Thousands of kilometers in one click: how India and eastern countries are developing online education
The material was prepared within the framework of the research project of the RANEPA Department for International Development "Online Master's Degree: Russian and international context", implemented with the support of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.

According to numerous forecasts, in the next decade, more and more online components will be introduced into the traditional model of higher education based on personal communication between teachers and students in the classroom. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly contributed to this: in the conditions of the "new normality", students and their families appreciated the advantages of obtaining higher education in an online format.

Of course, not everyone considers the development of online programs to be something positive. There are concerns that the availability of higher education programs entirely in online format poses a threat to the traditional "classroom format". I reassure you: online programs should be perceived primarily as allies through which universities can attract wider groups of international students, thereby increasing the level of education around the world. It sounds big, and it really is!

Naturally, online programs at this stage arouse increased interest among researchers. For example, in 2021, a large Australian company Online Education Services conducted a study in several emerging markets to assess the attitude to studying at Australian universities in online format after the end of the pandemic. The results of the study showed that 78% of surveyed Chinese students and 81% of surveyed Indian students positively view this format of study.
Chinese students
Indian students
Ahead of the rest

It is worth remembering that the direction of online programs is still at the stage of dynamic development, therefore, applicants considering the possibility of studying completely online should take into account many factors before making a final decision: whether certificates issued after studying in such programs are recognized, whether these programs have proper accreditation, and so on.

The best situation with the regulation of online higher education programs is in the Asian region, where various forms of "open" education that does not require a visit to the campus developed even before the pandemic as a way to increase the accessibility of higher education for citizens. Thus, in Malaysia and Vietnam, there are no prohibitions on the recognition of certificates obtained after studying in online programs at universities abroad, if these programs are accredited.
In December 2019, the expert group of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum developed the Quality Assurance in Online Learning Toolkit. This toolkit represents a starting point in ensuring the quality of online education in the region and establishes a number of criteria that national education quality assurance agencies can use when developing their own criteria for evaluating online programs. It is emphasized that taking into account the increasing integration of online technologies in higher education, it is necessary to reach agreement on the recognition of results of training in higher education programs, regardless of the training format.
India is in the lead

One of the countries with the mosts developed mechanism of legal regulation of the provision of online programs is India. The regulation of distance and online education in India is handled by the Distance Education Bureau. The main act regulating online and distance education in the country is the University Grants Commission Notification No. F.1-1/2020 (DEB-I). It contains the minimum requirements for educational standards that universities in India must comply with in order to be eligible to recruit students for online bachelor's, master's and postgraduate programs.
At the same time, the ability to implement programs in one of these formats is not a right, but a privilege. Not every Indian university will be able to get permission to implement education in a distance or online format, even if it complies with all the requirements specified in the Notification. The final decision remains with the University Grants Commission. Until 2022, only 53 Indian universities had official permission to implement distance learning and online education. However, now the government is striving to develop this area more actively, and recently granted permission to 900 more universities and colleges.

According to the document, in online programs, the learning process is organized exclusively on Internet platforms. All students attend virtual classes which are held according to the schedule. The teacher virtually controls these classes. Exams and grading are also held online.

Universities cannot offer completely new programs in an online format, they can only adapt existing ones to it. In addition, there is a list of educational areas for which it is forbidden to implement programs in remote or online format: engineering, medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, architecture, law, agriculture, gardening, hospitality, catering technology, culinary sciences, aircraft maintenance, fine arts and sports.

Certificates received after completing online programs are equivalent to certificates that a student can receive by studying in the traditional way. Nevertheless, the certificates necessarily indicate the format of education. An interesting fact: with all of the above, qualifications, diplomas and degrees obtained in online programs of foreign universities are not recognized in India. However, this situation — against the background of India's general efforts to internationalize and digitalize education — may change in the relatively near future, especially under the influence of neighbors in the Asian region.

Coordination needed for a sustainable, competitive position

Once travel restrictions ease as vaccine rollouts begin to take effect, international students and prospects will feel a dynamic mixture of relief, excitement, and anxiety. They will face economies in various stages of recovery and intense competition for jobs. They will be looking more carefully than ever at national policies enabling them to work during study and to pursue employment after graduation, costs of living (especially accommodation) in destination countries and cities, and scholarship opportunities.

The greater the ability of governments and institutions to coordinate to create compassionate, relevant policies and experiences for COVID-affected international students, the greater will be their ability to compete for these students in a post-pandemic world.
Larisa Taradina is the Director for International Education Development and Cooperation of Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. She has been working in the field of international education for more than 15 years. Among other institutions, her experience includes working in National Research University Higher School of Economics and the Russian Academic Excellence Project. She is the author of professional development programs for employees of international offices; these programs were implemented under the agenda of the Academic Excellence Project. Larisa Taradina conducts researches in the field of internationalization of higher education and is the chief editor of Telegram channel @eduviewrus dedicated to international education relevant issues.