The University Grants Commission (UGC) released a circular on January 4 inviting online applications from all from all eligible Higher Educational Institutions (HEls) to grant courses/programmes in online mode from 2019-20 academic session. This move takes forward the decision taken last year to open up HEIs to online courses to enhance access to higher education in India. But when even regular education mode with classroom teaching is filled with problems, is this extra initiative a good move?
Currently, a student can get a degree only via full-time courses at a college or university by attending regular classes, or through distance education. From 2017, the government had allowed universities to offer 20% of their course material through the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platform called Swayam.
Even though many private universities offer online courses, very few students opt for them as they are not recognized by the UGC. This is set to change now.
The UGC decision to allow HEIs to conduct online courses will help many students and professionals study online and get their required degrees or certificates. India aims to attain a Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 30% in higher education by 2020; currently it is 25.2%.
“Meeting the 30% GER target isn’t a possibility through building more brick and mortar institutions. However, making intelligent use of technology can surely help India reach that level,” saysDr VS Rao, President, NIIT University.
In January 2018, the government mandated that 15% of Indian universities must deliver online degree courses. Available data also suggests that India is one of the fastest-growing online education markets, pegged to touch USD 1.96 billion by 2021.
However, from proxy students, and the requirement of high-end technology, to the lack of attention or drive in students to complete allotted study portions, online courses for higher education can come with a host of issues which suddenly show the UGC decision in a different light.
Read: Is online learning making education easier?
What did UGC (Online Courses) Regulations, 2018 state last year?
1. The UGC (Online Courses) Regulations, 2018, were approved last year wherein HEIs were allowed to offer online courses for those particular programmes which had been approved by the statutory councils.
2. Thus, those courses which were being offered in regular mode, open mode, or distance learning mode for graduation were allowed to be hosted as online courses as well, as long as at least one batch had graduated in those programmes. College degrees offered only via the online education mode are not recognized.
3. The degrees, diplomas or certificates offered by the UGC-recognised Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institutions should be treated as corresponding degrees of regular institutions.
4. HEIs would have to exist for at least five years and get a minimum 3.26 NAAC accreditation on a 4-point scale to be allowed to hold online courses. The institutes would also need to be among the top 100 as per NIRF for at least two years of the previous three years.
5. “Overall Regulations provide enabling provisions for maintaining sanctity of admissions, teaching-learning, examination, authenticity of the learner and mandatory disclosure of Programme-wise information such as duration, start & end dates, fee, number of students, name of students with identifier, results, on HEI website/public domain,” the statement said.
6. Programmes requiring practical/ laboratory courses as a curricular requirement would not be permitted for online courses, meaning engineering, medicine, dental, pharmacy, nursing, architecture and physiotherapy programmes cannot be carried out online.
7. The exams for these online courses would be carried out in the proctored mode and would conform with all the UGC norms.
8. The content of online courses shall have minimum four quadrants — video lectures, e- content, self-assessment, and a discussion forum to clarify doubts.
9. For all online interactions including teaching-learning and examinations, Indian and foreign students would need the Aadhaar and Passport for authentication purposes.
10. The delivery of the programme will be through the SWAYAM portal of the government under which online courses are offered, the statement said.
Read: How to judge the quality of any online course before you join one
We spoke to the following experts to understand the pros and cons of the UGC decision to allow HEIs to offer online courses to get degrees:
- Aditya Malik, CEO and MD of Talentedge
- Prof PD Jose, Chair – Digital Learning Initiatives, IIM Bangalore
- Dr VS Rao, President, NIIT University
- Karthik Kadampully, co-founder and CEO of AEON Learning
Read: How online learning is doing away with traditional learning methods
Here are the key questions regarding the UGC decision to allow online courses:
1. Online degree courses might compromise on education quality and content: True or false?
“I don’t think digital learning will compromise on content or instructions; in fact it will only improve it. These universities are NAAC A+ rated so they will ensure high quality of content and instructions; that’s the main purpose of giving the online course scope only to A+ institutions,” says Aditya Malik, CEO and MD of Talentedge.
“The quality will further improve because the universities will be conscious that they are teaching an online audience and they will ensure that the pedagogy used is right. Also, globally this is a model which works really well,” Malik adds.
Karthik Kadampully, co-founder and CEO of AEON Learning, speaks along the same lines.
“It would be incorrect to say that quality might be compromised in online degree courses. There is a dearth of quality mentors in India but effective use of technology enables edtech companies to give discerning learners in even Tier II and Tier III cities access to such quality education,” he says.
“In fact, many reputed institutions in India and the world over are using online courses as a way of imparting quality education through quality faculty and bridging the knowledge gap at a much faster rate than the brick and mortar institutions,” Kadampully adds.
2. Indian education institutions will need to invest a lot on new software and a totally different style of staff training, which they cannot: True or False?
There is not even enough trained staff in public universities to carry out regular courses, so will Indian HEIs have the capability to invest so much in totally changing their style of teaching students?
“Indeed there is some amount of investment in terms of resources, but with the cloud-based technologies being adopted these days, there is no significant infrastructure investment required and the staff can also be trained very easily. So it doesn’t require large studio rooms etc. With cloud being prevalent, things can happen in a cost-effective format and training can also happen much more easily,” saysAditya Malik, CEO and MD of Talentedge.
Professor PD Jose, Chair – Digital Learning Initiatives, IIM Bangalore, says that offering online courses will actually help provide high-quality education at low cost.
“Most universities in India are resource constrained in terms of faculty, study materials or in the range of specializations that they can provide. On using the online model, it becomes possible to scale up high-quality education at a low marginal cost. That makes high-quality education both accessible and affordable to students,” he says.
“Introduction of online courses does not mean a substantial increase in manpower and resources. Since this change involves the teachers and staff understanding technology — as followed in technology-related industries and also globally in case of online education — universities can take the services of edtech companies who support universities in providing the platform, content as well as delivery,” says Karthik Kadampully, co-founder and CEO of AEON Learning.
“The NAAC assessment criteria had been put in place to solve issues such as content and reach. This ensures that these universities are in a position to put into place the necessary infrastructure or investment required or tie up with suitable edtech partners to carry out online courses,” he adds.
3. Cheating cases might increase in remotely-held online exams: True or false?
“Proctored exams can be of two types – one is obviously proctoring by the invigilator, and the other is using technologies that help with facial recognition, eye retina scans etc. With the help of these, one can monitor students, allow them to work on systems where they cannot even toggle; if they do, the screens get logged out,” says Aditya Malik, CEO and MD of Talentedge.
“The breakthroughs in technology have become so advanced that if you even try to cheat, you will be caught much more easily and quickly than by an invigilator in a physical classroom. Hence, the exam quality can still be maintained by using technology which globally many educational institutions are using,” he adds.
“In most remote proctoring cases, the person takes their entire exam on a computer and the proctor watches them from another computer through on online video camera or CCTVs, thereby preventing cases of cheating,” says Karthik Kadampully, co-founder and CEO of AEON Learning.
“Advanced systems have automatic online proctoring captured via iris movement and some other data capturing techniques and they are equal to if not better than normal physical proctoring,” he adds.
4. Test patterns would need to be changed as subjective and essay type questions could be a problem: True or False?
“I would like to disagree here. Technology has made conducting both subjective and objective tests possible. Objective questions can be rated and evaluated through systems, whereas for subjective questions, they get cued on to respective faculty, who can further evaluate and rate them online,” says Aditya Malik, CEO and MD of Talentedge.
“Subjective essay type questions can also be conducted in online assessments. Advanced systems can also check them online,” agrees Karthik Kadampully, co-founder and CEO of AEON Learning.
Here are the main positive points of the UGC decision to allow Indian HEIs to offer online courses:
1. Credits earned on SWAYAM-based MOOCs are transferable across universities
“The most important step taken by UGC is making credits earned on Swayam based MOOCs are now transferable across universities. This is truly an innovative step that can change the face of education,” says Prof. PD Jose, Chair – Digital Learning Initiatives, IIM Bangalore.
2. Better skilling opportunities
“Traditionally higher education in India has been seen a passport to a good job. But the scenario is changing now. Given the rapid changes in technology and the needs for reskilling, there is a need to adopt a more flexible and dynamic approach to learning. MOOCs provide this opportunity,” says Prof Jose.
“Going forward reskilling and upskilling is required almost on a daily basis by working professionals and it is practically impossible to get all working professionals back to school.Online delivery of courses will help working professionals meet their learning demands and allow them to remain relevant in the fast-evolving employment scenarios,” says Dr VS Rao, President, NIIT University.
3. Future universities might have a very different structure
“The flip side of this UGC decision is that universities, as we know, may cease to have the kind of influence they enjoy today. Instead, the best universities of the future may be collaborative efforts between academics, policymakers, entrepreneurs and investors,” says Prof Jose.
“This means that the metrics for measuring the impact and performance of higher education institutions will change. Hopefully for the better!” he adds.
4. Could make education more accessible for remote areas
“The UGC decision will ensure that quality education reaches and is accessible to the remotest parts of the country. So it is a huge inclusion story for UGC and an opportunity to make sure that quality higher education is available to all,” says Aditya Malik, CEO and MD of Talentedge.
5. Could bring better industry-academia collaboration
“The recent move by UGC will surely increase collaboration between colleges, universities and edtech players. It will add the much-required momentum by creating more opportunities for deeper industry-academia partnership. This will thereby, open bigger avenues for online education players and enable them to contribute significantly to the growth and evolution of India’s education market,” says Karthik Kadampully, co-founder and CEO of AEON Learning.
“This particular move by UGC will create paths for closer academia and industry collaboration.Universities can work towards delivering courses as specified and demanded by the industry and online education can, therefore, be put to its optimal use,” says Dr VS Rao, President, NIIT University.