Students often find that they cannot get into their favorite college due to high cutoffs. Even scores of 90% did not guarantee admission to top colleges in Delhi in 2021. In that year, as many as 10 courses in Delhi University had cutoffs of 100%. Courses in computer science, B.Com (Hon), Economics, and Physics required nothing less than the maximum percentage in the first round.
So where does that leave the rest of the students? Here is some good news. From the academic year 2022-23, students who cannot get into their preferred college due to such high cutoffs will have the option to study courses online. Not only universities but also autonomous colleges across the country will be able to offer courses in online mode from the new academic session in July 2022. So far, only universities were able to offer online degree courses. Before these regulations were introduced, students could complete up to 20% of their degree online through India’s official MOOC i.e., Swayam. The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 aims to achieve a 50% gross enrollment ratio by 2035, and the decision to offer online courses is a move in that direction.
What will be the criteria for allowing these autonomous colleges to conduct online degrees? Colleges having National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) grade of at least 3.26 or securing ranks in the top 100 list in the respective subject category twice in the preceding three rankings of the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) will be permitted to start such courses, in compliance with UGC regulations. Online education in a top-ranking college may be a better alternative than learning in the traditional mode in a not-so-good college.
In most colleges, all possible combinations of subjects are not permitted in traditional courses due to difficulty in framing college and exam timetables and paucity of teachers for certain subjects. Online degrees will enable a student to take her choice of subjects. So a student may be able to offer courses in physics with those in economics or music.
Under NEP 2020, online degrees will also have the flexibility of conventional programmes such as the 4-year undergraduate programme with multiple entry and exit options. Conventional degrees, online degrees and open and distance learning degrees will have the same value.
So which courses could benefit from this online mode? Subjects most in demand like finance, management courses, machine learning, data science and artificial intelligence and subjects that donot require a laboratory such subjects in humanities, economics, languages could benefit from this move. But science subjects with practicals and technical degrees like engineering in civil, mechanical, electrical, electronics, etc. may continue in offline mode. Credits earned in various courses can be deposited in Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) from other than the parent college. Credits awarded to a student for one program from one college may be transferred / redeemed by another college upon students consent. Credit transfer is the key to successful study mobility. Colleges offering these online degree coourses can provide digital access to library resources. Exams will be online proctored and the National Testing Agency (NTA) can also conduct computer based semester exams.
What will be the challenges and long term consequences of this move?
- Will the benefits of online degree courses mean more affordable fees?
- The problem of keeping students engaged in online mode. Distractions are many and easy when a student is learning outside the classroom environment. How will discipline be maintained in such a situation?
- Will it result in a disconnect between student and teacher, and indeed between students themselves? After all, a college campus provides more than just classroom teaching. Interaction of students with teachers, with other students and staff in college, library facilities, gymkhana facilities, extracurricular activities such as College day functions, taking part in exhibitions, NSS, and other activities, how will these issues be addressed by colleges, that remains to be seen.
- Will it be easy to provide online access to digital content? Most books will first have to be converted into a digital format, something that only publishers and authors may be authorized to do.
- What will be the impact on faculty recruitment? Will the number of teachers recruited by colleges reduce as colleges may share faculty for certain subjects?
- What about teacher training? Teachers will have to be trained in the new pedagogy and online teaching methods and students will have to appreciate and understand that the responsibility for learning lies with them.
- Teachers also learn more about their subjects when they interact with their students. It will be a grave error to assume that “teacher knows all”, certainly not in the Internet age. Students have access to all the resources that are available to teachers. Teachers will surely miss the presence of students on the campus.
- If the number of enrollments is going to explode, colleges will have to make provision for infrastructure for assessment of these large numbers.
- This also opens up a vast opportunity for digital content creators be it audiobooks, video format, text-based material, digitization of books, conducting online exams, etc.
- Connectivity issues will be a major concern if media-rich content is going to be used. Colleges will have to come up with alternative primarily-text content for students who are unable to access Internet at high speeds due to geographical location and costs.
- Lack of digital literacy is a problem among many students. This could also give rise to issues related with cyber law. Students must be trained in the proper use of the Internet and digital devices.
- Providing instruction and study material in regional languages.
- Ensuring that exams are conducted in a proper proctored environment and that there is a level playing field between those giving exams in online or offline mode.
- Considering all these factors, it doesnot appear that online degrees will be very cheap. There are major costs in creating a digital learning-teaching environment by way of hardware, software, services, and training.
What will be the impact of this move of digitizing education on such a mass scale, only time will tell. What will be the quality of education, the interpersonal skills of students and teachers, all this we can wait and watch. Maybe a form of blended learning is more appropriate than wholly online education.