In a major reform in the education sector, the University Grant Commission (UGC) has decided to allow about 900 autonomous colleges to offer online degree programmes. The move is in accordance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on digital universities.
Addressing a webinar only a day before the UGC announcement, Modi explained how the announcements made in Budget 2022-23 will have a “positive impact” on education.
At present, only universities offer remote degrees via online courses. But this will soon change. As Modi said, “This Budget will help in implementing National Education Policy. The national digital university is an unprecedented step. The problem of shortage of seats can be resolved. There will be unlimited seats. I urge all stakeholders to ensure digital university starts as soon as possible.”
The UGC move is expected to help attain the NEP target of a 50 per cent gross enrolment ratio by 2035. The percentage has already been going up; it increased from 26.3 per cent in 2018-19 to 27.1 per cent in 2019-20 for the 18-23 age group.
While aspirants applying to study conventional programmes are required to have a certain score at the Class 12 level, eligibility for admission to these online undergraduate degree programmes will be simply “senior secondary pass.” Likewise, one just has to be a graduate to apply for online postgraduate degree programmes.
Except for professional and technical programmes that need laboratories and those programmes prohibited by any regulatory authority, online degrees can be offered for all other programmes.
The draft for the amendment in the existing UGC (Open and Distance Learning Programmes and Online Programmes) Regulations, 2020, will soon be finalised; this week feedback will be sought from stakeholders.
The higher educational institutions (HEIs) will also teach courses in emerging areas. UGC Chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar reportedly said the online, open & distance learning (ODL) and conventional degrees will be of equal value.
“Like NEP, which is built on the five pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability, the online education ecosystem will be developed on the same principles,” said Kumar, adding that the new reforms will be notified as amendments in the current regulations issued during the pandemic on September 4, 2020,
“Also, many universities may not have a physical model programme— for instance, in machine learning, data science, artificial intelligence and financial management. But they would like to offer that in the online mode. So, even if you don’t have this degree on the conventional physical campus, you can still offer these programmes online,” the UGC head said.
The UGC is the only grant-giving agency in the country which has been vested with two responsibilities: that of providing funds and that of coordination, determination and maintenance of standards in institutions of higher education.
There are a large number of high-quality autonomous colleges in the country. This will enhance access for learners. And we will have these institutes participating and offering both UG and PG programmes online. These online degrees will be just like degrees obtained from any physical university, Kumar said.
The UGC`s mandate includes: promoting and coordinating university education; determining and maintaining standards of teaching, examination and research in universities; framing regulations on minimum standards of education; monitoring developments in the field of collegiate and university education; disbursing grants to the universities and colleges; serving as a vital link between the Union and state governments and institutions of higher learning; advising the Central and State governments on the measures necessary for the improvement of university education.
Wonderful move! Mainstreaming of online education must for desirable outcome
The move by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to open an online delivery mode of education for autonomous colleges is an appreciable step. It would not only help in enhancing the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) but would also go a long way in developing process-related capabilities at the college level in designing and delivering customised programmes as per the local contextual needs.
Online education, as a mode of delivery, has its unique requirements. The New Education Policy (NEP 2020) highlights the need for aligning higher education in the country for shaping it as a ‘development catalyst.’ While crafting the degrees and diplomas in online mode, universities and colleges must look into other Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) priority areas; and link the same to the programme’s educational objectives.
Another important point is the inclusivity and mainstreaming of online. Instead of looking into the ‘online’ as an exclusive degree, we may also explore how this model can be integrated with the ‘conventional mode’. For example planning of academic qualifications which are delivered partly in conventional and partly online to make it truly agile and hybrid. The harmonisation of online horizontally and vertically i.e. at the course level as well as at programme level can help in ‘crafting the qualifications’ that are relevant, flexible and learner-friendly. However, it may also require us to relook at the eligibility criteria for integrating ‘online’, particularly in terms of whether it should be ranking/accreditation based or some other infrastructure and resource capacity based.
Overall, a good forward-thinking approach, however, implementation is the key!