Rethinking Online Education- Editor's Pick

In an article published in Financial Express, Manish Sabharwal and Shantanu Rooj put across loopholes and biasness by Regulatory Bodies in Indian Higher Education, they argue that India’s current online university regulations are creating an apartheid by allowing only seven out of 993 universities to launch online courses. It exposes the “folly and unfairness” of the UGC 2018 online regulations, and if actions aren't taken now- India’s online university education will become like Wimbledon, which is played in England but no Britisher ever wins. In the article they mention- UGC banned online education in 2015, but notified new licensing guidelines in 2018. Since then, UGC has only licensed seven universities for online courses, and it raises three important questions. Why aren’t all accredited universities automatically allowed to launch online courses when India can’t stop overseas universities from signing students in India? Why distinguish between licensing for paper-based distance learning and online learning? Why not give universities flexibility in curriculum, design, delivery, and assessment of online courses rather than force them to be the equivalent of an ATM machine with a teller physically handing out cash?

Commenting on this Dr. S. S. Mantha, Former Chairman, AICTE writes-The regulations too need a more practical approach. In fact, what is needed is single regulation for blended learning rather than two, one for distance and one for online; for distance it is redundant and for online it does not talk about hands on skills. Speaking about the disruption caused due to COVID 19, he further adds that this being the new normal, the regulators must allow at least Tier I and II Universities, those who have created a learning platform and content, to offer Online courses through their regulatory mechanism. They may even seek an affidavit that assures maintenance of quality. Allowing just seven Universities out of almost 1000 cannot do justice to anybody and far removed from reality. We must realise that the online content is useful to even the working professionals in upskilling and reskilling.

Dr. Manjula Chaudhary, Dean Academic Affairs, Kurukshetra University elaborated on this by saying - This presents the case of a few very pertinent bottlenecks in the growth of online higher education in India. The education has been hit hard due to unforeseen circumstances arising out of COVID 19. The majority of teachers and students are managing teaching-learning on their own without supporting technology platforms and any training in pedagogy of online teaching. The restrictive nature of regulations regarding online education will help none. She adds- The creation of two verticals of distance and online education is confusing. The future will belong to liquid learners who would want a lot more flexibility in their education. Education is learning for life and old methods shall not be allowed to take precedence over purposes of education. She further writes that India is a prismatic society and cannot have a single solution. Blended learning with different combinations of online and offline can be a way forward. She believes that it is time to revisit, rethink and revise the ecosystem of education.

There is an urgent need for the government to move from regulation to supervision: UGC’s online regulations permit universities to launch only those courses which have one batch of graduates—this thwarts innovation, autonomy, and competition, and today with COVID 19, we are forced to run courses online, how fair is that? For Regulators, they should focus on providing a framework, and permit universities to think anew, collaborate with industry, and launch new-age student focused, self-paced subscription models in online education- but above all there shouldn't be over regulation- Universities should be given a free hand in running online quality led education- This will serve the country for its bigger good!

Dr Jayashri S Patil
Honorary council member- India Education Forum
Head Research and Innovation- Teamlease Services Ltd.