“Once upon a time” there was a Peter Varghese report… and it is still relevant.

The 2018 report commissioned by the Australian PM identified an opportunity with “online education” but flagged one handicap that needs to be overcome. I believe that Covid19 has presented us with the right opportunity to overcome that one real handicap. Indian Ministry of HRD might just agree in the Covid19 background. Make an approach.

In 2018 the commentary around the report had a buzz:

Perhaps it’s because Varghese is quite explicit about the China risk. He notes that India is in “deep strategic competition with China”. He notes that there is not just economic advantage but a political logic to a closer relationship with India: “A strong economic relationship with India strengthens Australia’s economic resilience,” Varghese writes in his report, titled An India Economic Strategy to 2035. “That is important for a country where 40 per cent of our exports currently go to just two markets with ageing populations,” meaning China and Japan. “India – a large and young population – adds balance and spreads risk in Australia’s economic relationships.” 

The India relationship is so badly underdeveloped that, while there are hundreds of direct flights a week to China, there is only one direct flight a day to India. And no Australian airline runs a direct flight to India. Tourism and business cannot possibly flourish with so few air services. Note that there is a fast-growing Indian diaspora in Australia of some 700,000 people. Plus, of course, another billion or so back home.


However in 2020, Australia, including Australian Education Export, continues to be “China dependent” and there continues to be only one direct flight between Australia and India. In the last 3 years, not much has changed.

I do also believe that since Australian Universities have to now deliver programs online/remotely, Peter’s report is especially critical. It’s a high quality, 500-page report, containing 90 specific recommendations, written by the former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who’s also a former Australian high commissioner to India. Time to re-read Peter Varghese report. While indicating a potential for online delivery he had warned in his report that such degrees that are partly delivered online will not be recognised in India. Situation has not changed.

This is also the right time (with the Covid19 backdrop) to quickly get the Ministry of HRD to iron-out the sticking issue pertaining to recognition of partially online degrees of overseas institutions. If an approach is made at this time, we will have a positive outcome as this has a bearing on large numbers of students. Not just those who choose Australia but also those who are going to be studying online for part of their degrees from UK, US, Canada or NZ.

As I write this blog, it is quite apparent that Indian students won’t have their exam results in time for any enrolment in July 2020 intake. UGC has already recommended changes to the calendar for Indian Universities and the best guess is that the Universities will be in a position to enrol students in 2020 in September. However, I feel that November is likely. I also expect that Universities overseas may be in a position to make an offer of admission but whether the student’s will be able to travel ar commence depends on the travel embargoes in place and here my best guess is that while there might be some positive announcements by October, only a few countries will be able to have students travel and enrol in November 2020. The best case scenario is that the January 2021 intake for Northern Hemispherical Universities and the February 2021 intake for South Hemispherical Universities should be in a position to enrol students.

So the questions before the students:

Can they begin their course online in India and then commence on with their degrees overseas?

A short answer is “yes”. There are Universities that may have an intake between September and November which may be able to start off the student in an online mode. However the “yes” is the ability of the student to undertake the same. Whether they actively choose to do so depends on the answer to the following questions:

Will the “months” of online studies even “prior to the grant of the visa” count towards the period required for PSW (Post Study Work)? 

The answer to this is already in legislation but it is better that it is clarified by the Department of Home Affairs. My reading of the regulations on Post Study Work (in Australian context) states for a student who has undertaken a part of the degree overseas “can still meet the Australian study requirement if your course included study overseas, provided you complete at least 2 academic years of study in no less than 16 months in Australia in a CRICOS registered  course”. 

I am aware that there is an expectation of some changes to the above but even if the student starts a degree in November 2020 and goes on to Australia in February 2021, my reading of the regulations (I am not a migration agent) is that the study undertaken overseas will only be for 4-5 months and so the student when he graduates from the degree would have still studied for 16 months minimum “in Australia” of a 2 year degree.

Will the “one semester / trimester” studied overseas result in cost savings for a student?

We are in an unusual circumstance. Most Universities should offer a scholarship or bursary for the study delivered “online”. My personal opinion is that there should be a much lower fee for the distance delivered component. The cost saving will also be by the way of savings on the living expenses for that one semester studied overseas.

Will the students who commence the degree through an online study prior to the grant of a student visa, have an “advantage with the grant of the student visa”?

Honestly, the visa grant depends on several factors and amongst them is the establishment of the genuine intent of the applicant. This is where the fact that the student has already studied a semester prior to the travel to Australia, should possibly be an advantage. However, visa can’t be guaranteed by the University or the agency and this is one risk that the student need to weigh. 

Will the degree that has been delivered partially through online mode and partially through face-to-face teaching be recognised?

The degree will be fully recognised in Australia. However, if a student returns to India and seems its equivalence/recognition then there can be some issues. Once again the student needs to weigh the risks.

While you grapple with the above questions and your own answers, do find sometime to read through Peter Varghese Report where he clearly identified “Online and Distance Education” as an opportunity to develop. The relevant chapter of his long report is on this link…  https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/india/ies/chapter-3.html He points out where the opportunity lies for Australian Universities with Online and distance education…


  • Online education will play an important role in India’s education future, particularly in reaching students in rural and regional areas who may have previously lacked access to the same opportunity as their peers in urban centres
  • once Australian providers have developed strong brand recognition – perhaps through the provision of massive open online courses (MOOCs) – delivery of fee-for-service courses can follow.
  • By 2025 India is projected to have 850 million online users, many of whom will have moved from lower-generation network connectivity (2G) to higher-generation (3G, 4G and 5G)
  • half of India’s internet users will be rural (up from 17 per cent) and 40 per cent will be women
  • currently only 20 per cent of Indians enrolled in MOOCs are women, suggesting latent potential but also challenges in reaching more women through online delivery.
  • As a result of rising digital connectivity, users of online education in India are expected to reach 9.6 million by 2021, up from 1.6 million in 2016
  • this includes vocational training, secondary school tutoring and exam preparation, and university courses and degrees delivered online
  • Australia has world-leading distance education platforms which offer flexible study options that are scalable and can reach isolated students
  • our competitive advantage in online education is enhanced by Australia’s favourable time zone compared to competitors in the United States and Canada

Now when there is talk of International students being sold the online delivery of the programs one semester, we need to also note another aspect of the Peter Varghese report… He did highlight the potential for online delivery but as things stand he cautioned…

Foreign qualifications must be formally recognised by the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) for the purposes of further study and for some employment opportunities in India, including the public service

the AIU will not recognise degrees that include a pathway course (such as a diploma or foundation course) or any degree wholly or partially taught online or through distance study

But will Australian Universities and also the Government Departments listen carefully to what he had to say, including the caution or maybe the report is a bit too long for the policy makers to even go through once again…

I must add here that India is making progress towards recognising the online delivery of programs but at this time the progress is limited to a draft paper which is yet to be formalised. Till then what Peter’s report stated is the correct position. The degrees from Australia or anywhere in the world that is partly or fully delivered in India through online or remote method will not be recognised in India. In the short term, some banks may question the issuance of forex or education loans for the same and in the medium term, returning students with such a degree where a semester was delivered online in India may not be able to seek equivalence from AIU if they need that equivalence. I am told that hundreds, if not thousands of returning students from overseas do need to demonstrate equivalence each year.

I must also add here that the online or remote delivery of the Australian qualifications in India is still top-class but one may tread weighing all risks and avoid getting oversold. All international students being advised to start their degrees online in India and progress on to the campus for a face to face delivery in subsequent semesters must be pre-warned. This is what the ESOS Act requires too… Ensuring full transparency and full information. My intention is not to make anyone uncomfortable but to highlight that the time is ripe to get the recognition for the partly or fully delivered online courses. Ministry of HRD will be most receptive at this time.


1 Comment

  1. Very well articulated Mr Lochan. Hope someone in your Government recognises this and acts on priority basis.  Best regardsSunil Baweja

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


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