C. N. Ashwathnarayan Minister for Higher Education; IT & BT, Science & Technology; Skill Development, Entrepreneurship & Livelihood, GoK


C. N. Ashwathnarayan Minister for Higher Education; IT & BT, Science & Technology; Skill Development, Entrepreneurship & Livelihood, GoK

With the National Education Policy being rolled out in Karnataka as a pilot, and Karnataka poised to be a chosen destination for higher education in India, even as it is attracting a considerable international s t u d e n t c o m m u n i t y,Shubha Srikanth talks to Dr. C N Ashwathnarayan, Minister for Higher Education; IT & BT, Science & Technology; S k i l l D e v e l o p m e n t , Entrepreneurship & Livelihood Government of Karnataka on how HEIs are gearing up to make the teaching-learning process inclusive and holistic.

Sir, you are holding multiple portfolios. Perhaps Karnataka is the only state with such a synergy of portfolios.

Undoubtedly. This places Karnataka in a position of great advantage. As you can see these sectors are interdependent and complementary. It becomes easier for one core team to address the concerns of one other and bring about synergy. Here policy makers, educationists and industry leaders can meet on a single platform, express and understand one another’s concerns and thereby resolve and fix gaps.

F or instance, industry leaders spell out areas for improvement in students graduating, or their expectations and requirements. At the same time, HEIs can request industry involvement at the graduate and post-graduate level. The government can then take measures and formulate policies for skill development and apprise HEIs to address these gaps and support them in the process.
Karnataka was chosen to implement the NEP pilot project. That speaks volumes about how Karnataka Education Department and the Karnataka HEIs are gauged in terms of their capabilities and strengths and adaptability. After 34 years the honorable prime minister rolled out NEP to address the new age requirements. This policy is transformative and forward looking even as it addresses the lacuna of the current education system.

I must say, that the HEIs are doing a commendable job, going the extra mile, in transitioning towards NEP implementation as well as adapting to the blended education model. Although tremendous effort is required by all stakeholders -- management, faculty members and students, Karnataka HIEs, I am sure will provide a model for other states of the country to follow and emulate.

What challenges are institutions facing in implementing NEP?

To implement NEP, the scale and depth of transformation required is massive. As in any change of this stature, there are bound to be apprehensions, resistance and initial hiccups. Added to this is the pandemic disruptions that we were already facing. As we are well aware the education sector faced an unprecedented challenge. However, technology has helped us. And the entire education ecosystem pitched in, in a big way to provide, seamless and unhindered teaching and learning.

Challenges per se are about how NEP should be taken forward, the process of translating what is written on paper at ground zero. A lot of effort and time is being spent by the education department and the HEIs to make NEP a reality.

Over the past year and a half GoK, Higher Education Council, universities and institutions have been proactive in training the teachers so they are apprised of the mechanism and structure of NEP and the methodology to implement. I must say the process of implementation has picked up pace and all stakeholders are doing all that is necessary.

What should HEIs focus on in the forthcoming years?

As always, quality learning and holistic learning is the expected ultimate outcome. Students must be empowered and given opportunities for life and not just for exams. Since the new policy is not a fit-for-all structure, HEIs must make the most of the flexibility offered, to cater to each student’s aptitude and passion. Learning should become a way of life. Joy of learning must be instilled to help realise each student’s dream, ambition and aspiration. Every institution therefore should build the resources and support system to fulfill the primary stakeholder, the student’s aspirations.

To bridge the gap between theory and practice, education institution and industry collaboration is critical. I urge all HEIs to invite industry leaders to interact with students, to give students the opportunity for hands-on learning and exposure to real-life case studies. Amassing knowledge alone is not sufficient. The value of knowledge is only in its innovative application and trouble shooting in real life situations. And most importantly, the knowledge should be utilized for ecological sustainability social welfare.

Our HEIs are very strong in imparting technical knowledge. The focus for HEIs should henceforth be on imparting essential life skills such as, emotional maturity, crisis management, out-of-the box thinking, lateral thinking, communication, inter-personal relationship management, group dynamics, adaptability.

Besides, we are envisioning, to make all HEIs autonomous in the coming decade. I urge HEIs to work towards becoming capable of functioning autonomously. They would want to upgrade themselves in terms of infrastructure, technology infrastructure, technical knowhow, laboratories, top-notch teaching faculty, an able administrative staff, etc.

How i s t h e gove r n m e n t supporting the existing HEIs and in starting new ones in other cities of Karnataka?

As you are aware GoK has begun to implement the ‘Beyond Bengaluru’ initiative of KDEM (Karnataka Digital Economy Mission) to take IT and BT clusters to other cities and towns of Karnataka. In the same vein, to support these initiatives, we want to strengthen the HEIs in cities like Mysuru, Mangaluru, Hubli-Dharwad, Shivamogga, Tumkuru, Kalburgi among others so as to ensure availability of local talent pool.

These cities are poised to thus grow in terms of employment generation. Like I mentioned, synergy between government, academic and industry is vital to make Karnataka a hub for innovation, investment and start-ups, and then automatically job opportunities will flow. The government is spinning out and implementing conducive policies to create a robust ecosystem for the same

Every effort is being made to strengthen HEIs. Thousands of teachers across the state, be it from Bellary, Hassan or Udupi have been trained. The department has tied up with ed-tech companies and other IT giants to provide online as well as offline training free of cost to students in towns and cities of Karnataka to prep for national level competitive exams

Importantly, I think the entire community of a city or town must be involved in building and sustaining educational institutions. The citizens of the city/town must invest faith in the HEIs of their own city/town. The brain drain from other cities/towns to Bengaluru must be arrested. In this direction we are doing our best to support the ecosystem.

What skill gaps should HEIs focus on to make students employment-ready?

That’s right. Despite all the strengths of our student community, from what I hear from industry leaders, there are certain gaps that HEIs are in a great position to bridge.

We are today operating in a multi-cultural, international environment. So, cultural sensitivity through enhanced knowledge of different geographies and cultures should be offered. Being proficient in a language is no longer sufficient. Karnataka has a large student base that is proficient in English. But that does not automatically make them excellent communicators. A work-force with effective communication skills, no matter the language one speaks, is the need according to industry leaders.

Besides, empathy, emotional management, leadership qualities, change management,s t r e ss management, work-life balance, group dynamics, creative thinking, entrepreneurship mindset are essential skills that must be imparted by HEIs.

While talking about the e n t re p re n e u r i a l m i n d s e t , Karnataka is leading by example.

Karnataka is producing more unicorns than any other state and is at the forefront of innovation in finance, information and technology and bio technology, science, etc.

Yes, Bengaluru has the maximum number of unicorns in the country. One third of the country’s unicorns are in Bengaluru -- nearly 16 unicorn, CRED, Udaan, Meesho, Big Basket, Groww to mention a few. Not to leave out the innumerable successful startups from all over Karnataka. All the more reason for HEIs to encourage entrepreneurial mindset and internships through collaboration with industry leaders and mentors. And above all encourage students to explore and nurture their passion and creative skills. HEIs once again play a key role in providing students exposure to global best practices, identifying and filling skill gaps, catering to industry requirements, and skill centric awareness building which will make students industry-ready and future ready.