by Rohit Manglik
With the Internet permeating nearly every aspect of education, students have never been more excited to pursue higher education via online courses. Several online educational companies have come forward to ensure that irrespective of the location of a student, they must have the resources to pursue their higher education. It’s at this opportune moment that the UGC has come up with guidelines to help institutions as well as the students in determining the validity of a course.
With the UGC setting guidelines on the offering of online courses and programs for higher education by both private players as well as the government sector, there is an emerging ray of hope for the aspirants of higher education in India. On May 24, 2018, University Grants Commission accepted the UGC Online Courses Regulations Act 2018. Armed with the power of the Act, the HEIs (Higher Educational Institutions) can now offer certificate, diploma and degree programs online.
What is the Online Courses Regulation Act addressing?
The UGC-approved regulations/guidelines seek to maintain the sanctity of notable points like admissions of candidates, the instruction-learning process, examination, authenticity of the learners etc. The HEIs will also be required to provide information related to the program like its duration, starting date and ending date, program-fee, numbers of students pursuing the program, results etc. Some issues such as problems with regards to the programs/courses requiring implementation of practical examinations remain.
The regulations will come into force from the current academic session of 2018-19. The step is being considered as a giant leap in achieving the goal of the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 30% by the year 2020.
After taking into account the conditions for the HEIs, set by the government—a minimum run of five years, accreditation by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with a minimum valid score of 3.26 (out of 4), presence for at least two years from their first three years in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF)—it seems that the authorities have done the required work for the future of the students. This also prompts one to think that the government is in a sincere search for setting up rules that strongly supervise and control the online mode of programs. This certainly carries the possibility of increasing the reliability of such courses in near future. As a result, we can expect that the quality of learning delivered through this new medium, will be high. With the above rules being the determining factors, we can expect entry of highly reputed institutions in the online educational field. Also, there is room for private Ed-Tech players to aid HEIs by providing a range of study material on its marketplace.
Another front is the seat-wise output that the government funded HEIs, like the IITs, along with their private counterparts, are producing which these regulations aim to balance. The total number of graduates passing from these institutions, each year, is far too low than that needed by different industries. With these regulations in place, these institutions will most probably be enabled to lessen this difference.
There certainly are some drawbacks of the act, as happens with every good scheme of things, that may surface sooner or later. Let’s have a look at these factors which UGC seems to have missed out:
Ensuring two-way dialogue is important
Absence of physical teacher-pupil interaction is the biggest drawback of the online mode. The reason being the real absence of body-language and response for both entities from each other. Body-language plays an important role in any interaction between two or more people. Its absence or the changed form (online interaction, particularly textual interaction through online mode) compromises with the benefits obtained from a real, offline interaction. Hence, the HEIs need to ponder over this factor and ask themselves whether they have made any provision to ensure that all the institutes follow two-way interaction.
How are practice-based disciplines going to be digitized?
HEIs running the business of online courses are not too interested in incorporating subjects that require hands-on training and specialized tools/equipment. Hence, candidates of biochemistry, sonography, public speaking or physical therapy, for example, may be at loss. However, a system can definitely be developed that meets this drawback. The students can be asked to complement their online learning of theories by working in a lab that lets them conduct practical experiments drawing from these subjects. Thus, the theoretical, as well as practical aspects of the disciplines will be taken care of. These labs should be arranged by the respective HEIs and UGC’s Guidelines ought to cover this aspect.
A supportive environment for students is crucial
In online learning, as far as learner-supporting activities are concerned, a student is on his own. Nobody is there to remind the student about his deadlines, class schedules, taking the initiative to connect with advisors, professors, and classmates to ensure that they are meeting expectations etc. Therefore, in a nutshell, students are largely on their own. They need to be organized, manage their own time efficiently, and be in-charge of their education. The UGC Online Courses Regulations Act should ideally address this issue as well. The guidelines of the Act should have made sure that the concerned HEIs ensure a student-friendly system made up of teachers, student, counselors and other online modes of communication like text messaging services, emails etc. Therefore, it can help the students by reminding them of their pending assignments, the classes they will be missing etc.
Networking in a virtual world can be challenging
In the brick and mortar institutions, students study with other students, and make connections which may last for a lifetime. This is also true for teachers and students. Such an environment in which people know each other facilitates a sound and robust networking system, which may consequently lead to job offers. Therefore, students pursuing online courses from HEIs will have this concern and this should be addressed by UGC Guidelines.
How can we ensure access to resources?
The HEIs having all their programs and courses online may be severely lacking in the traditional learning resources like libraries, practical labs, recreation facilities etc. This is another front that is not taken care of in the current Act. The pertaining authorities, guided by the Act, need to take necessary steps to root out this deficiency by stipulating the HEIs with the requirement of access to such resources. A fine example of such an initiative is IGNOU, a university affiliated to the Central Government. IGNOU, since its inception in 1985, has been running open and distance learning programs, supplementing and complementing them with its satellite/peripheral study centres and numerous labs. Aspiring HEIs need to follow the same approach, to say the least.
However, the legislation is definitely a step towards in propelling the e-learning sector forward, and can act as a catalyst in heralding a paradigm shift from brick-and-mortar classroom model to online learning platforms.
Rohit Manglik is CEO of EduGorilla.
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