Explained: UGC Reforms Towards Ushering In Digital Universities And Digital Degrees
The latest proposal will significantly expand access to good courses and faculty in top colleges as online mode removes the constraints of scaling up.
Earlier this month on 4 February, the Union Ministry of Education promoted Professor of Electrical Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University since 2016, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, and appointed him the chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC) for a period of five years. Since then, the UGC seems to be in a hurry to push through important reforms.
Through amendments to UGC (Open and Distance Learning Programmes and Online Programmes) Regulations, 2020, the commission is proposing a slew of relaxations in regulations. In a major move, out of around 900 autonomous colleges in the country, those which rank in top 100 twice in preceding three rankings of National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) in respective subject category will also be eligible to offer online only courses and give degrees in them as well.
Until now, only universities were allowed to offer online degrees and currently, 59 universities offer 120 undergraduate, 29 post-graduate (PG) and two PG diploma degrees online. The latest proposal will significantly expand access to good courses and faculty in top colleges as online mode removes the constraints of scaling up.
Even among the universities that are entitled to start online courses can do so with an upper limit of 13 courses. Now, the UGC is planning to remove this restriction for universities and they will be allowed to offer unlimited online courses soon, UGC chairman M Jagadesh Kumar informed yesterday (21 February) while addressing a webinar.
More significantly, online degrees will be treated at par with offline ones as all online degrees will have the flexibility of conventional ones such as course curriculum, credit structure, four-year undergraduate programme with multiple entry and exit options, academic bank of credits and other reforms mentioned in National Education Policy (NEP). The criteria for admission into these online degree courses will also be more relaxed where students who have passed Class XII will be eligible to apply for UG courses and those who have passed the UG courses will be eligible for online PG courses.
The government hopes to push up India’s gross enrolment ratio to 50 per cent by 2035 (a goal set by NEP) from 27.1 per cent in 2019-20 for the 18-23 age group.
The colleges can either feature twice in top 100 in NIRF rankings or can have National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) grade of minimum 3.26 to be eligible to award online degrees without prior approval of the UGC.
NAAC is an independent council under the UGC and it has also proposed a new set of guidelines with an aim to widen the horizon of accreditation under which new colleges and universities that have completed even one academic year will be eligible to apply for provisional accreditation (PAC). So far, only those higher education institutions which have completed six academic years were eligible to apply.
In India, only 392 universities and 8,483 colleges are NAAC-accredited out of 1,043 universities and 42,343 colleges respectively. Typically, institutions shy away from applying for accreditation for fear of getting a bad grade because it will negatively impact their image. So, the modus operandi is to state that the institution is ‘in the process of applying’ but never actually voluntarily doing it. However, the NEP aims to accredit all higher education institutes in a phased manner.
The PAC will fast track that process. It will not offer any grading and will be valid for two years after which the institutions will get a grading.
In addition, the new guidelines also propose allowing universities and colleges offering online UG and PG programmes to collaborate with ed-tech platforms in developing courses and financial rules. "The universities can make use of tech facilities available in these ed-tech platforms in terms of animation, visual effects, gaming, etc, to create high-quality content to enable students to be outstanding in learning and contribute towards the growth of our country,” M Jagadesh Kumar said while addressing a webinar yesterday.
“We need to see the trends on how hiring is taking place across the industries. Today, trends show that skill-based hiring is more prevalent rather than degree-based hiring. The digital universities will provide the opportunity to customise and personalise education for the students. So that they acquire the skills that are required by the industry,” Kumar added.
In the webinar where Kumar mentioned the upcoming changes, IIT Madras director V Kamakoti proposed a 'digital university ecosystem' where select digital universities are empowered through regulations to be given deemed university status.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who inaugurated the webinar seconded the idea of digital university (which was part of the Union Budget 2022-23) as it will address the problem of seat capacity. “National Digital University will resolve the problem of shortage of seats in India. There will be unlimited seats. I urge all stakeholders to ensure digital university starts as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Modi said.
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