This article is authored by Akash Krishnan, a student of ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad. It discusses in detail the meaning and scope of the meta university concept along with the details of the institutions that have already adopted this concept.  

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.

Introduction

On 15th November 2011, the then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh had announced the meta university plan. Under this plan, the Government was to set up meta universities wherein students will have the opportunity to choose and design their curriculum on their own and pursue the subjects of their interests. This step was taken so as to make higher education more liberal and accessible to all the students. To begin with, the Ministry of Human Resource Development had approached multiple universities for joining this scheme. However, their focus was directed towards bringing leading Delhi-based institutions under the ambit of this concept. One of the intentions behind the launch of this scheme was to allow students to attend classes or complete courses offered in different colleges without the need for specific student-exchange agreements between the universities.

A similar scheme was already in place and was being used by the Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR) that was run by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Herein, the academy was providing virtual university degrees. The Director-General of CSIR, Mr. Samir Brahmachari stated that every student has his/her own constraints, and thus, the students should be allowed to attend classes virtually as well. Read along to understand the meaning and scope of the meta university concept and its applicability in the modern-day education regime.

Meta university: meaning

The term ‘meta’ has been used as an acronym for the ‘most effective tactics available’. Calling something ‘meta’ means that it is an effective way to achieve the goal. The goal of every institution or university is to excel in the field of education and follow the best available practices to educate the students. Thus, in the context of the Meta University Concept, the term ‘meta’ means the most effective way that universities and institutions should follow, so as to educate students and provide them with the best possible learning resources.

The main purpose of meta university is to share learning resources with different universities by using the latest technologies available in order to enable the students to benefit from the learning resources available in different institutions. The participating institutions and universities share their learning resources to provide students with a more holistic learning experience. The term learning resources means giving students access to e-libraries, e-books, relevant reading materials, live and/or recorded lectures, videos, etc., irrespective of the institution that has worked towards the development of the content. The meta university concept is a model of distributive learning that allows education to be accessible to a wider range of students by leveraging information technology resources to make available content and pedagogical avenues, i.e., using modern ways of teaching like smart classes, online learning, etc. to educate students.

Benefits of the concept of meta university 

  1. It will allow all the students to increase their flexibility in designing, curriculum, and pursuing subjects of their choice in an effort to make higher education more liberal and accessible to the masses.
  2. It helps students to create new minds conducive to innovation.
  3. It will increase interaction between students and teachers. Teachers can share teaching material, scholarly publications, research.
  4. The internet will provide the communication infrastructure, while a network of universities will offer courses in various disciplines, facilitating more collaborative and multidisciplinary learning.

Now that we have understood the meaning of the concept of the meta university concept, let us try and understand which body is responsible for maintaining and providing such a reliable and secure network for information sharing and access. 

The National Knowledge Network

What is the NKN

National Knowledge Network (NKN) project was started with the aim of creating a secure and reliable network that is capable of connecting all universities, research institutions, libraries, laboratories, healthcare, and agricultural institutions on a pan-India basis. By establishing an interconnected network, the NKN has allowed the free flow of information across all fronts and it is easily accessible by all. With access to information at all times, there is a significant impact on the quality of research being generated in the country. Knowledge sharing has resulted in the creation of new ideas and has increased the contributions/criticisms towards the existing works as well. The end goal, herein, is to bring about a knowledge revolution so as to promote inclusive growth and help in the transformation of society.

Reasons for the establishment of NKN

One of the most important reasons that led to the creation of the NKN is the need for improving the accessibility of information across the country for education and research purposes. On a global level, research and developmental activities along with new innovative activities had become possible because of the collaboration made by multiple individuals. This is because these countries had already created an information access and sharing mechanism which was widely used, and had therefore boosted the research and invocation activities in these countries. If India had to compete with these countries globally, it was imperative that India adopts the mechanism of collaboration and co-creation.

In light of the same, the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India and the National Knowledge Commission engaged in discussions with key stakeholders, i.e., experts, potential users, telecom service providers and educational and research institutions for establishing the mechanism of collaboration and co-creation and the NKN is the outcome of these discussions.

Role of NKN

  1. Ensuring that knowledge and information are shared through a high-speed internet connection across all the connected universities/institutions in the country.
  2. Ensure and promote collaborative research, development and innovation across all connected institutions/universities.
  3. Ensure and facilitate the provision of distance education in different fields of specialisation like engineering, medicine, law etc.
  4. Ensure and facilitate high-speed e-governance activities.
  5. Ensure and facilitate collaborative research practices between different sectors. i.e., cross-sectoral research activities.

Vision

  1. Create a borderless knowledge-sharing community for the benefit of mankind at large.
  2. Provide access to information to all institutions through a high-speed internet connection.
  3. By providing the best services, aid in India’s development in the area of information infrastructure, stimulate research and create next-generation applications and services.

Mission

  1. To bring about a knowledge revolution so as to promote inclusive growth and help in the transformation of society.
  2. Provide access to information to all institutions through a high-speed (gigabit) internet connection that is secure and reliable.
  3. Help in the creation of highly trained professionals who are empowered by knowledge-sharing activities.
  4. To act as a critical information infrastructure for India and its evolution as a knowledge society.

Technical features of NKN

  1. NKN is an independent network and is not bound by internet protocols. It is capable of carrying multiprotocol traffic.
  2. It offers hierarchical Quality of Service (QoS) for real-time traffic.
  3. It ensures the provision of Service Level Agreements for the users.
  4. NKN design supports IPv6 transport, IPv6 networking, and IPv6 MPLS VPN services along with the basic IPv4 services. It also supports enabled VPN for running multicast applications.
  5. It provides multiple central services such as Multimedia Conferencing, e-access, digital library, and central data centre to all users.

The first meta university

The meta university concept was adopted for the first time between the University of Delhi and Jamia Millia Islamia University and had released a concept note for the same. The Course that was introduced was Master of Mathematics Education. The salient features of the concept note have been enumerated below:

Philosophy

The meta university concept is based on the philosophy that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of the parts.’ In other words, this philosophy is similar to the concept of synergy. When two firms come together for a merger, the ideology is that post-merger, the combined value and other features of the merged entity will be greater than the sum value of both the individual firms taken together. Similarly, under the meta university concept, it is believed that when two or more universities come together and pool in their resources, the students have access to a wide range of information that was not accessible to them prior to this union.

The University of Delhi and Jamia Millia Islamia University had come together with the intent of utilising, exploiting and creating synergy between the programs of the two Universities. The intent was to encourage collaborative learning and research activities and provide the students with a wide range of information itineraries that could be accessed by them from any place irrespective of the university they belong to. In simple words, they wanted to promote a borderless information access mechanism.

Expected outcomes of the collaboration

  1. New programs will be provided on flexible (online) platforms.
  2. To provide and promote a borderless information access mechanism for the students.
  3. Facilitate collaborative and cooperative research activities so as to help academicians and students to perform in-depth research based on the wide range of information available.
  4. Help students unleash new ideas and nurture them in developing the skills of innovative problem-solving.

Key ingredients

  1. Introduce a paradigm shift in the knowledge access and sharing domain.
  2. National Knowledge Network will help in the introduction of a secured and reliable internet network for information sharing.
  3. Different institutions will pool in their resources for easy access to all.  
  4. Creating synergies so as to form new and innovative programs.
  5. Using information technology for creating a virtual learning environment.
  6. Combining, facilitating, and promoting collaborative and cross-disciplinary learning.
  7. Introducing a mentor-mentee system for guiding students at every step of their education.

Objectives of the course

  1. To adopt a modern/innovative approach for teaching mathematics from the school levels itself so as to include new methods like storytelling, projects, collaborative and participative learning practices etc for teaching mathematics.
  2. To use information technology as a mechanism to facilitate the learning process, i.e., the introduction of e-learning mechanisms, smart classrooms, etc.
  3. To facilitate an interdisciplinary approach for studying mathematics wherein other streams like humanities and social sciences are also involved.
  4. To introduce group learning mechanisms by conducting group activities so as to facilitate collaborative learning.
  5. To provide in-service training for school teachers.
  6. To learn ways in which mathematics can be used in real-life situations so as to improve the practical problem solving and analytical skills of the students.  

Methodology

The course will be a combination of the existing courses offered by the universities wherein the teachers will adopt and follow a transdisciplinary approach in order to promote fresh viewpoints of the students and promote interactive and participative learning practices. The universities will adopt information technology to educate students through smart classrooms/virtual classrooms and encourage project-based learning.

This course is provided in both online and offline mediums and students are allowed to pursue the course on a part-time basis. Mentors will be appointed for monitoring and guiding the students in their project-based assignments and their eligibility to act as a mentor depends on their expertise in the area of the projects being undertaken by the students. These mentors could be appointed from either of the two institutions or could be a private third party.   

Other universities

In 2013, the Central Government had identified 4 cities, i.e., Chandigarh, Pune, Kolkata, and Hyderabad that had to be converted into a meta university hub. These cities were selected because they had been recognized as education hubs of India by the Government because of the presence of a large number of research and academic institutions in these cities.

In Chandigarh, 15 universities had come together under a common arrangement called ‘Chandigarh Region Innovation and Knowledge Cluster’. This arrangement was aimed at adopting the meta-university concept in the state. Four universities in Hyderabad and two universities in Pune had also adopted the meta university concept.

There leading management institutes in West Bengal, i.e., the Jadavpur University, the Calcutta University, and the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta came together to become part of the meta university concept. Under this scheme, the students will have access to the faculty, library, and laboratories of all three institutions irrespective of which university the student belongs to.

Students were now part of a credit transfer system, wherein the credits of the activities or courses they undertook in any one of these universities could be transferred to their own institution as part of their course curriculum. This initiative was taken for facilitating cross-university education.

Conclusion

With the advent of new technologies, one could say that meta universities are the future. In the COVID times, the importance of virtual learning was understood and schools and colleges across the country were engaging with students on a virtual medium. The only thing left to do is to concentrate the information available online and provide access to all students irrespective of the university they belong to. One should always remember that dissemination of knowledge and providing everyone with an equal opportunity to access knowledge should be of extreme importance.

References


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