ON IT AGAIN: UGC offers 40 per cent of their courses online
Institutions in India seem to be acquiring new responsibilities. The University Grants Commission, the regulator of academic standards and other matters relating to higher education, is acquiring the mantle of director. Its directive to all higher education institutions to offer 40 per cent of their courses online on a government-mandated platform and not refuse any student mobility for credits thus acquired, however, comes in the guise of a regulation. Twenty per cent of online courses were permitted earlier; the leap in proportion and the pressure to comply manifest the Centre’s desire to make education online. Saying that blended education benefits students more glosses over the grave problems that students and teachers face when in-person classes are not possible. The government is not unaware of the problems students experienced during the pandemic, such as unstable internet connections and regular access to computers and smartphones. Numerous students have been losing out. Strangely enough, the UGC feels that these issues can be ignored.
What is puzzling is the regulator’s loss of interest in academic standards. Forcing every institution to break up their courses into online and offline components, with the students allowed to choose the online component from other universities, which, in turn, would be free to arrange the topic in their own way, would destroy coherence. Each institution, meanwhile, would be compelled to match 60 per cent of its course to complement what has been taught online. This regulation rides roughshod over the integrity of the courses as well as the autonomy of educational institutions. There can be no common denominator of division — a physics course cannot be broken up like a course in literature, say, or archaeology. Who will decide on the offline and online components? The UGC obviously does not lay much store by the teachers’ belief that meaningful learning happens in in-person classes; online classes can support, not replace, the communication that takes place in a classroom. So it has directed educational institutions to upgrade their digital infrastructure in readiness for online courses. The matter of economics here is a bit obscure. What is certain, however, is that posts, both sanctioned and ad hoc, will shrink and disappear with online courses. The economics is crystal clear in this case. Is saving money by reducing teachers more important than academic standards and autonomy?