SWAYAM, an upcoming online course platform by the Indian government, has ambitious goals. It’s the one platform that would bind together Indian higher education — both online and offline.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have already helped millions of Indians informally continue their education for free online, and in their free time. But SWAYAM — the Hindi word for “self” — promises to formalize this learning the way university degrees do.

Here is one line in the The Gazette of India (basically an authorized legal document of the Indian government) that got me really excited about SWAYAM:

No university shall refuse any student for credit mobility for the courses earned through MOOCs.

At launch, SWAYAM is expected to have over 2,000 courses, 250,000 hours of content, and over $30 million paid to instructors. Students across all universities in India will be able to earn credits on SWAYAM.

A Brief History of SWAYAM

At Class Central, we were the first ones to write about SWAYAM when it was first announced back in August 2014. It was part of the educational initiatives launched by the newly-elected Prime Minister for India, Narendra Modi.

Since then, SWAYAM seems to have hit several roadblocks. It was supposed to launch in October 2014 with three MOOCs. But it never launched.

SWAYAM is finally moving forward again, and it might even launch on August 15 2016 — India’s Independence Day.

Introducing the University Grants Commission (UGC)

The UGC is the government body responsible for “coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of university education in India.

Last month, the UGC published a couple of documents on its website:

  1. a list of MOOCs, and
  2. its credit framework for online learning courses through SWAYAM

On further digging by Class Central, we also found another document entitled “Guidelines for Development and Implementation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).”

These documents contain a lot of details like the formal definition of a course, the recording format for videos, how much headroom to maintain in each video (hint: 6–8%), how the credit transfers would work, and so on.

How the courses will work

With 2,000 courses expected to be available at launch, SWAYAM will have the largest course catalog among all MOOC providers from its very first day.

The courses will range from high school to post graduate level.

Soon, we’ll publish a list of the courses that will be part of the SWAYAM platform.

Much of the content for SWAYAM is content that has already been created by Indian institutes, and which will be re-purposed for SWAYAM. One instructor whom Class Central spoke to had created his videos and sent them to the UGC more than three years ago.

NPTEL (a group of seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institutes of Science (IISc)) will contribute about half of the courses. NPTEL has already been putting its courses online on YouTube, and it also hosts its own MOOC platform.

All the videos created for SWAYAM will also be also be available on a platform called e-Acharya. E-Acharya already hosts educational video content created by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. These videos are also available on its YouTube channel and might be re-purposed for SWAYAM.

The guidelines also include how much the course instructors will get paid. For the first run of the course, instructors will get paid ₹9 lakhs ($13,500) for re-purposed content, or ₹12 lakhs ($18,000) for newly-created content.

With 2,000 courses, in total over $30 million will be paid to instructors. Instructors will also receive ₹1.5 lakhs ($2,200) for each subsequent run of the course.

How credit mobility works

SWAYAM’s biggest impact lies in its potential to increase the quality of higher education across India.

The courses on SWAYAM will be free to take for anyone in the world. But SWAYAM’s biggest impact lies in its potential to increase the quality of higher education across India.

Not only can students learn from the best universities and colleges in India — they can now earn credits from them via SWAYAM.

The UGC credit framework allows students who are enrolled in higher education programs across India to earn credits via SWAYAM.

Each credit will be the equivalent of 13 to 15 hours of learning activities.

Any academic institution in India can offer up to 20% of its catalog in a particular program via SWAYAM. The institutions also need to provide any resources that students need in order to take SWAYAM courses — like computers or lab space — to those students for free.

To earn these credits, students will need to do all the required assignments and homework for these courses, and then attend a final proctored exam. The exam will be held either in the local institute where the student is enrolled, in a nearby institute, or in a proctored center.

The cost for each exam will be ₹1000 ($15).

Upon successful completion of the course, the institution that taught the MOOC will issue a certificate, along with the number of credits and grades. The student can then get credits transferred into their marks certificate (transcript) issued by the institution that they are enrolled in.

SWAYAM’s strange technology choices

This is the most worrisome part about SWAYAM.

SWAYAM was originally supposed to be built using Open edX, but now it seems that a team at Microsoft is building them a closed-source platform using proprietary technologies.

Earlier in June, Microsoft was selected as a technical partner for SWAYAM. The deal is worth ₹38 crore (~$6 million), and Microsoft will deploy a team of dedicated people to develop and maintain SWAYAM.

When The Indian Express asked R. Subrahmanyam, Additional Secretary for Technical Education at the Ministry of Human Resource Development, about the choice of Microsoft over Open edX, he replied that, “All that appears ‘free’ is not always free!”

You can read more about the entire saga here.

Building a fully-fledged MOOC platform is a major undertaking that other providers have already been doing for years. By not re-purposing a platform that already exists, and which is used by a global community (like Open edX), the SWAYAM team will have to start right from scratch.

They will have to learn everything that the MOOC provider community has already learned. This might cause quite a few hiccups in the first few iterations of SWAYAM.

At the time of writing this post, I was not able to find out which domain SWAYAM will be hosted on. We will be updating this article as soon we know.

Stay up to date with SWAYAM by signing up for MOOCWatch, a monthly monthly digest of everything related to MOOCs — https://www.class-central.com/moocwatch

Dhawal Shah is the founder and CEO of Class Central, the most popular search engine for online courses. You can see which courses he is taking here — class-central.com/@dhawal