Online education in India set for a boom in volumes

01 December 2020 6 min. read
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High student volumes and regulatory changes have paved the way for more online higher education in India. RedSeer Consulting presented the state of education in collaboration with the Internet And Mobile Association of India (IAMAI).

The pair surveyed more than 300 students at all stages of education – from K-12 to college – as well as a range of other stakeholders in India’s education system. Parents, teachers, administrators and education technology (EdTech) innovators were all consulted for a comprehensive overview.

A quick roundup of education figures in the country: more than 270 million students are enrolled in K-12 in India, putting it among the largest school systems in the world. The majority of students come from middle or lower middle-income families, while the rich and deprived categories on each extreme make up a very small percentage.

K-12 student population in India

The income distribution is visible in other demographic indicators as well. For instance, the overwhelming majority of K-12 students are situated in Tier-2 cities, while Tier-1 and metropolitan cities together make up less than 15%. Notably, not all of these students go on to pursue higher education.

RedSeer and IAMAI report that there are 40 million enrollments in higher education at the moment – more than 30 million of which are in undergraduate programmes. Around 5 million – just over 20% of all higher education students – are enrolled in postgraduate programmes, while other programmes draw around 3 million students.

Combined, the students have access to 55,000 higher-education institutions in India, of various types. Nearly half of these are private, un-aided educational institutions, while another 17% or so are private aided institutions. The rest are spread across the ‘government-backed’ or ‘stand-alone’ categories.

Figures on higher education in India

Variations also emerge across education types. Specialised institutions – medicine, law, technology, etc – make up less than half of all educational bodies in India, but account for the vast majority of students. Other students are enrolled in general institutions – arts, commerce, etc – which make up nearly 60% of all bodies in India. 

The need for reform

The numbers are healthy at face value, with 40 million students in higher education. That being said, the ratio of those eligible for higher education versus those who are actually enrolled – Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) – stands at just over 25% in India, which is poor by international standards.

The US, for instance, has a higher education GER of nearly 90%, while Russia’s is just over 80%. No doubt, India’s vast population might skew these results, but even China with nearly 1.4 billion people has a GER twice that of India at 50%. The numbers scream out for reform, and the government has taken note.

Government reforms expected to drive enrolment growth

Transforming healthcare

In July this year, the Indian government launched the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 – aimed at transforming India’s education system by 2040. Specific policies include an increase in spending, changes to the K-12 curriculum, and widespread measures to make education more accessible.

Among the targets is to achieve a higher education GER of 50% by 2035, which will require a compound annual growth rate of 6% in enrollments over the next 15 years. With this swarm of new students entering the system – more than 90 million by 2035 – pressure will intensify on the few institutions in India that already serve more than 40 million students.

Online to the rescue?

Enter online education. Included in the NEP are several measures to promote online learning, in the hope that it will boost convenience and accessibility, reduce pressure and consequently improve enrolment numbers. While demand for online learning is high in India, there were strict safeguards and regulations that discouraged online education prior to 2020.

How regulation will boost online education in India

Now, the top 100 universities in India have been permitted to offer online courses, which opens the door to collaboration between universities and EdTech platforms. Also in the reforms is permission to build an Academic Bank of Credits – where credits are build based on individual courses rather than programmes. A mid-term undergraduate dropout, for instance, could resume their education without losing their progress.

According to CEO & Founder of RedSeer Anil Kumar, this allows for the “unbundling of courses and democratisation of access to boost demand for online education and increase the completion rate.” And its not just quantity that is being boosted, quality is also being given a leg up.

Indian educational institutions have been encouraged to partner with leading international institutions via online channels to offer students a more global learning environment with better exposure. Enabling all these measures will be a bit of breathing space for academic institutions, which can now offer up to 40% of their coursework online as opposed to the 20% threshold from before the pandemic.

While a specific policy response to Covid-19, this marks an important step in the boom of online education in India. Indeed, reports suggest that students in K-12 have already adapted to the e-learning paradigm, paving the way for a more integrated online higher-education market.