It might be an understatement to say that getting admission to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management is not an easy task. Over 13 lakh students registered for taking the entrance exam this year, a tad lower than the last year’s figure of 13.56 lakh but still a formidable number of aspirants for a little over 10,000 seats across the 18 Indian Institutes of Technology. At IIMs, less than 20 seats are available per 10,000 students.

However, there’s good news for those interested in learning from the faculty and framework of the IITs and IIMs as these two institutions are paving the way forward in opening up their coursework to the public at large with no cost at all.

Open online courses have been around for long with premier international institutions such as Harvard and Stanford leading the way but the recent surge in the number of courses available online from Indian institutions suggests that it just might be the next big thing in Indian education.

For instance, IIT-Bombay has taken the lead in providing technical education through its courses available on the popular online learning website to people across the world who can not only take lectures by the faculty of the institute but also participate in discussions and take quizzes to earn certification.

The institute runs an introductory course on computer programming on rolling basis which has a course work of eight hours per week and is taught by four members of the IIT-Bombay faculty. While many choose to do the course and learn programming for free, those desiring better job prospects could opt for a certificate with IIT-Bombay’s seal and instructor's’ signature for a $25 plan (Indians can pay in rupees at the applicable conversion rates) that will provide successful candidates with a verified certificate.

“A good course for absolute beginners to the world of programming,” a course participant wrote in his review. “Perfectly curated course contents and clear depiction of the concepts. Moderate difficulty and I would definitely recommend this course for beginners.”

While the course mostly garnered positive reviews, some complained about errors in assignments and projects.

Apart from this, IIT Bombay also runs two courses on "Signals and Systems" which teach participants about the intricacies of electronic transmission and communication systems.

Management online

IIM-Bangalore, on the other hand, is one of the few management institutions in the country to have brought an array of their courses online. In August last year, the institution joined the edX community and started offering its courses in the second half of the year.

Last month, it threw open registrations for four new courses, two of them beginning in July, with others to follow in August and October. These courses range from "Innovation in Management" taught by  Dr Rahul De, the Hewlett-Packard chair professor at IIM-B to a five-week course on "Statistics for Business".

The institute is now the first one from India to be a member of xConsortium at edX which is a community of business schools across the globe.

Meanwhile, the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad has been running its non-academic and uniquely designed course on happiness and fulfilment targeting working adults on the website The course is the first in the series of programs that ISB plans to offer through the website while three more proposed courses are expected to follow soon.

Independent venturing

Meanwhile, the IITs and the Indian Institutes of Science have come together to launch their own modules as part of the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, an entity funded by the ministry of human resources development which aims to bring quality engineering education online.

The portal set up with industry interaction and feedback from giants such as the Tata Consultancy Services, lists more than 80 courses ranging from metallurgy to game theory out of which half are ongoing and can be joined by participants for free. Even though the portal looks slightly less attractive than its international counterparts such as edX and Coursera, the variety and depth of courses more than makes up for it.

As a bonus, NPTEL has also started providing certification with verified seal after a certification exam which can be taken on payment of a nominal fee.