MOOCs: Bridging the Graduate Skills Gap in Meghalaya

By Dr Sumarbin Umdor

There has been a significant improvement in Meghalaya’s gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education in the last 10 years as it has steadily climbed up from 17.4 per cent in 2011-12 to 25.8 per cent in 2020-21, indicating an improvement in participation of the target population (18 to 23 years) in higher education over the years. As per the latest report of the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE), there are about one lakh students enrolled in different academic programmes in 108 Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) in Meghalaya, with nearly two-thirds undergoing undergraduate programmes in the 75 colleges spread out in the state. While the number of students admitted to colleges and other HEIs has increased over the years, the question that confronts us today is whether the post graduate/bachelor’s degree secured by a student after spending two/three years of study in these educational institutions will enable him or her to be gainfully employed and flourish as productive members of the society. After all, it is now universally accepted that employability is core to higher education. The role of HEIs goes beyond imparting students with knowledge in an academic discipline to ensuring that they are prepared for the job market by equipping them with diverse capabilities, skills and attitudes required to be gainfully employed.

Sadly, the situation in our state, and indeed in the whole country, is that higher education does not necessarily improve the employment prospects of our young people especially if the courses are non-technical and non-professional and do not offer job-oriented specialised skills to learnersIndia Skill Report of 2022 revealed that only about 50 per cent of graduates in India have the required skill sets and are employable. Further, according to CMIE data for 2021, unemployment rates are the highest among graduates and those with higher degrees (around 20 per cent) compared to those with lower education levels mainly because the graduates coming out of our HEIs lack both hard and soft skills needed by prospective employers. In Meghalaya, the situation is more acute as every four out of five HEIs offer only general courses (Arts, Science and Commerce streams) that impart academic knowledge but do not equip students with skills, understanding and attributes that would enable a graduate student to secure and retain a job.

So how do the colleges and other HEIs in Meghalaya overcome the challenge of producing graduates who are knowledgeable in the academic discipline of their choosing and at the same time proficient in certain skills and capacities required by labour markets? The way forward is for students in higher education to adopt a dual tract learning mode by complementing their existing study programme for a graduate degree onsite (in a college) along with MOOC verified courses acquired through online learning.

MOOCs is an abbreviation for Massive Open Online Courses delivered online and designed for an unlimited number of participants and requiring no entry qualifications, with the full and complete course experience available at a little or no fee. MOOCs became an innovative and disruptive force in education with the introduction of free online courses on artificial intelligence, databases and artificial learning by three Stanford professors in the autumn of 2011. These three courses attracted more than 3.51 lakh learners from all over the world. Since then, about 22 crore students have enrolled for at least one online course on one of the MOOCs platforms. As per Class Central listing of MOOC courses, currently, there are 59 thousand such online courses offered by a number of MOOC platforms such as Coursera, edX, Udacity, Khan Academy, etc. In India, two such MOOC platforms are Swayam and NPTEL.

MOOCs are seen as an important platform for accessing skilling, re-skilling and up-skilling courses. They can play an important role as a complementary mechanism in bridging the graduate skills gap, particularly the digital skills gap in a state like Meghalaya. MOOCs have eradicated the constraints of distance and cost enabling anyone from any corner of the world with an internet connection to access courses offered by leading universities. For a small fee of a few thousand rupees, one can earn a verified certificate for a completed MOOC issued by the university offering the course. MOOCs are therefore another flattener (a term used by Thomas Friedman in his book The World Is Flat) that has helped level the playing field in Education.  Some of the popular MOOCs are on data science, communication skills, excel, computer programming, project management, English and foreign language (Korean, Chinese), and others.

Within MOOCs, micro-credentials are job market-aligned short units of learning that are certified or credentialed and designed to help deepen one’s expertise in a specialised topic or field. Micro-credentials are structured as a series of courses, requiring an average of six months to complete and costing from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Most micro-credentials cover work-relevant subjects such as business, computer science, and data analysis. They are part of a trend toward modularity and stackability in higher education, where a series of related courses can be taken individually or the whole series can be completed or stacked up leading to degrees, also known as Micro-degrees or Micro-Masters. These are not degrees in the conventional sense but rather credentials or a badge. The advantage of these courses is their versatility as the content can be developed as per the changing needs and opportunities of the job markets while offering a deeper and a flexible learning experience for the learners.

Many universities around the world are offering these courses either in partnership with providers (such as Coursera, edX, Udacity and FutureLearn) or on their own.  In 2021 there were over 1500 plus micro-credentials with about 74 per cent of these in the field of business and technology. In India, IIMB has partnered with edX to deliver MicroMasters programs in Entrepreneurship, Business Management and Professional Certificates in Risk Management and Banking and Financial Markets.

MOOCs and Micro-credentials represent a new avenue for students to complement their conventional degrees with online courses that build their skills and capabilities for enhanced career and professional development. The role of colleges is to create awareness and disseminate information among the students about these new learning opportunities and guide them in choosing appropriate courses as per their background and interest. Imagine a situation where a student completes his or her three-year undergraduate degree from one of the colleges but walks out not only with a conventional degree but also a verified MOOCs certificate (or still better a micro-degree) issued by a leading university in the world. This is the way forward to addressing the graduate skills gap in our state.

(The writer teaches in Department of Economics, NEHU)

Get real time updates directly on your device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.