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[NEW DELHI] India plans to expand and upgrade an online engineering course to assist engineering colleges in smaller towns and cities that are facing an acute shortage of trained teachers and course material.

The online course contains web and video lectures by top professors at India's seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore (IISc). It was developed under a three-year National Programme of Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) launched in 2005 to enhance the quality of engineering education in India.

The IITs and IISc have to date uploaded more than 4,500 hours of lectures for 120 courses on the web. The lectures supplement teaching material and provide a backup for teacher shortages in several engineering colleges across India.

Buoyed by the success of the course's first phase, which ended in 2008, NPTEL plans to expand and upgrade the course in its second phase that began last month (March).

"It is important to reinvent and reassert the technical and scientific leadership that India can provide, Mangala Sunder Krishnan, a professor at IIT, Chennai, and web coordinator of NPTEL, told a meeting of open access journals held in Delhi last week (24 March).

"Finding qualified teachers is one of the main challenges now," he told SciDev.Net. Many engineering colleges have just 15 per cent of the required number of qualified teachers, he says.

The Indian government has more than quadrupled funds from 200 million Indian rupees (US$3.8 million) in the first phase of NPTEL to 960 million rupees (US$18 million) in the second phase.

In the second phase — which will end in 2012 — NPTEL plans to link the online lectures to 50–100 engineering institutes that will serve as laboratories for practical exercises. It will also add 600 new web and video courses, examinations that will lead to additional value-added certificates, rope in more premier institutes as partners to develop course material and integrate NPTEL content with university curricula.

In a parallel development, the country launched a national mission on education through information and communication technologies (ICTs) earlier this year (January) to develop personalised, interactive modules over the Internet and intranet for students in higher education institutes.

The new mission aims to increase higher education enrolment and bridge the teaching and computer skills gap between teachers in urban and rural higher education institutes. It will not only create high-quality e-content for the target groups but also improve computer infrastructure and access in nearly 18,000 colleges and departments of 400 universities across the country.