Dr. Parag Diwan Interview: Higher Education During COVID19 and Beyond!


Going forward, most academic institution will undergo digital transformation process. Critical functions like the student life-cycle management followed by allied academic activities such as online attendance taking, dynamic timetabling, and student teaching learning experience would be digitally enhanced.

In a conversation with CollPoll team, Dr. Parag Diwan talks about impact of COVID19 on higher education, how technology will play an important role, building high-quality long-lasting institutions and much more.

Dr. Diwan is the CEO of Paradigm Consulting and Resource Management Pvt. Ltd. In the past, he has held several academic leadership positions such as President & CEO – New Initiatives Great Lakes Education Group, Founder Vice ChancellorUniversity of Petroleum and Energy Studies, and Founder Director of AIMA – Centre for Management Education, among others.

Education is going through a paradigm shift. What major changes do you foresee in the coming months?

Online delivery of education will be one of the biggest changes that would be embraced by most of the educational institutions. Currently, due to emergent situation because of the pandemic, educational Institutions have cobbled together various tools and technologies to deliver education to their stranded students. However, going forward they will have to finalize on optimal systems and deeply integrate them within their processes. This will lead to much more enhanced digital learning experience.

New Education Policy (NEP) has already considered provisions for online education. It allows inclusion of MOOCs in Programmes offered by physical institutions. The content creators and aggregators have started creating more India-centric content which can be readily adopted by Indian Institutions. On one side, we have standard courses such as Environmental Studies and Indian Constitution, Value and Ethics et al. On the other side there are highly specialised courses such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Smart Cities etc. At both end of the spectrum, online curriculum could be developed and delivered.

Most education institutions were shying away from investing in technology earlier but going forward ed-tech will be deeply entrenched in education. The economies of scale will be achieved by leveraging technology in the future.

Many reputed institutions have received mentorship from your organisation. Tell us a little about Paradigm Consultants & Resource Management.

Paradigm Consulting and Resource Management engages with institutions of higher learning in many ways. We offer our advice in greenfield University projects by building their project report, right financial models, academic frameworks and processes. With existing Institutions, we focus on creating next 5 year strategic road-maps, aligning Industry 4.0 requirements for increasing student’s employability, quality assurance & consciousness, and digital transformation, among others.

Technology has been around for a long time but very few institutions have adopted it systematically. Do you see technology becoming part of education permanently? Or will this surge go away as things get back to normal?

I come from experience of building UPES, where technology was one of the key drivers, and even today the university is ahead of most of the other institutions in progressive use of technology. We had introduced enterprise-scale technologies back then when they were unheard of in India.

Going forward, every function of an education Institution will adopt digital processes, most critical of them being the student life-cycle management followed by academic activities such as online attendance, dynamic timetabling and enhancement of student experience.

Most institutions will have cash flow issues in the short-term because of the COVID-19 situation. Hence, they will be very careful in making any large investments in immediate plans. However, larger Institutions who have the financial stability will surely take decision towards advanced technology adoption. I think, in the next 2 to 3 years, almost all the education Institutions whether small or large will go through digital transformation and would have adopted technology in an integrated way.

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Dr. Parag Diwan at CollPoll HQ

You have been a champion of technology at institutions you have led. What are some of the key challenges you faced? And how did you overcome them?

There are two key challenges I see. Firstly, the promoting group of an institution needs to be convinced of the return on the investment (ROI). Secondly, there is a huge issue of Change Management. There are a lot of old-school faculty members and administrators in senior positions who have never used technology earlier. They put a spanner in the wheel by bringing up sometimes imaginary regulatory issues with online education. They fear losing their control and power with democratization of processes and information.

To overcome these challenges, we have to first build a robust financial model showing a definite return on investment to the promoter group. For example, show how these interventions will help them scale without investing in new buildings or improve employability of students culminating in better placement records, among other benefits.

Once the promoters are convinced, we must build an action plan targeting the low-hanging fruits. Small early wins can help change the mindset and encourage everyone to be more positive about technology adoption.

They say “Rome was not built in a day”. What will be your advice to leaders who want to build high-quality, long-lasting institutions?

To build a high-quality, long lasting education institution, we have to stay focused on the core three pillars – Teaching-learning Process, Student Experience and Research.

  1. They must invest in good faculty members, and continuously train & engage them. Many institutions restrict their faculty members with decades-old practices which have been there since the early days. These must be discontinued with and academic freedom must be given. Empowering faculty members with digital tools is very important. Institutions often invest heavily in buildings, but without good teachers there is no substance in those buildings.

  2. Specially at private Institutions, they must treat students in the same special way businesses would treat their customers. Beyond the academics, every single experience for the student – be it hostels, transportation, fees payments or the extracurricular activities, must be well thought out. Students should not be running pillar to post to get their work done. Student self-service portals with automated work-flows can be valuable here.

  3. Once the teaching-learning and the student experience part is sorted which in itself takes some time, Institutions should start investing in Research. Most good accreditation and ranking bodies give high weightage to research activities.

    I have seen in the past, if you have good teaching staff and are providing employable students to the industry, industry will automatically start supporting the institution in its research activities.