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AIU 97th Annual General Meet and National Seminar of Vice Chancellors Meet

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Date(s) - 25/03/2022
9:30 am - 11:00 am

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Dr. Tandon spoke at 97th Annual General Meet and National Seminar on Realising SGDs Through HEIs organised by Association of Indian Universities (AIU) in partnership with United Nations. The seminar was hosted by University of Mysore, Mysuru on 25 March, 9.30-11am IST. Among the other distinguished speakers were Prof. Dinesh Singh (Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi), Dr. Vaidehi Vijayakumar (Vice Chancellor of Mother Teresa Women’s University, Kodaikanal).

Prof. Dinesh Singh said, ‘The idea of SDGs should be central to any knowledge enterprise’. The purpose of education is to allow each individual to discover the meaning/ purpose to his or her life. Youth across the world tend to get inspired and motivated when they are confronted with challenges of the society. They need to identify their antardhwani (inner resonance/ drum beat) and march in harmony of their drumbeat and in the process get educated. If we want to achieve the SDGs we must re-engineer, rebuild our curriculum around the same. Most importantly we need to give the students the freedom to design their own course that is to say that the students must be enabled to identify and work on an issue that is very close to his/ her heart. We need to foster that spirit. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 incorporates enough freedom, it is up to us to grab that freedom and make the best of it.

Dr. Tandon began by highlighting the three mandates/ foundational pillars of the NEP 2020 that provides a particular relevance to ‘inclusion’ in HE. First is the idea of flexible curriculum. Endorsed Prof. Dinesh Singh’s comment on designing one’s own curriculum, he added that we need to provide multi- modal entry points while rebuilding and re-engineering the curriculum. It becomes all the more important given the diversity of young population in India.

The second distinctive feature of NEP 2020 is that of linking life- long learning and HE. He prefers to call it ‘life- wide’ learning. Historically, lifelong learning framework has been restricted to adult education and literacy, but in the last few years and especially during the pandemic, we have seen how young people are developing professional interests, careers, opportunities where they need to invest in learning. Our higher education system should be such that it enables and include these people in the framework of lifelong learning. They need to come back to learning which is determined by their own interests and their contexts.

The third distinctive principle of NEP 2020 is calling for global citizenship. Our information technology today has made access to information and development around the world relatively instant and easy. However, our appreciation of the world, the diversity, the heritage and so on, has been a weak when students grow up and become young adults.

The World Higher Education Conference (WHEC) 2022 and UNESCO Experts Group on SDG’s and HEIs have made three recommendations: first, a stronger and continuous engagement of the societal actors. Higher education should not be restricted within the boundaries of the campuses, libraries, laboratories. It should be in continuous and regular engagement with other societal actors – the communities, the industries, the local governments and son on. Once we engage with societal actors, our focus shifts to societal challenges and opportunities. Therefore, the learning in HE begins to move towards finding solutions and innovations for the same.

The second recommendation is that we must acknowledge that HEIs are only one site of knowledge and a very privileged site. We must understand that knowledge also resides in other sites such as the community, local organisations, in farmer groups, in women groups and in particularly in our indigenous and tribal communities throughout the country. The Expert Group has recommended diverse ways of knowing and fostering epistemic dialogue and not limiting ourselves to the epistemology of modern science. This recommendation also resonates with the recent UNESCO recommendation on Open Science. In the November 2021, UNESCO along with 193 members countries including our own, agreed to a recommendation on Open Science. The first time in the definition and framework of Open Science, UNESCO is appealing to us to bring in multiple ways of knowing – knowing from experience, knowing from practice, knowledge derived from generations of practice, knowledge in the communities. We must build on that knowledge and not negate or exclude it. Indigenous knowledge and the knowledge of our communities on water, land, forest and other life forms have been an important source of living in harmony with our planet. It is the most important challenge for all the young people as they grow up into a world which is going to be increasingly distressed through climate change.

The third recommendation is the inter and trans disciplinary ways of producing and teaching knowledge. We need to find ways by which students of engineering, for instance, can interact on issues of sociology, community development and vice versa.

He concluded by emphasising on the four key ideas on SGD 4 (Quality Education). Inclusion is not only about enrolment of different ethnic groups. Inclusion is about opening the possibility of learning in different ways – learning from, in and with society. A recent mandate of UGC on Fostering Social Responsibility and Community Engagement is one of the ways in which learning from, in and with the society will be taken forward by UGC in the current academic year. The second idea underlying the idea of SDG is supportive partnership with local actors –local governments, local communities, local schools and so on. Higher education students and faculty must develop a relationship so that while they learn, they also begin to address and work towards solving the societal problems.

The third key idea is about investing in life- long learning of teachers and trainers because teachers are the anchor in facilitating learning, they must endorse a more interactive way of teaching and facilitate group-based learning building on local knowledge. Local knowledge, as we all know, resides in local culture, language and practices. Therefore, one of the critical issues in ‘inclusion’, going forward, will be to find ways to learn from local culture and practices and integrate the same in our curriculum.

Lastly, he emphasised on the idea of educating body, heart and mind together. Our values, our norms and our principles are the ones which will take us through the life while our competencies and skills will be the vehicle on which we ride.

Dr. Vaidehi Vijaykumar said that the three pillars of sustainable development are economic viability, social equity and environmental protection. The major role of HEIs is production of knowledge relevant to the SDGs and enable students to address global challenges. We have to make our students industry ready graduates. In order to ensure inclusive and quality technical and professional education, there must be societal interaction relevant to the SDGs and the focus of research should be on producing new knowledge for transforming and developing curriculum, teaching and interaction with society through skill (trans)formation.

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