Top-ranked Indian universities will now offer full online degrees

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The Indian government has stepped back from a 2016 ban and will now allow accredited, top-ranked universities to offer full online degree programmes
  • The regulations will apply for the 2018/19 academic year and are designed in part to boost higher education participation towards the country’s target of a 30% GER by 2020

The Indian government has reversed a 2016 ban on online degree programmes. At its 24 May meeting, India’s University Grants Commission (UGC), a key regulatory body for higher education in the country, approved new regulations that will allow some Indian universities to offer full online certificates, diplomas, and degree programmes.

In order to be eligible to offer online degrees, a university will need to have placed among the top 100 ranked institutions in the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s National Institutional Ranking Framework for two out of the previous three years. Participating universities will also have to be accredited, and in operation for at least five years.

Institutions will be further constrained to offering online programmes in fields in which they already deliver traditional face-to-face programmes, or distance programmes that have already graduated at least one student cohort. Courses with laboratory or other practical requirements will not be permitted, and all online programmes are expected to combine video lectures with other digital content, self-assessment mechanisms, and online discussion forums.

The regulations will apply for the 2018/19 academic year.

The drive to 2020

The approval of online degree programmes bears directly on the government’s stated goal to expand participation in Indian higher education by 2020, and a related UGC statement celebrates the opening of online degree programmes as “a big step towards attaining the targeted GER [gross enrolment ratio] of 30% by the year 2020”.

Currently, India’s GER for higher education sits at just over 25% of the country’s college-aged population of 18-to-23-year-olds. This is up modestly from a GER of 21.5% as of 2012/13, but still lags behind other notable markets in the region, such as China where the current GER is just over 40%.

Speaking to University World News earlier this month, Vijay Singh of AISECT University said, “The GER in the field of higher education has been on the rise and any measure to further increase the GER is good for the country’s educational institutions, including open universities. Nearly 36 million students are pursuing higher education in the country. An increase of 1% in GER means 360,000 more students.”

As might be expected in a country as large and diverse as India, the GER varies considerably from region to region, and some observers expect that an expansion of online programming may be especially important for families that are in areas that are underserved by higher education institutions or that lack the means to pursue degree study on campus.

As many other countries and providers have discovered, however, online learning is not always an easy or inexpensive space to enter. In order to comply with the new UGC regulations, Indian universities will have to invest in adapting programmes for online delivery, in acquiring new technology and systems, and creating the offline infrastructure needed to support students, invigilate exams, and otherwise comply with strict quality control requirements.

Speaking to Scroll.in, Professor K Murali Manohar of Dr BR Ambedkar Open University said, “Some private universities may come forward but I do not think any public university can. We are not prepared. This will require investment and staff. We will need new software and computer laboratories and examination centres.”

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