The Finance Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman, announced the budget in the parliament on February 1, 2021. During the announcement, the minister announced the reforms being introduced in the aspect of higher education. One of the reforms introduced is the Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) receiving permission to offer a variety of online degree programs without having to seek prior permission from the University Grants Commission (UGC). However, they must be included in the top 100 National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) or have a NAAC score of 3.26.
The Indian finance minister announced a range of reforms to be introduced in the education department especially in the aspect of e-vidya Higher education. Prior to the Budget 2021 announcement, a full commission meeting of the UGC took place on May 29, 2020. After the meeting, various decisions took place which was announced in the parliament.
The first reform is that institutes providing higher education can offer different online degree programs without receiving prior approval from the UGC. However, these institutes must come in the top 100 rankings of NIRF or must have a NAAC accredited score of 3.26 to be eligible for this reform. The institutions having a NAAC score between 3.01 and 3.25 shall be permitted to offer online degree programmes only after seeking prior approval from UGC.
The UGC has also introduced a reform with respect to conventional degree programmes. For such courses, the limit of online course material shall be increased from up to 20% to up to 40% in regular degree programmes. The various rules and regulations pertaining to the above-mentioned provisions have also been mentioned.
In the current situation, a total of 7 universities have received permission to provide entirely online degree and diploma programmes. With the introduction of the above-mentioned reforms, the number of HEIs eligible to offer courses in the online mode is expected to increase to 239. In case of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) mode, the number of institutes s expected to increase to 204 in the country.
The finance minister also went on to clarify the objective of introducing these provisions into the education sector. The aim is to provide high quality education to the students coming from deprived families or do not have the ability to acquire higher education. For such students, the government has proposed to conduct full-fledged online degree courses and education programmes. However, such programmes shall only be offered by institutions who come in the NIRF Top 100 ranking. The reforms shall begin with just a few institutions being allowed to conduct these programmes.