1 per cent of GDP on R&D. Similarly, Japan’s “Global 30” Project promotes internationalisation of Japanese universities with an R&D spend of 3.58 per cent of GDP.

So, how is India planning to become a global human resource hub? How are we going to build world-class universities with a meagre R&D spend of 0.8 per cent of GDP? There have been a few incremental measures implemented through schemes such as Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN); Uchchatar Avishkar Yojana (UAY), Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP III), etc.

The recent notification of UGC Graded Autonomy Regulation (GAR) is a welcome move in this regard. This regulation was urgently required to create an aspirational ecosystem for recognising and incentivising high performing and good quality institutions to transform themselves into world-class institutions in the next 10 to 15 years. Yet, the Government needs to go beyond the executive order and make it a part of the UGC Act by suitably amending Section 3 of the Act, which is the basis for Deemed University’s creation. If not legislated, these regulations will be subject to the fancies of the Government of the day.

Further, to attract quality and credible investors, greenfield institutions should be autonomous right at the inception and can be graded based on its rating, accreditation or peer assessment after five years. A third-party accreditation and rating mechanism should be developed to ensure healthy competition, build a positive global outlook and better public perception.

What needs to be done

This government has the opportunity to create a quality revolution in higher education and build the 21st century model of higher education that is of high-quality, yet equitable and affordable. To help realise this dream, FICCI recommends the following reforms:

National science, technology and humanity research foundation : Emulating National Science Foundation of USA, create a corpus of ₹5000-crore and an annual allocation of ₹5,000 crore. The disbursement of funds should be done based on competition open to both public and private universities. The foundation should be an independent body managed by academicians, scientists and professionals.

Research and innovation: Universities should have a futuristic research and innovation policy and must ensure that over a period of five years, a minimum of 50 per cent of the university’s resources is spent on research. The patent law should be fast-tracked for incentivising faculty for research. Government should set up 200 more research and tech parks in select education centres to propel innovation through incubation and R&D.

National higher education finance corporation (NHFC) : The NHFC should provide soft loans to top 200 universities for expansion and upgradation of hard and soft infrastructure and to set up research and technology parks by 2020. Each of these universities should create a corpus of ₹500 crore, invested as assets either in the form of bank deposits or liquid assets.

Increased global visibility : There is a need to increase visibility of ‘Brand India’ in the global education arena to attract talented students, experienced and knowledgeable faculty and quality international partners. This diversity of actors will enhance the quality of learning, teaching and research, and contribute significantly to the overall student experience and create a positive public perception globally.

Quality faculty : The faculty-student ratio should not be less than 1:15, with 25 per cent adjunct faculty coming from industry and social sector. Industry professionals with more than 20 years of experience but without a PhD should be allowed to teach in higher education institutions.

Technology integration, data capture and analytics: Technology should be integrated into every aspect of teaching-learning along with institutional administration. The age band of potential learners should be expanded to 18-to-60-year-olds with life-long learning programmes. Advances in big data and learning analytics should be used to customise teaching tools and develop personalised learning pathways.

With the official MOOC platform — SWAYAM — set up, investments and resources should be directed towards development of content in various subjects and languages, repository of professional moderators, qualification framework, assessment and certification with active private sector participation.

Industry engagement: The universities/HEIs should work closely with the industry to become the hub for sponsored R&D, innovation, incubation, entrepreneurship and consultancy projects.

To realise the dream of “New India”, we must create a globally competitive higher education system and world class universities. The Government should not differentiate between public and private universities/HEIs and provide equal opportunities to all.

Pai is chairman of Manipal Global Education and the Ficci Skill Development Committee. Ghosh is Assistant Secretary General, Ficci