Ensuring safety on our campuses when colleges reopen is of utmost importance: NIIT University's Rajendra S Pawar

We spoke to Rajendra S Pawar, Founder, NIIT University about how COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life including higher education and learning, what NIIT is doing to tackle the situation and more
Rajendra S Pawar, Founder, NIIT University| Pic: NIIT
Rajendra S Pawar, Founder, NIIT University| Pic: NIIT

Rajendra S Pawar founded NIIT University (NU) in 2009. In the decade since he admits to not having seen a situation like this. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this year NU’s convocation ceremony was conducted with the use of virtual reality. Virtual avatars were made for all students who received their degree at the convocation ceremony. NIIT is currently making strides towards shifting their classes online. Pawar spoke to us about how COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of life including higher education and learning, what NIIT is doing to tackle the situation and more.


How, according to you, will higher education change or look like in the post-COVID world?
There have been a lot of conversations about how higher education will change post-COVID. I feel these are philosophical conjectures at this point. The real issue I feel is ensuring the safety on our campuses when schools and colleges reopen. Bigger the campus, bigger will be the challenge as a large number of people coming in and out are exposed to multiple environments. That is to me actually the biggest risk and coping with it is the bigger challenge. I strongly believe that residential campuses have an advantage here since they can control the number of people coming in and out and thus create a safe bubble for their students and faculty members.

What plans do you have for NIIT University in the current context — how will make sure the campus is safe for students to return?
The residential NIIT University, that is about 90 minutes away from Gurgaon, has an advantage both in terms of location and design. Over a decade back, when we conceptualised the University it was designed to be a fully residential green campus. Geo-thermal cooling or green air-conditioning is another unique design feature that we have pioneered at NU. This system moves air in long tunnels from 12 feet under the earth -cleans, washes and then circulates into the classroom, offices and hostels. Every room gets a continuous inflow of such fresh air which is then pushed out of the exhaust back into the atmosphere. This ensures all contaminants - particles, bacteria and viruses do not circulate in the room and get continually pushed out. In today’s times, we find it especially beneficial as the air is always fresh. As an educational institution committed to sustainable development, we took a leap in working with fresh air systems. This system brought dramatic changes in our Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and also reduced our University’s carbon footprint significantly. All hostels, offices and classrooms have greatly benefited from the fresh-air systems and it is of great importance during these testing times.

What are the challenges that have come to the fore as we are adapting to all things digital?
The COVID-19 situation has brought online learning to the fore. While it serves some purpose it has its limitations. Collaborative learning, that is so important, is impacted when we are teaching and learning online and not just the students but also the teachers are experiencing fatigue. The low level of engagement hinders learning for the students and they also experience boredom. The teachers on the other hand are not only challenged by technology but are also having to continually think of innovative ways to keep an online class engaged.

How has NIIT University prepared itself or preparing itself to adapt to the shift online?
I think the world has been shifting to digital for the past two decades, but COVID-19 has accelerated the phase and shown us that we are not ready. To deal effectively with this situation, we introduced NU Digital – a digital platform and much more. It provides easy access to all the required learning resources to students with single sign-on. We have integrated multiple platforms for this purpose which include industry-standard Learning Management system, Video conferencing system, Assessment management system, Virtual Lab, Digital library and academic ERP system. We ensure a holistic approach for digital teaching practices which go beyond just using an online video conferencing tool. It is a comprehensive approach to do everything with a digital mindset and in a digital fashion. NU Digital platform also has been expanded beyond teaching-learning to provide full campus experience including activities for various clubs (e.g. Photography, Dance, Drama, Literature, Debate etc., a total of 24 clubs). The platform will also provide rich collaboration features for students working on group projects.

(Pic: NIIT University website)

What are the kind of skills that would be given more importance after this sudden shift to digital? Which courses, programmes do you think will attract more students?

The world is becoming digital faster than it was pre-COVID and therefore having an orientation or a foundation which is digital is imperative for any professional today. No matter what your job role, you need to be well versed with digital methods and tools. Every profession is becoming digital. Whether you are a banker or a doctor working in a digital environment using digital practices has become important. And therefore, it's no surprise that there's a huge demand for subjects which have digital content, starting of course with computer science. And we have strong expertise in that area.  

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