Will Ronnie Screwvala's Rs 100-crore scholarship fund trigger a revolution for online education in India?

Is India on the brink of an educational revolution?

Indian entrepreneur and philanthropist Ronnie Screwvala has launched Asia’s first and largest online scholarship fund with a first closing of Rs 100 crore to provide scholarships and loans to those who are looking at pursuing an online course to enhance their skill set. He will start with an initial investment of Rs 10 crore from himself and will raise rest from other like-minded individuals.

As are a part of the programme, students will be granted scholarship ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2 lakh. The Fund will also facilitate loans for those that would not qualify for scholarships but would repay once they get promoted post their online studies. “This Scholarship Fund is aimed at skilling-motivated individuals in relevant areas and equip them with industry-relevant knowledge,” Screwvala said.

Screwvala’s initiative is truly pioneering because no university in India except IGNOU offers online education. There are many universities in the country which offer distance education opportunities but then you would need to travel to a centre for examinations. However, that is not the case with many western universities which offer online courses. When you enlist for an online course in a place like MIT and Harvard, you need not physically travel anywhere. Everything from course material to tuition and examinations are held online.

Here’s a look at some of the popular online courses offers by prestigious international universities:

University of Leicester
The University of Leicester is a public research university based in Leicester, United Kingdom. It offers a number of distance learning courses at PG level including in subjects like– Business and Management, Economics Finance and Accounting, Education, Engineering, English Language and Literature, Mathematics and Computing, Media Film and Communication and Political and Social Sciences. The degree costs 2,300 Pound (Rs 1,90,000 approx) depending upon the course. You will need an IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent to prove your proficiency in India.

University of London
The University of London offers a variety of course via its distance learning program. You can opt for a number of courses including- Accounting, Banking, Digital Innovation, e-business and social media, international relations, international development and management, at the graduate diploma level. While the fee varies from course to course, an IELTS score of minimum 5.0, TOEFL score of 75 or above and Pearson Test of English (Academic) score 46 or above is required to prove proficiency in English.

Harvard University
The prestigious Harvard University also offers a number of courses online, including– computer science, education and organisational development, humanities, mathematics and data analysis. Most courses are open to all. However, some courses require the applicant to have certain academic degrees or equivalent work experience. The university offers both online and paid courses and the institution is also coming up with new online courses soon.

Boston University
The Boston University is one of the top universities in the US that offers online courses at both certificate level at degree level. The university offers a number of interesting certificate courses like– Advance Information Technology, Applied Business Analytics, Data Analytics, Business Management and Business Intelligence, Information Security, Information Technology, Project Management, Strategic Management and Risk Management.

Oxford University
The Oxford University offers a number of interesting short and online courses including– music, psychology and counselling, business and management and language and cultural studies. You can enrol for any course by registering and paying a fee of 10 pounds (Rs 800 approx).

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA
MIT, USA offers a number of digital programs including– cybersecurity, Internet of Things and data science among others. These courses are offered on an open-enrollment basis and the fee varies from course to course.

India, on the other hand, lacks behind when it comes to online courses. The trend of distance education is gradually catching up wherein a number of universities are offering courses where the students just need to attend the university/college for exams.

Internet penetration, lack of social awareness and Internet literacy remain the biggest factors that hinders the facilitation of online courses in India. This is further worsened by the traditional Indian mindset wherein the students are allowed to work only after they have completed their education. The concept of ‘earn while you learn’ still remains alien to the Indians who consider this practice (which is quite popular in the west) a taboo.

According to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, as of December 2016, India had 432 million internet users of which 269 million were from urban India and 163 million were from rural India. The report further stated that while the urban India enjoys an Internet penetration of about 60 percent, rural India has just 17 percent penetration.

The recent times have also witnessed telecom giants like Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone aggressively expand their 4G network in the country. This has not only started off a competition which has resulted in decreased data charges but also strengthened the telecom infrastructure in the country. Even so, Internet literacy remains an issue that no one has been able to address.

An effort, not only on the part of the government but also the individuals, is required to educate the people, particularly in tier II and tier III cities, on the usage of Internet and devices connected to the Internet.

Enhancing digital literacy and strengthening Internet connectivity will provide the roadmap to building a foundation for online education in India.