“I scored 99.9 percent - yet I couldn’t make it to the institution of my choice…”
“We travel 25km for a degree college that offers humanities courses…”
“I can’t think of a professional course, though I have very good marks, as I cannot afford to live away from home...”
Lack of quality institutions, accessibility and cost of higher education are much talked about impediments when we talk about tertiary education in India.
It’s that time of the year once more, when stories of high cut-off marks for admissions to colleges are flooding newsprint and channels across the country. Each year, college admissions bring to fore the increasing number of college-ready students and the dire shortage of higher education institutions in India. Consequently, the gap between the number of available institutions and the number of students opting for higher education is widening ever year and is likely to grow in future.
In this context, open and distance learning (ODL) through ‘online varsity’ or ‘e-university’ is a potential solution for aspiring students.
Currently, around 24 specialist open universities operate across the globe. These include the Open University of Catalonia, Spain; The UK Open University, which currently accommodates more than 250,000 students; Indira Gandhi National Open University, which has 2.6 million students, Mumbai University’s Institute of Distance and Open Learning, the University of South Africa, African Virtual University, the Open University of the Netherlands, the Open University of Hong Kong, Canada Open University – Thompson Rivers University, Asia International Open University, and Universitas Terbuka – the state open university in Indonesia1.
Drivers of e-universities
While the number of e-universities is growing significantly across the world, the market for e-universities in India is still premature. Yet, it holds immense potential. Some of the drivers of e-universities in India are:
- Demographics and massification
With the growth of the knowledge economy and increased globalization, ‘massification’ of post-compulsory schooling continues to grow across, and impact, developing nations in particular. India has doubled its enrolments in the last 10 years alone2.
In a recently released report, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has predicted that around 40 percent of more than 200 million university graduates aged between 25 and 34 in 2020 will come from China and India. While China is expected to account for 29 percent of these students, while Indian students will constitute around 12 percent3.
- Paying for education and training
Public expenditure on higher education in India is disappointing. Barely 4 percent of the GDP is spent on education, and higher education accounts for less than 0.6 percent of the GDP4. As funding higher education steadily moves from the government toward the individual, students will increasingly become seen as ‘customers’ and education as a market. As such, the private provision of higher education is likely to increase. The pressure on both costs and demand can also be expected to make online learning and ODL increasingly attractive. Higher-education institutions will, therefore, need to be agile in adapting and developing their products to deliver what the customer (student).
- Government and private initiatives
The government has invested around USD 2 billion in broadband connectivity to help create quality e-content5. Such measures may also encourage investment and initiative from private universities. A case in point in Manipal Global Education Services (MaGE), which plans to establish a global e- university with its base in Kuala Lumpur. The university will offer flexible learning to the global workforce.
However, a number of factors could hamper the growth of e-learning or e-universities in India:
- Lack of recognition - Online courses are often not recognized by higher education institutions and organizations. This makes them less sought after choice for students.
- Lack of connectivity --- With no or limited connectivity, especially in rural areas, establishing e-learning institutions is not feasible.
- Lack of robust monitoring mechanism --- There is a hardly any check or monitoring of the institutions and the quality of courses they offer to students. Institutes often run without accountability which impedes their credibility.
KPMG in India’s point of view
India accounts for a quarter of developing world’s population and has the third-largest higher education system in the world. Approximately 24 percent of all higher education students in India are enrolled on courses delivered via ODL, largely in the 13 national and state open universities and the 106, mostly public institutions which offer both oncampus and distance learning courses. ODL is considered to be effective for reaching out to large numbers of students. Having said that, the credibility of ODL – mainly due to the perception associated with ‘distance learning’ has not allowed ODL to emerge as a major force in higher education in India6.
To ODL successful, we need to look at a whole new approach this. The convenience, flexibility and cost effectiveness needs to be highlighted. Curriculum, content, mode of delivery, assessment and accreditation should be on par with the regular stream. ODL should be fine-tuned for learning over internet, usage of technology (such as tablets, mobile phones, social media, television & radio as a support media, satellite network) and effective use of existing brick and mortar support.
If the overall student experience is made better along with increasing the value and relevance of distance education programs with corporate (for e.g. there could be customized on-line, interactive course for specific corporate by a university). ODL should not be the last choice for students – potentially after trying all other options – rather it should be a powerful alternative stream and the quality should reflect right from admissions to awarding the degree / diploma etc.
OLD looks like the only way to educate the rapidly increasing Indian need for higher education. India could be setting the benchmark for the world since it has the capability and the need for it. Frankly, there seems to be no other choice.
1. Press articles
2. Ministry of Human Resource Department, India
3. OECD: How is the global talent pool changing?, May 20124. Swadeshi Jagran Manch, December 2011
5. Ministry of Human Resource and Devlelopment, India
6. Daniel, Kanwar and Uvalic-Trumbic – Mass Tertiary Education in the Developing World