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Digital University: Stackable & interoperable credits–making Indian higher education truly flexible

As we near the budget session for the year 2023-24, education sector awaits an increase in allocation moving towards 6% of GDP, as recommended in Nation Education Policy 2020 (NEP).

Given India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) target of 50 per cent by the year 2035, one big focus area for the government should be in making higher education more broad-based and outcome oriented. NEP 2020 talks about how higher education should be flexible for students. It recommends a multiple entry and exit system, transcending the boundary of time for completion. It has led to the creation of an academic bank of credit (ABC), wherein students can vault those credits they had earned during their academic journey and build on it later (in case discontinue before completion of a degree program) – when they choose to continue. The fundamental tenet of such a system will be the ability to stack up individual credits.

While the concept is simple and forward looking, making it happen needs a deeper thinking of the education system. NEP suggests exit paths annually – so any tenure less than a year would not yield a formal recognition. Very soon, even this constraint may have to be relaxed. Hence, the more logical way would be to have a stack of these individual academic courses / credits in ABC which could lead to a formal recognition of credit courses taken.

To begin with, the curriculum needs to be designed to have a format where the credit courses could make sense on a) on a standalone basis, and b) when they are stacked in a certain pre-agreed fashion. Some refer to these stack of credits – which are not a diploma or degree – as nano-degree or micro-degree. There should be a provision for such nano-degrees to be stacked to become a formal degree program. Such an arrangement will give full flexibility for the student to learn at her/his own pace.

There are other advantages in such a learning program – apart from the freedom in time dimension. The degree courses will be purposeful. Players outside the formal education system can also contribute. For example, some industry led courses can be introduced in the stack of learning. Also, each student can decide on the combination that will best suit their natural strength and interest. The higher education value chain, thus, gets disaggregated and the institution that teaches need not be the one that will finally award the degree.

The digital university announced in the previous budget can well become the platform in which such a model can be launched. This would mean the digital university would play the role of the institution that will formulate ground rules to identify and recognize such stackable courses that can become a nano-degree and eventually a diploma or degree. The digital university should have the provision to bank and stack credit courses so recognized. It should also define the nomenclatures for such nano/regular degree programs and, also define possibilities for further education.

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