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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Georgia Tech to offer Online Degree

In a major announcement this week, Georgia Tech has said that they would be offering an Online MS program in Compute Science at a cost of just US$ 7,000, which is a fraction of what they charge for their current on campus program. Of course, it is not starting tomorrow. The first admissions are for Fall 2014, but those will be restricted to a few corporates, including AT&T. They are planning to make it open to everyone in Fall 2015.

Here is the GaTech website for Online MS. More information is available in post on Inside Higher Education.

What does it mean for us.

At US$ 7,000, the price is really low. I am assuming that the university wouldn't want to make losses on a program in which it is expecting to admit about 10,000 students. And hence, its own cost (including revenue share with Udacity) would be less than this. The cost of an MTech program within India is going to be higher than US$ 7,000 (unless subsidized by Government, which is the case with government institutes like IITs, NITs, etc.). And my guess is that besides the top 50 institutions in India, the quality of on-campus MTech program will not be significantly better than the online MS program by GaTech, and certainly will not have the reputation and brand value of the GaTech program.

What this means is that the MTech program in most institutions (except those who are heavily subsidized by the Government) would find it difficult to attract students. While we are currently talking about Computer Science only, it will spread to other fields as well. This certainly does not seem like a good thing to happen. Our PhD programs in CS are anyway very small, but lately the MTech programs had started picking up in the Tier 2 institutions. That growth will come to a halt.

Of course, one could argue that we will have a larger pool of trained manpower in India, trained through MOOCs. But this comes at a cost. We are already spending a couple of billion dollars every year for education in foreign institutions. The number will keep going up.

What do we need to do. Well, isn't it obvious. We must find a way to provide a low cost (not just subsidized) MTech education, which is available at a price significantly less than US$ 7,000. In other words, we must embrace MOOCs ourselves.

Will that happen. Of course, not. We will keep debating in the foreseeable future, and then one day, the government will become impatient with all those billions going out of the country, and it will force its own institutions like IITs to come out with a program in a few weeks. We will complain about government interference and demand autonomy. But one day, we will buckle under pressure and offer a second rate, if not a third rate program.

We still have time to do something about it.


VRP said...

very useful information

Kaushik Gopalan said...

"Of course, one could argue that we will have a larger pool of trained manpower in India, trained through MOOCs. But this comes at a cost. We are already spending a couple of billion dollars every year for education in foreign institutions. The number will keep going up."

Two points:

1. Some people who currently go abroad will presumably choose the online degrees because of the lower costs. Is there reason to believe that our "educational import costs" will shoot up dramatically despite this?

2. At a cost of <$10,000, more than a 100,000 students a year will get a Master's degree for a billion dollars. As a point of comparison we spend $80-90 billion a year on oil imports and a comparable amount on gold imports. Even if our nation starts spending more on foreign education, the cost doesn't seem to be large enough that it will concern the government (except for MHRD, which would demand action anyway regardless of the cost).

Overall, I think this is a major plus for our students and a major threat for our educational institutions. This is a classic case of "consumer surplus" due to a cost-reducing innovation.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Kaushik, you do have a point that the costs of educational imports is not much in the overall scheme of things, and may not go up because of this. But as you said that this is a threat to our educational institutions. And the point I am making is that the leadership in our educational institutions as well as faculty in these institutions are not likely to recognize that threat anytime soon.

Kaushik Gopalan said...

Prof Sanghi,

"And the point I am making is that the leadership in our educational institutions as well as faculty in these institutions are not likely to recognize that threat anytime soon."

I get that impression too.

However, I also think that it is an opportunity for some of our institutions to improve the quality of the education they provide. I can think of many "reputed" institutions (especially new/private ones) that can benefit from using material from Coursera or Udacity for classroom lectures and then have faculty provide tutorial sessions (I think San Jose State and Udacity are doing something like this). However, I suspect that the decision makers at these places would consider this an admission of weakness, and not allow/encourage it. Plus, I wonder what fraction of Indian students would be open to something like this....

Ungrateful Alive said...

There may be no single dimension of overall quality of MS CSE education, but imagine there is one, and rank all Indian colleges in decreasing order of that measure. Now insert GAtech in its rightful rank position. Given a MOOC is, well, "O", I can guarantee the GAtech online MS will not be at rank #1. Say it is at rank 20, and can offer infinite capacity. Suppose we wipe out all colleges lower than rank 20, and end up with a limited number of seats better than Gatech, priced higher than 7kUSD, and an unlimited number of GAtech virtual seats.

Is there anything intrinsically wrong with this picture, and what will be the outcome? India will end up having a larger number of better-trained CSE MS graduates. Because of the better training, some will leak back to Promised Lands. But this number will be modest for the foreseeable future; G8 countries are not likely to get friendly again with massive immigration of computer engineers. What is more important? Supporting (via market inefficiency) very many colleges that provide MS education worse than GAtech's MOOC, or increasing the skill per capita in India from its abysmal and plummeting current levels?

Consider the people displaced from the colleges that could not get past the Gatech cut. Given their demography, they will find reemployment in socially responsible ways without blowing up anything (or even voting UPA out of power!). The better ones among them may even be employed back by GAtech to conduct tutorials or exams and grade students.

Aside from a misplaced sense of hurt pride, I see nothing wrong with the above arrangement.

Badri Seshadri said...

Madras Institute of Technology under Anna University is offering an online masters course (MSc CS-FOSS) on Free/Open Source Software.

It is the only online based course that I have found in India. This is not distance education program, with minimal contact classes; but live online class room teaching over weekends, whole day. I didn't check out the course fees but for a two-year course it is certainly going to be less than $7,000. My guess is, it is closer to $4,000 (One lakh Rs per year, for two years).

I talked to Prof. Krishnan who is managing this course. He said, only an MSc degree was possible, approved by the Syndicate of Anna University. Providing or MS degree is not possible today as an approval from AICTE etc. is required, which may not happen.

MOOC in Engineering is a great opportunity in India. In most cases, one can get a better quality of education from better schools than the third rate education one gets from nearly 500+ self financing engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu and similar junk colleges from other states.

Same can be said of masters level course.

Threat from Georgia Tech or other US universities is very real. Before we sit up and take notice, 100 US Universities will be offering these courses with fees upwards of $5,000 as they are desperate for income to sustain their programs amidst funding cut in the US. Their degrees will also carry more weightage in India; after all we love anything with the US brand.

As usual, UGC, AICTE, MHRD etc. will keep discussing this and will not come up with any solution. Who needs Foreign Universities bill when online is there?

Prashant said...

" I can guarantee the GAtech online MS will not be at rank #1. Say it is at rank 20..."

You're underestimating the appeal of the MOOC system. Taking a look at all metrics released by Coursera and Udacity so far, Indians form a huge chunk of MOOC participants. Among Indians, it is actually the students from Tier-1 institutes- who are most active.

The MOOC has lesser utility for things like say, Mechanical Engineering or Biotechnology, which require a lot of hands on lab access; but when it comes to CS (and several theoretical areas of EE and Mathematics) their infrastructure and assignment quality are top notch; and often much more rigorous and hands-on than the IIT classroom courses.

Good students from IITs and NITs who get into decent tech companies, but want to pursue their studies as well (side by side) don't really have much incentive to do a Masters program offered by IITs even if it is online and significantly cheaper. No one is going to be stingy with a few lac rupees, when an online MS CS from Georgia Tech is so affordable (and doesn't necessarily require people to quit their jobs).This MOOC Masters program will attract the top tier of students.

However, there is one way in which the IIT system can actually start using the Coursera and Udacity MOOCs, given that so many IIT students are already learning so much through MOOCs.

One of the things which IITs should do is, to allow a small portion of the credit requirement to be cleared, by allowing students to complete a few Coursera/Udacity courses of their choice (possibly, on a pass-fail basis).

This way, students will be able to do at least something entirely of their liking during the 4 year stay; despite the fact that the IIT system is neither willing or able or interested in providing it to them.

And if they do a few courses they like, there is a possibility they will remain in technology, and they might not end up blindly applying for pseudo-management jobs and MBAs.

A current student who is trapped in an unpopular course (who is good academically- has a decent GPA; and has done a whole lot of Coursera CS courses) was telling me, how he'd require a GPA of 9+ to do an Algorithm Design course.

Is it possible to get into a good university for Computer Science through SAT, if I am in my second year at IIT in a completely different branch?

...I want to study Computer Science. I don't want to be one of the people who study a major they don't like, and then go for an MBA, and work at a bank. I know at least 3 people from IIT Delhi personally, who have done this. So I want to study CS, because I am interested in it. But I'm afraid, and it's almost obvious to me, that I won't get a rank in the top 300..

..third year mechanical engineer from iit delhi...Love programming(C and java) and learning and implementing data structure and algorithms.Though I am very late in realising that my heart lies on cs ...Please help.

Unfortunately, I could only find cases of students wanting to shift to CS; but I know that there are people who'd like to do at least a sampling of courses from other areas. Maybe one from Mathematics, one from Biotechnology, one from Economics. Something which our current, hyper-specialized BTech programs currently do not allow. By permitting 4-5 Coursera/Udacity/Edx MOOCs for pass-fail credit, IIT might be able to make its own BTech program a much better experience.

Just a thought.

Prashant said...

"Aside from a misplaced sense of hurt pride, I see nothing wrong with the above arrangement."

I don't really see it as hurt pride. It is a desire to be the best. And unless there is such a desire, the system will never improve.

If IITs start a MOOC program for say, even 1-1.5L, and perhaps throws in a few "large scale" on-campus sessions (offering a feature with a GaTech like program cannot offer) it might benefit a large number of students in this country, even if it won't attract those who had their UG in Tier-1 institutes. And it might also bring in finances for the IIT system.

Regarding pricing. Perhaps IIT should keep it competitive to compete with GaTech like programs, but there really isn't a need to try to offer the "cheapest" program which often has a negative effect on quality.

Shubhorup said...

IIT Delhi offers a Coursera course on Web Intelligence and Big Data.

IIIT Delhi uses content from Coursera courses for its Big Data and Machine Learning courses too.

Ungrateful Alive said...

When a brick and mortar university competes with another, capacity constraints and facility location offers some stability to the competition. The whole point of a MOOC is that it is infinitely elastic and not localized. IIXs (which includes IITs, IISc, most NITs, and some other colleges) can compete against MOOCs only by offering a superior classroom and campus experience. This is immensely difficult owing to human resource constraints, but may be possible over time with sensible administration (which is also rare). But on the other side is impossibility: a MOOC from an IIX can never compete with a MOOC from the Promised Land. For IIXs, there is absolutely no point getting into this game. Given finite budget and opportunity cost, it makes far more sense to invest in innovation leading to research papers and patents, and to improve the on-campus education experience, which means very many reforms, one being formalizing and working hard on the remediation of below-standard Btech education of our Mtech and PhD entrants. Another might be a nationwide "teach the teachers" effort. Summary: there are too many ground-level things to do first and do well, to get distracted by MOOCs.