Kadambari Rana is a socially conscious and motivated individual who is determined to create and be part of such systems of education which put the ‘child’ at the center of learning. After completing her B.A (Hons) Economics from St Stephens College she went on to complete an M.Sc in Economics from Cardiff University, UK. She has worked with in the corporate sector but her passion lies in education. In the year 2013, while working for Anand Automotive Ltd, Kadambari received the prestigious AIMA Young Managers Award. She has been a research Associate in Education at the Sri Aurobindo Society in Pondicherry.
The system of higher education dates back to ancient India where universities such as Nalanda, Taksila and Vikramsila occupied a place of prominence in the global education world. Indian universities and ashrams followed a multi-disciplinary approach and were internationally recognized attractive places of learning and teaching that had ‘something for everyone’. Well-established eco systems were in place to support the universities.
For instance, the Nalanda University was funded by 100 villages surrounding it. It had state of the art infrastructure, a library 9 storey tall, 8 lecture halls with 100 lectures a day and not a single lecture missed by any student. With a capacity of around 8500-10000 students and 1500 teachers, it had a brilliant teacher-student ratio of around 6 students to a guru!
Context: Current Problems in Higher Education in India
Sadly, the current system in our country is disabling the teachers and the students alike. Our curriculums suffer from the Problem of Content and Problem of Delivery. The Problem of Content can be tackled only if we preserve indigenous practices, wisdom, discoveries, and knowledge and at the same time adapt to global 21st century landscape and requirements.
The Problem of Delivery can be tackled if the systems of higher education in India overhauls itself to include elements that support life-long education for learners irrespective of location, stage of life and additional professional and personal commitments. An element of ease of access has to be created and experienced by the masses.
Since India continues to suffer from perils of high population, poverty, illiteracy, poor enrolment ratio’s, high drop-out ratio’s, gender bias in education and learning, early marriages, additional personal responsibilities of female students, nutrition, and sickness issues, therefore managing this crisis requires vision, objectives, goals, rules, regulations, compliances, checks and balances.
Brief on University Grants Commission (UGC)
As an attempt to put in place a system of vision and compliances, soon after Independence, the University Education Commission was set up in 1948 under the Chairmanship of Dr. S Radhakrishnan “to report on Indian university education and suggest improvements and extensions that might be desirable to suit the present and future needs and aspirations of the country”.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) was formally established in November 1956 as a statutory body of the Government of India through an Act of Parliament for the coordination, determination, and maintenance of standards of university education in India.
UGC’s Stance on Online Higher Education
University Grants Commission Public Notice No: F. 1-1/2017 (Secy), titled ‘University Grants Commission Online Education Regulations 2017’, dated 18th July 2017, laid down specifications for Higher Education Institutes considering offering ‘online education’.
As per the notification, ‘’Institutions may design, develop, and deliver online programmes leading to the award of a degree or diploma via the internet once recognized.’’ Therefore, it appears quite clear that as the apex body for higher education approvals the UGC expects HEI’s to follow the necessary process and comply with pre-requisites if they wish to incorporate online learning as part of their institute’s offerings. Hence the push for online higher studies without prior approval of the UGC may neither be feasible nor credible.
Pre-requisites For Recognition for Online Mode
To be ‘recognized’ for online education an HEI must meet the following three primary requirements; (i) the HEI should have been in existence for at least 5 years, (ii) the HEI should be NAAC accredited with valid minimum score of 3.25 on a 4-point scale and (iii) the courses the HEI intends to offer online it should be offering the same or similar programme in a regular face to face classroom teaching mode.
Requirements that an HEI must Fulfil to be Eligible for Online Mode
The process of incorporating online programme requires the HEI to fulfil several requirements. These requirements are necessary to ensure that the learners are assured both of quality and recognition of their education efforts and qualifications.
Some broad requirements would include (i) Programme Development Planning for each programme being applied for: This requires the universities and HEI to have a mission statement, clearly statement objectives, strategic direction, academic goals, relevance of the programme, target group, desired coverage of specific skill and competence, learning outcomes, eligibility, fee, quality enhancement strategies and so on (ii) Provisioning and Establishment of Technology Infrastructure required for programme development and delivery: This would include parameters such as E-learning modules, video lectures, audio podcasts, virtual labs, virtual simulations, e-books, live virtual classrooms, learning authentication, clearly outlined assessment methods, live invigilation abilities, compliance with IT policy of Government of India, learning management systems, online application systems, payment gateways, learner engagement tracking systems and so on (iii) Fulfill the staff requirements as per UGC guidelines: It is important that to deliver quality education quality teachers are hired and moreover it is also important to have various academic roles clearly defined and filled to handle programme related work and issues.
To this effect institutes must hire Programme Director, Programme Deputy Director, Programme Co-ordinator, Course Co-ordinator, Teaching and learning assistants, Certified trainers and teachers, support staff, technical staff and so on (iv) Ensuring establishment of quality assurance process as laid down by the UGC guidelines: This would include ensuring the programme selected to be offered on online mode is ‘fit’ for online mode.
This means the programmes should not have necessary components of hands-on learning and laboratory-based learning, instructional strategies should include activities that engage students in active learning, precise and well-defined assessment mechanism, clearly identifiable outcomes. Here it should also be noted that courses offered by professional councils should not be offered without prior permission and approval of the concerned professional/statutory council.
Academic collaborations with the universities/institutions abroad will be governed by the UGC Promotion and Maintenance of Standards of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational Institutions Regulations, 2016.
Educators, HEI’s and expert advisors may argue that UGC suffers from structural, administrative and competency issues, yet by-passing it, to offer any kind of online or offline courses, may not be the most practical or sensible step by an HEI. Learners are looking for converting their certificates and degrees into tangible assets in the form of either a job or entry into another education institute. Therefore, credibility of courses offered must be governed by accreditation. Best way forward, currently, for HEI’s is to follow the due diligence and process as notified by the UGC for the purpose of online higher education.