ISRA 2020
ISRA 2020

Online learning explosion opportunities

EducationWorld May 2020 | Special Essay

Online learning

Boosted by multiple forces the higher education landscape is transforming rapidly with a major shift towards online education. For over a decade we have been hearing that the online learners’ community has matured and acceptance of online learning is growing in leaps and bounds. Over the past two months the national lockdown, which has forced the closure of all academic institutions from preschool to Ph D following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, has become a major disrupter which has precipitated changes like never before, near and long-term.

With media attention focused on the impact of the pandemic, the announcement on January 30 that six private universities have received UGC approval to provide online degree courses — which should have been a cause for national celebration — went unnoticed.

The back story is that in 2018, the Delhi-based University Grants Commission (UGC) notified on its website that all HEIs (higher education institutions) countrywide could offer online certificate, diploma and degree programmes on condition that they have been operational for at least five years; are accredited by NAAC with a minimum score of 3.26; are ranked in the NIRF 100 (National Institutional Rankings Framework of the Union HRD ministry) for at least two years in the previous three years, and are already offering a similar course (offline or online) from which one batch has graduated.

The six universities given the green light on January 30 met all these preconditions. Even so it took 18 months before they could get going. But there’s no denying that a flood of nearly 35 odd eligible universities are ramping up to meet these preconditions and begin offering online certificate, diploma and degree study programmes. The UGC green light combined with the thrust given to digital education by the Covid-19 crisis has created huge opportunities in online education. To understand the scale of business opportunity in the higher education space, it’s instructive to examine business management education.

To understand the scale of business opportunity in the higher education space, it’s instructive to examine business management education. Today an estimated 588,000 youth are in MBA diploma/degree programmes in 5,500 B-schools countrywide. Aggregate enrolment in India’s Top 100 B-schools is not more than 10 percent, i.e, nearly 60,000. The remaining MBA aspirants are learning in B and C grade B-schools which provide indifferent and probably outdated business management education.

But after the imminent online learning explosion, a huge number of the estimated 520,000 students in B and C grade colleges are likely to sign up for the online MBA programmes of the IIMs and other top-ranked B-schools. Similarly in the arts, science and commerce higher education segment, 14 Central and state government open universities are providing distance education degree courses to 1.2 million students across India. Eight of them such as IG NOU, KSOU, and Nalanda Open University account for 80 percent of enrolments. With conventional top-rated bricksn-mortar universities set to go online in a big way, it may be curtains for these open universities in the near future.

In this connection it’s worth noting that in 2006-12, over 300,000 students were enrolled in the distance learning programmes of the Gangtok-based Sikkim Manipal University (SMU estb. 1992) which provides a blend of online and conventional face-to-face diploma and degree study programmes in its network of 500 bricks-n-mortar learning centres. However probably discomfited by SMU’s success, UGC mandarins re-interpreted its charter restricting it to offer its blended learning programmes to students within the boundaries of Sikkim state, which eventually led to closure of SMU’s distance education division in 2012.

Meanwhile, unregulated offshore online degree education providers such as Coursera, upGrad and edX have also managed to capture a large chunk of the Indian higher education market. However, the indications are that UGC licensed online learning providers will be free to collaborate with these offshore universities/MOOCs providers to offer professional courses.

The imminent online learning revolution in higher education — assuming that government and Internet service providers offer robust and reliable connectivity — is certain to cause major disruptions.

  • Top-ranked colleges/ universities are likely to prosper at the cost of also-rans
  • Ed-tech research and innovation will shift to universities
  • Students with online learning experience will have an edge in bricks-n-mortar institutions
  • Online education providers will need to become marketing savvy
  • Demand for online education technicians and managers will explode
  • Demand for technically proficient teachers and faculty will also explode

The sea-change in favour of digital education is also set to give a huge boost to e-commerce, enabling a variety of entrepreneurs to enter the education domain and disseminate knowledge through the digital medium. Stand-by for synergies between e-learning and e-commerce.

(Gaurav Singh is a senior manager (education practice), Ernst & Young, Gurgaon)

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