Amid reports of exploitation of students and parents by some ed-tech companies, Union Education Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, on January 3 had announced that a policy to regulate the ed-tech sector was in the pipeline. The ministry said that it came to the notice of the Department of School Education and Literacy that some edtech companies were luring parents in the garb of offering free services and getting the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) mandate signed, especially targeting the vulnerable families.
Recently, the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) had also expressed discontent over universities and ed-tech companies offering programmes in “franchise” mode.
Anil Sahasrabudhe, Chairman of AICTE, told indianexpress.com that the regulatory bodies are not against ed-tech companies and would like to keep them as active stakeholders in the improvement of the overall system but they cannot do so by stepping over universities.
“As per the existing policy, no educational entity apart from universities can award degrees. Some institutes and ed-tech companies have been advertising certain programmes as if they are offering degree programmes. We appreciate participation from multiple stakeholders in preparing and delivering skill-oriented advanced certification courses, but they cannot take up the roles of universities, ” he said.
Sahasrabudhe added that a different policy for ed-tech may not be required if these companies are made to comply with the existing UGC and AICTE norms of offering programmes.
Formation of the IEC
Right after the government announced that it will put in place a policy to regulate the sector, several leading enterprises came together to form the first consortium of ed-tech companies – the India EdTech Consortium (IEC).
Companies and start-ups such as Byju’s, Careers 360, Great Learning, Harappa, Times Edutech & Events Ltd, Scalar, Simplilearn, Toppr, Unacademy, upGrad, Vedantu, and WhiteHat Jr have joined the IEC as of now.
Mayank Kumar, chair of the IEC and co-founder of upGrad, said, “To achieve sustainable education goals as a nation, it is rather crucial to have an online education/offline education rule book. It will help in the further development of the sector and address the roadblocks.”
Countries like the UK have official strategies that include measures for their government to help schools and other institutions procure edtech products and mandates for minimum cyber security standards. Kumar added that having minimum guidelines for Indian schools/institutions will be beneficial.
“Either the government or education industry body can release the criteria with a minimum compliance and adherence qualifier towards strengthening and streamlining online education,” he said.
Is government policy needed to regulate the ed-tech sector?
Kamlesh Vyas, partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu LLP, said that several of the ed-tech platforms engage in profiling, tracking, and behaviorally monitoring students to personalise the educational experience. “While this may be helpful both for the ed-tech companies and the students, in many cases where it may lead to better segmentation and targeting to meet specific learner needs, it should not lead to a situation where student vulnerabilities are exploited.”
He added that the development of IEC “may in part was triggered by the government’s indication that regulation is in the works for the edtech platforms”, but it may also be due to the realisation that if the ed-tech industry has to continue its growth trajectory, such self-regulations may be a necessity.
When asked if India EdTech Consortium (IEC) and a common code of conduct are sufficient for addressing 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 a policy, we will be more than happy to collaborate with the government to add the edtech context to it while they design and lay down the guidelines.
According to Akhil Shahani, CEO of Ask.Careers, the three major areas that ed-tech companies need oversight on are advertising and marketing of products, protection of user data, and resolution of customer complaints. “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 areas of possible concern. I do not believe other areas of edtech operations need much official oversight,” he said.
Impact on online upskilling enterprises
Board Infinity and many other such organisations are “solely focused on the upskilling segment unaccompanied by any agreements to offer courses with any institutions or universities.”
Sumesh Nair, co-founder & CEO of Board Infinity, said, “The recent announcement by UGC against the ‘franchise arrangement’ is an enormous blow to all ed-tech companies engaged in the upskilling space, offering courses in distance learning and online mode in association with recognised universities and institutions. A similar crackdown took place in China in the K-12 space, which proved to be detrimental to the ecosystem.”
He added, “Our target customers are adults who possess the independence of their decision-making. We firmly believe the recent rulings by UGC is not an area of concern for our business in the present scenario and as well as in the future. “