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A University disrupted and Learning 2.0

A State exercises control over its people, administers public policy, exercises executive, political and sovereign power through customs, institutions, and laws within it. This process could be democratic, aristocratic, or even autocratic. Political processes have a vice like grip on the delivery side. Hence can be left disaggregated and delayed in execution. On the contrary, a private organisation is answerable to stake holders in a more linear fashion and is accountable to delivery in a more direct way. Transparency could be a concern in both forms, difference being, that responsibility of failure could be lost in a long winding alley of the government. A private entity being autonomous, could create checks and balances required, on the fly and implement them for immediate results. An effective leader is the key in both forms of governance.

A university also created to function autonomously, like a State, is However, stuck in a labyrinth of rules that render the effectiveness futile. Read any university Act. The futility will be obvious. The problem is complex since a university is not only an administration but also deals with academics of young and has the responsibility of shaping their future. Universities are not examination houses. Over the years, what has our universities delivered other than degrees and diplomas? A host of administrative problems, like faculty vacancies, petty fights within departments and faculty, one-upmanship, and corruption have all broken the back of our universities. Academics is not even mentioned except conduct of examinations. Had it been just administration, we could have had career bureaucrats at the helm. Is it time we discarded the University Act and even the current definitions attributed to a university?  If we want to see an education system of 21st century, vibrant and meeting the aspirations of its students, is it not necessary to disrupt the very idea of a university? Let’s look at learning 2.0 and the future of a disrupted university.

Most people believe that innovation takes place in a laboratory, a research facility or in the garage of a “really smart” person. That is all true, However, innovation is a skill that can be taught and, if managed well, become the culture of an organization or a university, through a process called innovation by design or design thinking, often used interchangeably, any organization or a university can develop break-through ideas and products that provide sustaining or disruptive innovation in the market.

Do we really need universities anymore? What if they ran out of customers? Google announced it is hiring employees without college degrees, and Ernst & Young made a similar decision in the U.K. last fall. Both organizations see less value in a traditional college degree. If the value of a university is challenged, it is time we sat up to think.

Learning 1.0 was treated as if all knowledge was singular, stable and simply solvable. This mentality and technology just couldn’t crack the code of quality and we are today where we are. Technology has fundamentally disrupted higher education. This is a cliché; it is also by now absolutely true. This is because no one, parents, politicians or pundits, can talk today about a college education without at least mentioning some form of online learning. Whether we like to admit it or not, such technological developments have seeped deep into our culture psyche. In as much as saying that technology must be used, we also need to evaluate the success of interventions like massive online open courses. Adaptive learning, competency-based education, or whatever the latest and shiniest technological gizmo may be for learning 2.0 to succeed. However, it is still completely unclear, for example, whether students, universities or employers will embrace courses, credits and credentials which are stackable and portable. A model of education must not undermine the vision of liberal arts education embedded in the heart of the college experience.

A university disrupted, must be re-engineered, a meeting place of academic Gods of various expertise and erudition, a centre of pure academics devoid of political overtones among all its stake holders, a centre for promoting skills by experiential learning, a centre for productization through IPR’s, patents, a complete modern technologically superior, smart and green campus and one that promotes lifelong learning. A university 2.0 must be re-christened “Temple of Wisdom”. The goals obviously are enumerated in such a definition.

Who can possibly head such a temple of wisdom? Can he be an academician, with a doctorate earned from a university that we are seeking to redefine, should he be below a certain age, should he have a certain number of papers published in so called reputed journals, or is a defined professor for so many years, or even a good communicator, or a sort of wheeler-dealer who has the skills to keep various groups together, or at bay, or should he be a career administrator with a certain number of years of heading departments of value? Would he have to be an industrialist, a CEO of a profit-making company? Or would it suffice if he were to be a jack of all trades?

Ideally, a worldly wise individual, one who understands the vagaries of life, one who is well versed with modern practices of academics, one who is a visionary, one who could pitch the organization as equal among the top hundred in the business, one who has the wherewithal to deliver, one who understands true research and various facets of research, one who has the passion to compete and win, one who understands and handles the temple of wisdom as ethical business, one who respects human resources, understands marketing, sales and all the buzz words of industry, one who is a true leader who can prevail upon people to change old mind-sets of faculty and teachers entrenched in the current system, one who can inspire talented people to join education, one who can transform age old education systems and dogmas into a vibrant education industry, one who can influence and galvanise the students to not just think but think BIG, one who understands technology as a bridge to cover all administrative fallacies, and one who is humble, noble and ethical would be the candidate to look for to lead the change, for today’s children are tomorrows global citizens.

A person cannot be expected to run with hands and feet tied. Hence it is imperative that an enabling ecosystem is created for learning 2.0 to thrive. The Acts by which universities are governed are archaic and must be discarded. A structure that has a senate at the top, management councils, executive councils, faculties, boards following, are all counterproductive and blatantly political in hue and colour. In the name of democratic processes, we have traded, for far too long, academics for politics. Elections which are glaringly political must not have a place in learning pursuits. A simple two-page do’s and don’ts must replace our elaborately drawn Acts. An advisory group of eminent individuals from various fields could act as an umbrella think tank that could set the mile stones for the leader to follow and execute to deliver with all administrative functions taken over by high end technology. The moot question However, is, can we disrupt the university system and make a productive transition to learning 2.0?

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