A Note on Big Data and Higher Education

The global pandemic has thrown a critical challenge to India’s higher education institutions (HEIs) in carrying out its day-to-day administrative operations, governance and educational services in a traditional way.  As the whole process had gone digital mode, the decline in infection and returning to normalcy may not completely bring down the digital trajectory which was in pre-covid times.  In-fact, the pandemic could have accelerated the process of Education 4.0 which aligns with fourth industrial revolution in-terms of integrating the students with cyber-physical systems1.   The digitization of the whole functioning of HEIs has thrown open a significant opportunity in-terms of data it is generating, which can help in improving quality education, academic research, improving the management and governance processes of higher education institutions (HEIs).  There is a large scope for studying this change in the country and understanding the Big Data opportunities and challenges of HEIs.

The huge chunk of digital data generated by the institutions both in educational and non-educational spheres falls within the definition of Big Data.  The Big Data is also useful for the macro-educational policy formulation, implementation and evaluation by the state agencies.  The institutions and governments ability to use and integrate the data science techniques in the governance of HEIs is critical to leverage the benefits of Big Data.

What is Big Data?  Big Data has a multiple definition, it is a huge growth in the volume, structure and speed at which data is generated2 .  Big Data has ‘three Vs’ i.e, volume, velocity and variety to understand the structural features.  The Big Data’s characteristics could be further extended to include veracity, verification and value3.

The Big Data of HEIs and the aspects of using data analytics and data science are already used in some of the areas such as an effective faculty interventions for large number of students by understanding their learning abilities and environment.  The various management systems such as Learning Management System will be helpful in improving students learning ability and experience.  The other areas of opportunities the HEIs must utilize is in the academic research works.  The Big Data methods would help the researchers in playing with large sets of data, otherwise which would have been difficult to analyze manually.  The increasing courses offered by the private and public educational institutions will expand the available data scientists in the market, which needs to be leveraged by the HEIs. The systematic understanding and capturing of digital information and its analysis would also help in easily identifying the institutions reputation amongst academia, industry, students. The reputation capture of HEIs is a critical parameters followed by the assessing agencies such as TIMES, NAAC, NIRF and ARWU.

With all the opportunities open, the HEIs need to address some of the critical issues as they become more digitized and Big Data becomes naturalized in their day-to-day activities.  The challenges include the issues of data security, ownership, accountability, and ethics.  Some of the other limitations the Big Data has that HEIs need to be cognizant is that the techniques would help telling the ‘what’ aspect of the problem instead of ‘why’ which would be largely left to the domain experts to infer it.  

The evidence-based decision making becomes critical for India in the coming years and Big Data will augment such efforts in the HEIs.  HEIs need to prioritize the use of data analytics and data science in their institutions to cut down the existing human induced biases in decision making.   The transformation of Higher Education in the country can only be possible when the intuitions take back seat and open the space for evidence and expertise.


Author Name