The campus is an enterprise

By : |June 7, 1999 0

Campus—the new enterprise

India follows a centralized system of institution management, i.e. all schools are
required to be affiliated to either a national or state-level board of education, and
colleges must be affiliated to the local university. The sheer volume of data that has to
be managed in co-ordinating the member institutions can be mind-boggling. Universities
resemble large companies with multiple branch offices and tens of thousands of employees.
Unfortunately, the resemblance ends there. If corporates are skimpy on IT spending, there
is hardly any at all in the case of educational institutions.

Potential for IT usage

There is tremendous potential for increasing IT usage in the campus. Currently, it is
limited to financial management and maintaining student records on standalone PCs. This is
not very encouraging. The process of evaluating question papers and entering the scores
into the database is a manual one. It is often the case that reports are erroneously
recorded, or are tampered. The obvious time-tested solution would be to use OCR forms.
This is not something new. State-level entrance exams for professional courses have been
using these for many years now. However, when it comes to formal education, the
powers-that-be believe that only ‘long answers’ is acceptable. What do we need
first — a better system or a new mindset?

The academic year that just ended was a watershed year. It was the first to see the ICSE/ISC, CBSE, and
some State boards put up exam scores on the Web. If the evaluation process was
computerized, the results could be available within a day or two after the examination! At
present, students wait for about three months for the big day.

                                 

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It is important that all colleges affiliated to a university be networked to each
other, and to the university itself. Since a dedicated network would be too expensive to
set up, it would make sense to use the Internet instead. Information about courses,
departments, students, and events must be made available on the Web. This will not only
make it easier for people to find information quickly, but will boost efficiency
internally and bring transparency into the system. Incidentally, the only known network
linking educational institutions in India is the Education and Research Network (ERNET).
It has as its members elite institutions such as IISC, the IITs, BITS (Pilani), etc. At
the other end of the spectrum, we have websites like that of the well-acclaimed Birla Institute of Technology (Mesra).

The Virtual University Initiative

Even as universities are struggling to implement IT solutions, the Indira Gandhi National
Open University’s (IGNOU) Virtual University Initiative has made giant
leaps in this direction. Started approximately a year ago, it has over 3000 students
already. The university offers BCA, MCA, and diploma courses on the Internet. The course
material can be downloaded off the web, and is also distributed on CD-ROMs of popular
magazines like PC Quest and Computers@Home. Interaction with professors and mentors is in
online chat rooms, and weekly lectures are conducted at specified teleconferencing centers
at select cities. This great initiative promises to take the university to the desktops of
people who cannot possibly take a few years off to get a formal degree. Maybe someday,
this is how we’ll all study.

Bridging the gap

It is generally believed that there is a huge gap between what is expected of formal
education and what it really gives. This gap can be bridged if the curriculum incorporates
web-based research to supplement classroom-based training. The phenomenon of better
technology being available at lower prices every few months has been the force driving PCs
into homes and businesses. Computing is now an integral part of everybody’s life. Word
processing and spreadsheets must be taught at the school level, and college students must
graduate with more advanced skills in applied computer science. That is not the case right
now.

Not only classrooms, but offices too need to be revamped. Replacing the largely
prevalent paper-and-cabinet system by implementing IT-based solutions will not happen
overnight. The cost of gradual change will seem like a deterrent. However, the system will
pay for itself in terms of increased efficiency and reduced red-tapism. That’s a
great way to step into the new millennium.

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