New Delhi: Higher education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) on Thursday approved new rules allowing top Indian universities and colleges to offer online courses including degrees and diplomas from the 2018-19 academic year.

“Higher educational institutions can offer certificate, diploma and degree programmes in full-fledged online mode in only those disciplines in which it has already been offering the same or similar programmes.... Online programmes requiring practical/laboratory courses as a curricular requirement shall not be permitted," the human resource development ministry said in a statement.

The higher educational institutions will be eligible to offer online programmes if they have been in existence for at least five years and are accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) with a valid minimum score of 3.26 or A+ categorisation on a 4-point scale.

Mint first reported about the move on 17 January (India to allow 15% universities to offer online degrees).

To be allowed to offer online courses, institutions should also be in the top-100 in overall category in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) for at least two years in the previous three years.

However, NAAC and NIRF conditions shall not be applicable to existing government open universities.

“These regulations will be made applicable from the academic session 2018-19. This initiative is a big step towards attaining the targeted gross enrolment ratio of 30% by 2020," the UGC said in a statement.

Terming the move as “historic", HRD minister Prakash Javadekar said “even students outside India can learn from Indian universities in online mode and best Indian institutions can reach out to students anywhere in the country and outside".

The online learning shall have at least four segments — video lectures, e-content, self-assessment and discussion forum to clarify doubts.

Aadhaar cards and passports shall be used to authenticate Indian and foreign students, respectively, for all online interactions, including teaching-learning and examinations.