Chairman, Unison Group of Institutions, Dehradun
An alumnus of the Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University, Amit Agarwal is chairman of the Dehradun-based Unison Education Foundation (estb. 2007). Currently, the foundation manages four institutions in Dehradun and Delhi NCR — IMS Unison University, DIT University, Institute of Management Studies, and the Unison World School — with an aggregate enrolment of 10,000 students mentored by 1,000 teachers on their muster rolls.
How have the Unison Group institutions responded to the Covid-19 challenge?
A month prior to the national lockdown announcement, we constituted a core team comprising senior leaders of group institutions to examine and review the financial health of our institutions, academic calendar options, examination status, condition of IT systems and software, and training of teachers and students for digital online classes. Within a week of the lockdown, all our campuses had successfully implemented digital online classes for students by leveraging new digital technologies with close to 98 percent attendance. We also stepped up to the challenge of conducting all examinations — mid-term/end-term — online with over 98 percent attendance and declared all results.
What are the major challenges confronting Indian higher education in the Covid era?
Poor Internet connectivity and access to digital devices especially for students living in rural and remote corners of the country, and for students in universities not equipped to support online teaching; disappearance of hands-on experiential learning for students in skilling and professional study programmes; compliance with social distancing and safety guidelines of the Central government when campuses reopen, and meeting admission targets because class XII examinations and results are inordinately delayed.
Several state governments have issued fees waiver/deferment circulars to private schools. What’s your comment?
Most managements of private higher education institutions have completed their second semester by investing substantial time and resources during the Covid-19 crisis. With admission for the new academic year uncertain, they haven’t received any advance admission and other fees from students. Against this backdrop, the fees waiver/deferment ordered by government will be very damaging and discouraging for these institutions.
What are your Top 3 proposals for reforming school and higher education?
- Abolish multiple government regulatory agencies by legislating a unified agency instead
- Permit entrepreneurs and corporates to promote for-profit education institutions
- Enable private higher ed institutions to collaborate with American Ivy league universities to set up campuses in India and offer joint degree programmes.
Over the next five years, we plan to establish Unison Boys, an all-boys residential school in Dehradun, and the Unison Institute of Medical Sciences and Research.