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Online Degrees Make IITs, IIMs More Accessible, Smaller Colleges to Upgrade for Survival

Majority of students will consider pursuing online degrees from top colleges, especially those who have done an undergraduate degree from a lesser-known college.  (Image by Shutterstock/ Representational)

Majority of students will consider pursuing online degrees from top colleges, especially those who have done an undergraduate degree from a lesser-known college. (Image by Shutterstock/ Representational)

Women, people in their 30s, giving a second chance to education via online degrees. As much as 44.5 per cent of total learners in online distance learning mode are females.

If every student could go to an IIT or an IIM or a Harvard, would the premier institutes still hold the ‘premier’ tag? Would the regular colleges continue to sustain? With increasing access to top institutes thanks to online courses, these questions are becoming increasingly relevant.

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has allowed top ranking institutes in India to offer full-time degrees online to increase the gross enrolment ratio, however, those joining these online degrees are working professionals and students enrolled in tier-2 or tier-3 colleges.

IIT-Madras, the first institute to have launched an undergraduate level degree course online in 2020, had received 30,276 applications for its BSc programme (online) in its first cycle itself. Of these, 20 per cent of learners are working professionals. A learner can take three years to six years to complete his/her degree. Self-paced learning gives greater flexibility to learners, said IIT-Madras. Palpably, those applying for the course include not just students.

A total of 8,154 students have graduated from the IIT-Madras, of these 946 are above the age of 30 while 3,685 are above the age of 21 years. Going by the norm, a student is below 20 when applying for an undergraduate course.

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IIT-Madras is not a one-off instance. Coursera, an online learning platform that offers online courses from across the world, claims that the demand for full-time degree courses has increased in the digital space. Earlier, short-term courses used to be in demand, however, in 2020 alone the number of degree programs offered on Coursera grew by 47 per cent compared to 2019, while the number of students enrolling for these courses went up to 88 per cent from a year ago in the given time.

“The online degrees serve an entirely new type of learner — one who likely would not have been able to attend an on-campus programme," said Betty Vandenbosch, Chief Content Officer at Coursera. “Of those who reported their age, the degree student on Coursera is around 35. They are typically working professionals who like to learn on their commute, on weekends, or even after getting the kids to sleep. That’s why most (three out of four-degree students) study and learn using the Coursera mobile app," she informed.

Already enrolled students, or working professionals who already have degrees, are the current audiences for these online degree courses meant for students. Experts believe that it is only a matter of time the online education degrees will become the primary mode of education. Implying students would rely on the online degrees only and not take up an off-campus course in a tier-2 college. The pandemic has accelerated the process.

Accessibility of degrees from the comfort of home has given a push to female enrolment. While female enrolment is the lowest in institutes of national importance, in online space women are having a greater share. As much as 44.5 per cent of total learners in ODL (online distance learning) mode are females, as per the AISHE data.

The increase in online degrees has increased the reach of top Indian institutes, however, the smaller and lesser-known colleges are having to struggle to keep up with the pace. Experts believe that it can lead to further polarisation among educational institutes, especially at the postgraduate level. Colleges which are not offering quality education or placements will not be able to sustain for long; as an increasing number of students are moving towards online or hybrid degrees offered at a similar price by the top institutions.

“Someone who goes to an unknown college is taking up online courses offered by top institutes in an online mode. This can lead to polarising in the sense that the majority of students will consider pursuing online degrees from top colleges, especially those who have done an undergraduate degree from a lesser-known college. The tier-2, tier-3 colleges will see a decline in the number of quality students. They will have to upgrade, or face closure. These colleges will have to understand their strength and become more specialized else it will be hard for them to sustain," said Santanu Paul, MD and CEO TalentSprint - an online learning platform.

Arjun Nair, Co-founder, Great Learning said, “Just like it took years for online purchasing or e-commerce to become mainstream, this too will take some time. Online education from top institutions will also likely be cheaper than the poor quality local college. These changes will, however, take time as Indians are very particular about education and a lot of consideration is put into decisions related to it. The pandemic is accelerating the change. If tier 2 and tier 3 colleges can provide value comparable to online courses from top institutions, they would not have a problem."

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