Ever been tempted to take up an online degree course offered by a university in India? Those who have been taken in by advertisements of such courses in newspapers should be careful because education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) does not recognise any course offered solely through the online mode.
Many universities are offering such degrees, even though “UGC has not yet recognised any University/Institution for offering distance education programmes solely through the online mode,” writes SK Mishra, deputy director, UGC, in response to a question under the Right to Information Act.The website of the Karnataka Stake Open University (KSOU), for instance, offers online, correspondence and regular face-to-face programmes in its distance learning package. "In online courses, you get an opportunity to view videos, take assignments, etc. anytime anywhere and from any device," is the message on the university’s website. Students can take the course entirely online, the website informs.
KSOU also asks students to submit requests for a particular course. The website states: “The University has planned to launch several courses in the online format very soon. This shall depend on the interest of the students for particular courses. You may want to submit your request, in case the course you desire does not feature in the available list.”
When contacted, Prof MK Krishanan, vice chancellor, KSOU, said he accepted that the degree offered by the university would not be valid for employment as per the Indian education system, but KSOU was offering such programmes to keep up with international trends. “We have signed an MoU with a Mumbai-based website schoolguru.com which is imparting online degree courses to students on our behalf. I fully agree that these degrees are invalid but the global trend is towards online education and I don’t think we should lag behind the other players.”
Another major player in the field of distance learning, Sikkim Manipal University (SMU), invites students to join its MBA programmes solely through the online mode. A counsellor from south Delhi centre of IACM, the authorised partner of SMU, informs this correspondent, “You can get online admission, complete all four semesters online and appear in exams online as well. However, the certificate that you are given will not have any mention of online (programme). It will only talk about degree through distance education.”
Prof NS Ramesh Murthy, director, Sikkim Manipal University Directorate of Distance Education, however, denies that the university offers postgraduate degree courses solely through the online mode. “Sikkim Manipal University - Directorate of Distance Education, offers several programmes, all approved by the Distance Education Council (former regulator for distance learning which stopped functioning from 2012) and awards approved degrees only. While the self-learning material forms the basis of learning in distance mode, duly supported by the mandatory face-to-face counselling, the university also supplements the learning with additional material through digital technology,” Murthy adds.
Former officials of the DEC and the present regulator, the Distance Education Bureau under UGC express say they are worried that no regulatory framework is in place for online courses. “DEC did not give any approval to any university to run any course solely through the online mode. Online study material can be a supplementary learning methodology but completing the whole course all through the online mode was never approved by DEC,” says Manjulika Srivastava, who held a senior position in DEC.
A senior DEB (UGC) officer adds, “We have noticed these developments and have set up a committee to look into the matter. We will see if it’s possible for us to work out a regulatory framework. However, at present, these degree courses are not valid and no university can offer such degree courses.” Academic experts like SS Mantha, former chairman, All India Council for Technical Education say the issue needs to be addressed immediately. “As a regulator for technical courses as well as MBA programmes, AICTE has not recognised any online programmes,” he says.