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The higher education regulator has approved plans to allow 37 universities, including Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), to offer online degrees, almost six months after it started the process of recognizing such qualifications.

The move will give formal recognition to online degrees and cash in on the momentum built during the covid disruptions. This may also help boost enrolment in higher education besides allowing varsities to generate more revenue and better utilize resources.

The courses that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has now approved are varied, ranging from Sanskrit to business administration, from data science to liberal arts.

For example, JNU has decided to start a masters programme in Sanskrit in the online mode, and Mysore University plans to offer 12 courses both in bachelors and masters in subjects ranging from commerce to business administration and master’s in computer application. Similarly, young universities such as Shiv Nadar University will offer an MBA course online, while O.P. Jindal Global University is set to offer five courses, including a bachelor’s in global affairs and a master’s in public policy.

The UGC said affidavits and details were sought from the universities to check that they have adhered to the rules.

“As mandated by the regulations, online applications had been invited from all entitled higher educational institutions (HEIs) willing to offer programmes under online mode for the academic session 2020-21, beginning January revised (Feb-March)... further each HEIs were required to submit an affidavit for ensuring compliance to all provisions of the UGC (open and distance learning programmes and online programmes) Regulations 2020," UGC said.

In September, UGC had floated the norms for online degrees and said universities that are accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council with at least a score of 3.01 on a scale of 4, or those who have found a place in the top 100 list of the National Institutional Ranking Framework can apply for offering fully online programmes. It said, however, that only courses offered in a face-to-face mode can be offered online by a university.

Online education has gained traction since the lockdown. Education regulators have already allowed up to 20% of a normal course to be offered online to help students catch up on their studies.

Fully-online degrees are an extension of India’s larger plan to open up and liberalize higher education. In the 2020 Union budget, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said India will allow the top 100 universities to offer full-fledged online degrees.

“Disruptions post the pandemic have been huge and online education will only gain ground. Universities and institutions that offer fully online courses will only build in on the momentum and acceptance of online education in the past year," said Narayan Ramaswamy, head of education practice at KPMG.

The new education policy proposes “an overhaul" of the sector to create a new system to not only offer quality higher education but also take India’s gross enrolment ratio to 50% from around 27% now.

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