Online Higher Education: Time for de-regulation is now!
For years, India has shied away from unleashing the full power of formal online higher education. While certification courses can be offered online, online degrees and diplomas offered by colleges and universities continue to suffer from regulatory constraints.
The first major step towards recognizing online education was taken in 2018, when University Grants Commission (UGC) introduced regulations allowing certain category of higher education institutions to offer their offline programmes, online, with UGC’s approval. Sadly, 2 years later, very few institutions have the approval to offer online programmes under these regulations1. The UGC regulations also require that higher education institutions should offer online courses through SWAYAM platform. Any other platform can be used only with the approval of the UGC.
AICTE (All India Council For Technical Education) has no regulations for online degree and diploma programmes as yet. Lack of regulation also creates confusion with respect to what is or is not allowed online.
There are also institutes of eminence, which can provide courses online. However, even these institutes are handful in number and can offer only part of their course online, i.e. subject to limit of 20% of any programme.
Therefore, the looming question before us is: Are these few institutes sufficient for continuity of higher education in a country of 1.3 billion?
No doubt, government is doing its bit. UGC released a list of ICT initiatives of MHRD & UGC for teaching and learning, which provides a repository of study material to students2. This is good from a short- term perspective. However, all crisis brings opportunity. This is a big one, staring at us in the face. The government should urgently reconsider its approach towards online higher education.
It is well known that online degrees and diplomas have been successfully offered by many renowned universities across the globe. Progressive countries have permitted these online programs with limited regulation. India needs to quickly do this. While our students are keen to join such courses, these online degrees don’t get recognized in India because they haven’t been obtained while completing the programme at a “campus”. This is too old school.
When the world is coming together to fight a pandemic, and the only way of staying connected is online, regulatory and territorial barriers should not stand in the way of education. Freedom to collaborate and choose is paramount. Due credit should be given to such online programmes, at least to the ones offered by renowned institutes. A list of such institutes, Indian and international, can be released by government for such purposes.
Given the projected global economic impact of this pandemic, online education can drastically reduce burden on students and education systems. Those countries that have unshackled their online education systems will realize just how beneficial it is, especially in such desperate times. Even though a pandemic may be a temporary situation, its time India learns its lesson and leapfrog to deregulate online higher education.