Amid reports of exploitation of students and parents by some ed-tech companies, the Union’s Education Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, announced on January 3 that a policy was underway to regulate the ed-tech sector. . The ministry said the Ministry of School Education and Literacy had noticed that some edtech companies were enticing parents to offer free services and get the electronic money transfer (EFT) mandate signed, especially targeting the vulnerable families.
Recently, the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) also expressed their dismay at universities and ed-tech companies offering programs in “franchise” mode.
Anil Sahasrabudhe, chairman of AICTE, told biharengineering.in that the regulators are not against ed-tech companies and want to keep them as active stakeholders in improving the overall system, but they can’t do it by stepping over universities .
“Under existing policy, no educational institution except universities can award degrees. Some institutes and ed-tech companies promote certain programs as if they are offering training. We appreciate the participation of multiple stakeholders in preparing and delivering skills-based advanced certification courses, but they cannot assume the role of universities,” he said.
Sahasrabudhe added that a different policy for ed-tech may not be necessary if these companies are forced to comply with existing UGC and AICTE standards for program delivery.
Establishment of the IEC
Immediately after the government announced it would introduce a policy to regulate the sector, several leading companies came together to form the first consortium of edtech companies: the India EdTech Consortium (IEC).
Companies and start-ups such as Byju’s, Careers 360, Great Learning, Harappa, Times Edutech & Events Ltd, Scaler, Simplilearn, Toppr, Unacademy, upGrad, Vedantu and WhiteHat Jr have joined the IEC as of now.
Mayank Kumar, president of the IEC and co-founder of upGrad, said: “In order to achieve sustainable education goals as a country, it is quite crucial to have an online education/offline education rulebook. It will help in further development of the sector and tackling the roadblocks.”
Countries such as the UK have official strategies that include measures for their governments to help schools and other institutions purchase edtech products and mandates minimum cybersecurity standards. Kumar added that it will be helpful to have minimum guidelines for Indian schools/institutions.
“Government or the education sector can release the criteria with a minimum compliance and compliance qualification for strengthening and streamlining online education,” he said.
Is government policy necessary to regulate the ed-tech sector?
Kamlesh Vyas, partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu LLP, said several of the ed-tech platforms engage in profiling, tracking and behavioral monitoring of students to personalize the educational experience. “While this can be helpful for both the ed-tech companies and the students, in many cases where it can lead to better segmentation and targeting to meet the specific needs of students, it should not lead to a situation where the vulnerabilities of students are exploited.”
He added that the development of IEC was “triggered in part by the government’s indication that regulation is in the works for the edtech platforms”, but it could also be due to the realization that if the edtech tech industry must continue its growth trajectory, such self-regulation may be a necessity.
When asked whether India EdTech Consortium (IEC) and a common code of conduct are enough to address students’ grievances, upGrad’s Kumar said: “Yes, and it will go a long way in strengthening the ed-tech sector. However, if the government feels the need to intervene with policy, we are happy to work with the government to add the edtech context to this as they design and establish the guidelines.
According to Akhil Shahani, CEO of Ask.Careers, the top three areas for ed-tech companies to oversee are product advertising and marketing, user data protection and customer complaint resolution. “The existing frameworks of the Advertising Standards Council of India, the Data Privacy Bill 2022 and the Consumer Protection Act 2019 should be sufficient to cover these three potential areas of concern. I don’t believe other areas of edtech operations need much official oversight,” he said.
Impact on online upskilling companies
Board Infinity and many other such organizations are “focused solely on the upskilling segment, unaccompanied by agreements to offer courses with institutions or universities.”
Sumesh Nair, co-founder and CEO of Board Infinity, said: “The recent announcement by UGC against the ‘franchise deal’ is a huge blow to all ed-tech companies engaged in upskilling and offering courses in distance learning and online mode in collaboration with recognized universities and institutions.A similar crackdown took place in China in the K-12 space, which proved to be damaging to the ecosystem.
He added: “Our target customers are adults who possess the independence of their decision-making. We firmly believe that UGC’s recent statements are not a concern for our business in the current scenario and in the future.”