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Access and Inclusion to Higher Education

With thanks to the Bridge Project at the South Asian University for inviting me to talk about this, here are my pre talk notes. 

Opening Remarks: 

Access to Higher Education is a game changer, we know. It triggers an inter generational shift in welfare, and has a multiplier effect to its home regions. Students know that, sponsors know that. This is why we want to get more and more students into Higher Education. Our biggest enemy is the thought or goal of mediocrity for the masses. This underestimates the strength we have. 

Payoffs: 

The biggest payoff is first generation learners – which is where our efforts should be concentrated. This is where we must make sure that the RoI is not restricted to only the able and the strong – or to the dominant gender. In the UK, when the RoI on HE goes down, more women get into University, and men go for higher RoI opportunities. We, in India have reached that point in the MBA vs. Start Up conversation – but this is where the huge barriers lie – across gender and abilities. The highest RoI is not available to the less able – we make it harder for them. We have some wonderful examples in the Civil Services, they remain exceptions. 

Even when you don’t discriminate against, just being unaware of hurdles is bad enough. Inclusion is hard work, and in India we tend to make it easy for the able, the entitled, the ones who have it, rather than those who are less able – witness the overbridges for those who walk, and smooth flat roads for cars with engines which could have navigated the elevation with more ease. 

Excellence for All

We have the demand for higher education, we also have a lot of mediocre and utterly useless capacity which does not help our students at all. The good news is that we know excellence, and we test it globally. The bad news is that it is like the tip of an iceberg – barely visible, and not very helpful. What we need is to find the best, and ensure that every student is able to access excellence. Keeping excellence bottled up in some silo-ed institutions is very ungenerous. The Pandemic has taught us how to teach and learn beyond the closed off walls of a classroom. 

Entry to U is the most stressful phase of a student’s life: 

  1. Pass %age is an evil skew
  2. Finding the right place is an information lottery
  3. Excellence and Fit are not guaranteed – then what does your education assure you of…
  4. We have a large number of start ups helping students find their university, especially the ones abroad. There is so much we can do to create massive search and place exchange engines etc. 
  5. Funding – Scholarships are critical, especially for women, who can so easily be gainfully employed as housewives. The entry barrier to U has to be as low as the entry barrier to marriage.
     

The 4 major Questions

Soft Skills: 1. Most soft skills should have been practiced at schools. It is a shame that most of us are ill prepared to be independent adults when we enter HE 2. Embed in curriculum – Case Studies, Lifelong Learning.
Wrench – Twist then Pull – that is what life is!

Pivotal Skills – (i) Read the Room (ii) Recognise Needs (iii) Respond Appropriately (iv) Reprise for Value (v) Reward Self and Others

Covid Response Globally: We ran a survey with Leverage Edu, and we learnt that in a crisis, form matters more than function! Examinations matter, the Delivery matters. Inclusion matters – all good universities ensured that their students had devices and connectivity, of found ways to loan them. No student was abandoned in the crisis. 

We asked questions about six areas: Teaching and Learning, and Continuity (Purpose); Experience during the upheaval, and Support systems that were available or activated (People); and, Technology and Assessment (Process).

Gender Representation in HE: Reduce the entry barriers to HE (fund, enable, train, support, mentor) – make education cheaper and more rewarding than marriage. (risk) 

Mental Health in HE: (i) System vs Student (ii) Counsellors (iii) Train Faculty (iii) Sensitise Students (iv) Build support systems – eg Dharmshala  at college – open house, hot baths, clean beds for all students as refuge – NON JUDGEMENTAL SAFE SPACES

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