The academic year 2023-24 will see Indian education take a new path altogether. As a part of the National Education Policy (NEP) drafted in 2020 and a part of the budget allocation in 2022, the Ministry of Education will set up India’s first National Digital University.
This decision of the government is said to benefit the students in a big way. The National Digital University will enable students to enrol for multiple courses with its different partner HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) and earn a degree from NDU.
A digital university is an online university that aims to promote online learning in India and make education more easily accessible to the Indian youth. The National Digital University will offer diploma, certificate and degree courses. It is expected to begin its operations in the next academic year 2023-24.
How the university plans to operate might be a little complex to understand at first. Students wanting to earn a degree from the National Digital University can register for courses from individual universities through NDU.
For example, if a candidate wants to pursue an online course from IIT Madras, they must earn 50% of the credit to gain a degree from IIT Madras through NDU. Similarly, students can also choose to pursue multiple courses from different HEIs, and earn the requisite credits from different partner universities. Based on the credits earned and credited with the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC), NDU will award the student with a degree, diploma or certificate.
The Union Grants Commission Chairman, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, along with announcing the framework of the digital university also introduced the Academic Bank of Credit. The ABC consists of the vice-chancellors and faculty members of central universities. The ABC will store the academic data of all students. This will be used by students to transfer from one institute to another.
The NDU is said to have partners which will include both public and private institutions. As of now, four universities have been shortlisted which include the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras, Delhi University (DU), Banaras Hindu University (BHU), and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
Under the National Digital University, courses will be made available on one single platform/portal. All the digital content of the courses will be hosted on the Government’s Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) portal. The technological and administrative services will be provided through the government’s Samarth portal aimed at offering smooth and democratic delivery of all educational services.
This digital university, like any other undergraduate programme, will offer multiple entry and exit facilities. With regards to the number of seats available to the students, the Ministry of Education stated that there will be an unlimited number of seats available to students for every subject.
Commenting on this new development, UGC chairperson Kumar said, “The National Digital University will offer a whole gamut of qualifications and bring together various universities with no upper cap on the number of seats so that Class XII pass-outs can access high-quality higher education, improving their employability and GER in the country.”
Although NDU sounds promising, many education experts and professors have raised concerns about its operationality. The primary flaw is its flexibility which provides liberty to the students, not the HEIs, to frame a programme as per their choice. How will any university take responsibility for such a degree? Further, the unlimited number of seats for any subject is likely to impact the quality of the programmes. The teacher-student ratio is crucial for the quality of any course. HEIs aren’t planning to recruit new teachers. Thus, with a limited number of faculty, the quality of education imparted might degrade.
We must also not forget that the very essence of a digital university, which aims to make education more accessible, is imparting education through digital mediums like laptops, mobile phones, etc and internet connectivity. Although a majority of the Indian population has smartphones or even internet connectivity, the speed of it is not enough to support the high-tech infrastructure the government will use to set up and run the NDU.
Oxfam India’s ‘India Inequality Report 2022’ states, “Only 4 per cent of the students from ST and 4 per cent of the students from SC have access to a computer with internet facility. On the other hand, as high as 7 per cent of the students from OBCs and 21 per cent of the students from “others” caste group have computers with Internet facility.”
Many professors also argue that the ‘online’ mode of education will hamper the overall development of students. Under the offline or traditional education system, students used to come to the campus to learn, and exchange ideas, opinions, and knowledge as well as cultures that lead to their holistic development. This will cease if students opt for digital universities.
The announcement of the National Digital University being set up is both sweet and sour. Only time will tell if the Indian education system has chosen the right path.