Covid 19 : Micro-level impact on Indian Higher Education

Developed or developing, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted widely on the economies at large, the outbreak is acute to the societal and economical consequences. This coronavirus pandemic has impelled the institutions to change their mode of education expeditiously, and it has left most of them unprepared. Many institutions are finding it challenging to offer quality content to the learners, this novel threat has made online learning more as a tool for managing the crisis and keeping track of the functioning rather than coming out with any contrivance or qualitative outcome for the time being. COVID-19 has made the online education need of the hour; how efficient the transition has been, is tough to analyze at present, it will be too early to scrutinize the outcome, we have been left to just wait and watch for the results. Whatever the outcome maybe, but one thing is for sure with the education industry, is that online education does not work well with a large section of learners, particularly with the disadvantaged section of the students under normal circumstances. And these are certainly not normal and usual at all.

1) Impact on Education Funding

Since the economy is under lockdown, it is losing on a mammoth of spots, this pandemic has assuredly taken a toll on the businesses and services. There may be a crisis of jobs for the new pass-outs, there will be many who will lose their jobs or businesses and this may lead to the brain-drain kind of situation. However, this area is very grey as of now as people will fear to settle and work abroad due to the global disturbance, this will highly be based on how soon our economy will be able to revive. The overall crunch of finances may hamper the research going on in the sectors other than healthcare. Healthcare is the prime concern for any nation at this point and India is no different. A major chunk of the government-treasury has been targeted towards the maintenance, advancement, and innovations of the medical and healthcare domain, and this is not appearing to be over soon. The government so far has not taken any decision on tax-relief either, they have come up with any other initiative to boost and incentivize education technology or skill-technology as such. Also, this pandemic has changed the face of the education system, it has shifted the system which majorly relies on physical classroom setup to an online one and the current GST rate of the online courses is 18%, this will impact the entire system to a great extent. Lack of scholarship funding schemes, no tax-credit for the corporates towards the expenses they incur to train the employees will make the area even more exposed. There is a lot to do and the government and private institutions both have to come up with some major plan of actions to minimize the impact this pandemic has tossed on the sector.

There is no denying that even after introducing several programs/schemes/policies to uplift the standard of the Indian Education system there still exists the scope to do much more. Indian Higher Education has been suffering already for years, and the outbreak of pandemic has even made the area critical and sensitive. India is already in the 3rd phase of the lockdown, although the regular classes have been substituted with the online classes still there is a lot which is at a miss. There are several inter-dependent areas to this sector which will bore the after-effect of this lockdown. Stock market losses could significantly affect philanthropy and other finances impending towards the institutions. The outlined risks are impacting nearly all colleges and universities, although the magnitude of risk will depend largely on factors such as geography, number of out-of-state and international students, and mix of programs and funding sources. Potential Job losses and income reductions may make the financial aids and grants insufficient for the upcoming year and this may create additional financial pressure on the institutions to make up for the shortfall. Funding online education and programs may get a lot of attention, as this may be the next big shift in the education sector. Institutions that can further rationalize the funds into online investments  and it will likely be better positioned to survive and generate revenue, and needless to say to reduce expenses in the years to come.

2) Technological Impact on Higher Education

The availability of resources/technology and the accessibility of the same are two different aspects. The literacy rate here, plays a great role as the usage of these tools and techniques need a certain level of articulacy. As the internet is relatively new in India, there still exists a gap that is difficult to bridge. Smartphones, laptops, and the internet are not new for today’s India but still, there is a very small portion of the population who is aware, skilled, and competent to use these available resources for academic purposes. The same goes with the institutes as well, there are very few institutions and academic centers in India who are equipped enough to function its curriculum on, online mode.

Tools & Techniques like audio-books, presentations, e-learning along with the platforms like ZOOM, Google Classroom, Hangout meets, WhatsApp/phone learning has definitely helped the sector to keep going. Apart from this Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Machine Learning has the power to change the scene. Platforms like Skill-share are coming with advancement and with a motive of skill development and personality enhancement which should not be compromised by staying behind the 4-walls. Digital devices have made the penetration easy but the expenses attached to it, is still a challenge to meet in India. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for learning are already gibberish, these advancements have given the power to function even after being in an emergency for this long. We need to learn and practice the optimum implications of these technological advancements to cope up with the situation and to deal with future threats. India is the 2nd largest market for smartphones, immediately next to China with over 220 million active users, so the internet and data usage will not remain a massive challenge in the future. Learning is no more confined to a particular source or channel, now we do have multiple mediums to explore and exploit, the learning management system (LMS) can be considered a good example of this, it helps students to log in and access the course material. Similar to this the Synchronous Learning method allows real-time engagement while Asynchronous learning offers more flexibility. Various websites and platforms have enabled the learners to delve into the medium of their choice and have given them the edge to choose, verify, and grasp. This learning is not only confined to the curriculum rather it opens the horizon of gaining knowledge and has given a sky big aspect to the learning process as a whole. One can easily learn and look into other facets of education after all, in the modern world it’s not only the bookish knowledge that keeps you apart. Grooming oneself with the vocational courses and other interests is the demand of the time, as students are taking interest in learning different languages.    

3) Impact of Internationalization

COVID-19 has proven to be an unprecedented challenge to the education industry and is certainly going to affect internationalization at various levels. India is the 2nd largest source country for international students globally, just after China. Intensity to what extent it may affect the education sector can only be identified once the situation will be settled into a definite state. Lockdown and Pandemic may make it a reality that- rather than going to places to study and avail the exposure, the campus (virtual campuses) may approach the learners. There may be a humongous rise in online and virtual classes, study-abroad plans of the students may be kept on hold or they may be compelled to reconsider the prospect altogether. As the situation may remain like this for a few upcoming years, students may opt to study closer to their home or staying domestic may be the new trend. Institutions may have a cat-race to come out with low-cost quality education and the universities may come-up with additional specifically designed courses to attract students at a global platform. Studying abroad may not be considered as fancy as it is today. Post-lockdown there may arise a need to encourage the Indian institutions to have their establishments in foreign land and attract more world-class education institutions to have their centres in our homeland. Also, partnering with institutions abroad may become the pressing priority, at the same time a platter full of faculties from different diaspora could be a new thing. The navigation and interconnectedness of global education could be seminal to keep the education system going, the role of educators and those who impart education may get re-defined. As per a study by the Internationalization of higher education research (IHE) team at Manipal, 7 out of 10 students have already dropped the idea of studying abroad. Institutions may come up with an increased number of seats to meet the newfound increase in the number of applicants. The institutions may need to place and position themselves differently, attaining global ranking may not be the target for many institutions as the parameters to judge may shift to a great extent. The physical classroom may also encounter the conversion and may turn into a fully/ partially or hybrid online classroom to maximize its reach. Faith and confidence can only be gained at an international platform by expanding national education capacity, enhancing public services, developing a globalized workforce, and building mutual trust between nations. However, the low living expenses, unique indigenous cultural, traditional offering, cultural and religious diversity can act as a catalyst and may perform as a “pull factor” for the internationalization of Indian higher education.

4) Impact on Employability

The world was expecting a recession for the current financial cycle and the COVID pandemic has stamped it even deeper on the financial aspects of the economies across the globe. No country has been spared from this novel virus, nations as capable and flourished as The United Nations, UK, Italy, Spain have been facing the burns. India being a developing nation has emerged as an ardent, as far as the fight against the virus is concerned. In Fact we are efficiently serving as a pharmacy to several economies, India is running in the 3rd phase of the lockdown and it has steadily affected many sectors. There are several small/young entrepreneurs, manufacturing units of small and medium scale, vendors, labors, domestic help who has been majorly hit by the lockdown. Every organization/institution has different suffering and thus have different ways to deal with the prevailing issues, many have been terminated from the job, facing the salary slash and many have to sacrifice their salaries for a couple of months or so. The young learners who have completed their degrees in the recent past session must be facing challenges at various levels, the lockdown has already eaten up the existing jobs and services, and organizations are already struggling to manage their existing manpower. Employment at the time, where both products-based and service-based sectors are scuffling for their mere survival, employability could be the hindmost aspect to think for many. The volume of average annual packages, volume of overall hiring, skilled workers, the entire recruitment process, mode of work, technology usage, everything is possibly going to witness a shift in the general working sphere. The industry may face a stagnant phase as an after-effect of the lockdown, sectors will take their own time to revive their function and reassure their revenue generation. The delay and suspension of regular jobs and employment may push and compel the prospect earners to seek other ways of earning and this may lead to the evolution of various new job capacities. For example, nowadays an engineer or one who is gadgets and technology savvy can earn by putting the information and product reviews over various media and social channels. So, this crisis may give birth to a new era of employability, after all, it’s an old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention”. Also, job seekers can utilize this lockdown phase to brush-up their skills and brainstorm their core strengths. Job seekers may formulate a planner for themselves to channelize the leeway time productively, it will also help them prepare for the post-lockdown phase. The future employees can make a list of their interests and then shortlist the prospect professions on that basis, later they can choose for the courses available over various sources to sharpen the skills and it will ultimately give them an edge.  

5) Impact on Enrollment

There is already a delay in the session and as of now, the new sessions have been declared to commence from the 1st August 2020, the mid-term exams have been kept on hold and in many institutions the authority is yet to take the decision on this. The inability to make up the financial aids parallel to the set targets to the sector may result in enrollment shortfalls, governments may encounter challenging decisions as they try to mitigate or suppress COVID-19 outbreaks. These may have a direct impact on enrolment, we are already navigating in the unprecedented crisis, when and where to enroll can be the next big question. A boom in educational counsellors and enrollment specialists/agents/centres could be a new prospect business. There may be fewer visits to the campuses and people will look for more alternatives, faculty and non-teaching workforce may experience a surge in the workload. Students planning to take the admissions for higher studies may consider the option of dropping the year and diverting their time and resources to enhance their other employability skills with various online courses and consultations. The families, students, and faculty can unite and implement a plan-of-action to minimize the impact of coronavirus on enrollment. 

Institutions along with its workforce should come at the forefront and take the charge by preparing itself with various measures to establish an environment of acceptance, assuredness, and conclusiveness. The program can be introduced by initiating protocols for screening and sanitizing the premises, launching hygiene practice campaigns, up-grading and promoting e-learning/ online learning practices, and up-scaling distance learning programs. Later, recovery can be managed by putting the adjustment with the academic calendar (which certainly needs more clarity from the government and other decision-making bodies in due course of time). Collective effort and redundancy measures can help in the disposition of effective policies to the domain