Thirty-five-year-old Varun Khosla, a software consultant from Pune wouldn't have considered studying online. But he quickly realised amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and remote working, staying relevant to the business was key to being employed.
"I wasn't keen on doing these certification programmes because most employers seek degrees. Coincidentally the government also permitted online degrees. So I decided to enrol for an online MBA programme," he added.
In May 2020, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the top 100 universities in India would be allowed to offer online degree programmes. This was to improve accessibility and also provide affordable courses.
Now, with extended study from home and work from home, online degrees are getting more popular.
A typical full-time offline MBA degree could cost between Rs 15 lakh to 40 lakh depending on the institute. In contrast, an online degree programme would cost between Rs 2 lakh to 4 lakh for the two-year course.
Following the announcement by the FM, online education firm upGrad announced a slew of e-degree programmes in June 2020. This included BBA, MCA, MBA with Jamia Hamdard University, a one-year LLM in Corporate & Financial Law and a two-year MBA in Digital Finance and Banking with OP Jindal Global University.
Many other educational institutes soon began offering these online degrees.
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras launched an online Bachelors of Science (BSc) programme in Programming and Data Science that has the flexibility to be a degree course as well as a diploma course. A learner has to successfully complete all three levels to get a BSc Degree in Programming and Data Science from IIT Madras.
The full fees for the course (Degree) would be Rs 2.42 lakh. If a student choses to go for a diploma, the fee would be Rs 1.1 lakh.
Among the newer online degrees are the ones by edtech firm Great Learning in partnership with JAIN (Deemed-to-be University) that include MBA, MCA and BBA; and MBA with Shiv Nadar University.
Similarly, Imarticus Learning has launched an online BBA programme in Banking and Finance with JAIN (Deemed-to-be University).
So, what works?
Arjun Nair, co-founder, Great Learning said that in the past 2-3 months, the platform has started offering online degree programmes.
"We are offering courses in the areas where we are in strong in. It includes online degree programmes in areas of analytics, data science, AI, machine learning, cloud computing and full stack for MCA as well MBA in digital marketing, analytics and so on. Our approach is to offer online degrees oriented towards the future, where there are jobs and areas where there is disruption because of technology," he added.
Compared to a regular full-time course where one would need to quit his/her job, these programmes could be done along with your day job.
Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had said earlier that online degrees would also enable India to encourage students to stay back in the country for higher education.
“Almost Rs 1 lakh crore goes out of the country for education abroad each year for about 7,50,000 students. We are hoping that amidst the pandemic, we will be able to at least motivate 100,000 students to choose their own country as their higher education destination this year through innovative online degree programmes,” he had added.
For corporate professionals, who have a constant fear of going out of relevance due to changing technology, upskilling via e-degrees works well.
Bibek Banerjee, Senior Director and Head of Strategic Initiatives, Dean School of Management & Entrepreneurship, Shiv Nadar University said that quality education is a public good and it should also be accessible.
"It is very expensive to do an MBA degree, in India or abroad. Our whole idea was to offer quality education at an affordable cost. We also wanted to reach students to the deepest hinterland of the country which is possible via e-degree programmes," he added.
Banerjee also explained that not all professionals are in a financial position to quit their jobs for two years, forego their salary and take an education loan for doing an MBA. For them, an online degree works best.
Apart from the MBA programme that is being offered with Great Learning, Banerjee added that Shiv Nadar University is planning to add programmes in engineering and a Master of Science in Business Analytics next year.
More students and professionals who are not able to shift to another city for a degree programme can also benefit from online degrees.
Dr Raj Singh, Vice-Chancellor, JAIN (Deemed-to-be University) said that their association with players like Imarticus Learning will further enhance the learning experience of students in the post-pandemic era, where online learning is a significant part of the new normal.
"It will also help us expand our reach to students and extend our services to them, thereby keeping them in sync with the evolving career paths and needs of the future job industry," he added.
Will recruiters be open to online degrees?
Hiring consultants told Moneycontrol that companies are slowly opening up to online degree holders.
"It is not a certificate programme or distance learning which employers are wary of. When big and well-known universities are offering online degrees, employers will be open to hiring such graduates," said Vivek Tripathi, vice president at PayHire HR Consulting.
Similarly, Banerjee of Shiv Nadar University and Nair of Great Learning also agreed that employers are more receptive to online degrees since they have the same level of rigour.
"There are proper assessments, projects and examinations that are moderated by experts. So the academic quality is on par with a full-time degree," added Nair.
Going forward, it is expected that recruitment advertisements would also be more clear on being open to online degree holders as well.
"It is no longer a sin to study online. Employers have also realised the value of online degrees, especially now that it has a clear government recognition," said Sumanth Krishnan, CEO, BlueChip HR Solutions.Considering the benefits, he said that the market for online degrees in India is just opening up. Even post COVID-19, Krishnan said that the demand for such degrees will stay intact.