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Last week I was privileged to attend a special event on continuing education hosted by Indian Semiconductor Association (ISA). The presenters included the Vice-Chancellor of UC Berkeley (Frank Yeary), Dean of Continuing and Distance Education (Dr. Diana Wu), Gujarat Technological University’s (GTU) Vice Chancellor (Dr. Akshai Aggarwal), Seer Akademi’s Srikanth Jadcherla, and Stanford University’s Asia Pacific Research Center head (Dr. Rafiq Dossani) who was presenting remotely from California.

Every year, India enrolls about 1.5 million people in engineering. Very soon, we will have 15 million people accumulated in the technical work force. 90% of this workforce will have only a bachelors degree, unable to rise up the career ladder and unable to exit laterally due to the current regulatory regime of higher education. We have nothing short of a demographic time bomb in the white-collar segment ahead of us. In United States, continuing education is what enables people move up the value chain, helping them make lateral entries into related fields and to keep up with recent trends and technologies.

Stanford’s Dossani seemed the most educated about the trends and state of Indian education. He presented some depressing insights that set the context for why the Indian higher education system needed a serious upgrade. The biggest difference between the American and Indian education systems is the teaching style. On average, Indian engineering students spend 30 hours/week compared to 25 for American students. 58% of Indian students’ time is spent listening to lectures – the corresponding percentage for American students is 15%. American students spend 40% of the time (and Indian students spend a mere 3%) working on group projects. The duration of self-directed work by American students is also much higher than that for Indian students. Dossani believes that these differences are the main reason why Indian students score Low and American students score High on the key measure of Application of Technical Concepts.

Against this backdrop, it was exciting to hear that UC Berkeley, a public American university with 125 academic departments and 48 out of its 52 graduate departments in the Top 10, is bringing its continuing education programs to India. UC Berkeley’s continuing education program got its start in 1891 (that’s right! 120 years ago) through a public lecture in San Francisco. Today, Berkeley Continuing Education offers 80 professional certificates and 1600+ instructors make up their faculty. In India, education policy is predominantly a “state subject” on the “concurrent list” which means that both the central government have a role and no state has been visionary enough to permit foreign university brands to establish a presence in India.Partly to work around India’s policy restrictions and, perhaps more importantly, riding an early trend in higher education, Berkeley has partnered with Seer Akademi, a platform leader that brings any world-class instructor to any classroom in India.

Alignment of Visions

While UC Berkeley’s continuing education curriculum spans the entire gamut of their 125 departments, GTU’s and Seer Akademi’s immediate interests lie in engineering education, specifically electronics education. In our previous coverage of Seer Akademi, Creating a Nation of Electronic Geeks, we wrote about their vision to make India self-sufficient in electronics through education, research, and enterprises. GTU’s vision is to make GTU a hub of research, technology, and entrepreneurship. Yeary talked about Berkeley’s mission to empower human capital at scale and noted that its commitment to access and excellence provides a strong cultural foundation for collaboration with India.

Course Delivery and Flexible Enrollment

The three-way relationship between Seer Akademi, GTU and UC Berkeley sets a path-breaking template for online-offline delivery of higher education content. UC Berkeley Continuing Education instructors would use the Seer Akademi Webex-based platform for lecture delivery and interactions with students, combined with Seer’s local faculty. GTU plans to create flexible programs for working professionals to mix and match these courses and certificates and obtain degrees – what you are about to see is an unprecedented flexibility for the Indian techie – degree/non degree objectives multiplied by technical vs. interdisciplinary vs. management course mixtures. The aim is to provide upward and lateral mobility to the tech-hungry to go further in his or her career. Berkeley’s continuing education program (in US) is very flexible in that a student can enroll for a course or a multi-course certificate program, and the student drives the pace of enrolling for courses. The Berkeley-Seer-GTU program plans to retain that flexibility.

Key UC Berkeley Stats (Courtesy: Frank Yeary)

  • 25,500 undergraduates
  • 10,300 pursuing graduate degrees
  • Most Top 10 Departments in the US (48 out of the 52 graduate programs)
  • Educating more students from low-income families than all eight Ivy-league universities and Stanford combined
  • 7,500 courses in 354 degree programs
  • Produces more Ph.D’s annually than any other American university

Key Seer Akademi Stats (Courtesy: Srikanth Jadcherla)

  • Patent-pending Global Classroom model which allows top instructors from the US to teach up to 200 locations simultaneously with local ground support for students
  • India’s first PPP program, India’s first Washington Accord compatible program, India’s only enterprise grade IC design Lab, India’s largest collection of IC design software
  • India’s first program to use a ratio of 1:2 for lectures vs. practicals by regulation
  • Successful incubation model – two ventures about to hit revenue and spin-off; three more in the pipeline.

Closing note: Dr. Aggarwal presented a strong vision for GTU and his presentation merits a separate post. Stay tuned.