UGC’s Distance Education Bureau needs to become Distance Accreditation Bureau 

The global pandemic has pushed education to unprecedented levels necessitating a series of action-packed reforms.
Representational image (File photo)
Representational image (File photo)

The viral rate at which EdTech company e-mails swarmed our inboxes beat the Covid spread comprehensively. By the time we could quarantine our inboxes from such e-mails, the screaming message was unconvincingly loud and noisy—‘the future of education is online’. This is what happens when equity analysts take over education policy and EdTech companies resort to multi-level marketing using multiple media. The relevance of online education is not undermined but the sweeping menu that online is the permanent recipe leaves an overcooked taste. 

The global pandemic has pushed education to unprecedented levels necessitating a series of action-packed reforms. Universities and schools across the globe have altered the foundational architecture of the teaching-learning ecosystem with ‘online’ dominating the discussion. The extent to which online education has been powwowed and pulverised might make one jump to the wrong and dangerous conclusion that the future is online. The porous preparedness during the pandemic to conduct online classes and assessments not only exposed the state of our online infancy but also paved way for a policy pathway to enter the global digital and online edu-space. 

Holon IQ, a global education intelligence provider, estimates the 2018 education industry market size of $6 trillion to reach $10 trillion by 2030. At current levels, only less than 3 percent of the global edu spend is digital. By 2025, the estimated digital spend will be $325 billion, less than 5 percent of global edu spend. Even at such low levels, there is considerable impact digital education is creating with governments worldwide beginning to take favourable and liberal views on digital and online education as a post-Covidien prescription to address the symptoms but not cure for education’s disorders.

The Indian response to the current times has been commendable with the MHRD’s calibrated approach addressing various issues covering the entire spectrum—from K to 12 to Degree to PhD. The game-changing initiatives are further in the policy pipeline that is to be announced anytime. The Finance Minister’s announcement that empowered top 100 universities to offer online degree programmes has almost reached the final stage. The UGC has made an announcement that select universities based on NAAC scores or NIRF rankings shall be permitted to offer online degrees without the prior approval of the UGC. This is a path-breaking decision in the right direction that can catalyse the Indian march towards digital and online education at a global level.

The role of the Distance Education Bureau (DEB) assumes significant importance in this new policy climate. The DEB has done a commendable job so far by putting in place a regulatory approval mechanism in the distance and online education with well-defined quality metrics and delivery protocols. The UGC’s current announcement needs to be blended seamlessly with the emerging role of DEB, which must shift from its current approval role to an accreditation role to align well with the regulatory mechanisms.

With the growing number of universities offering online degree programmes, the DEB has to put in place an accreditation framework and ensure that the universities follow high standards in their MOOC platform, credentialing, content, ed-resources, assessment, apps, etc.  as they begin to offer online degrees. The DEB must also ensure that universities don’t trespass academic boundaries to offer online degrees not allowed by law. It should evolve into the online education’s watchdog as DAB—Distance Accreditation Bureau.

Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed University

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