ONE of the key objectives of open and distance learning (ODL) system is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in the country, thereby adding more number of people having access to higher education. In India, the GER for higher education was 12.3 percent in 2006–07 which rose to 17.9 percent in 2011–12. It is targeted to reach 30 percent by 2020. With an estimated 4.3 million students enrolled in ODL or roughly 22 percent of total enrolment in higher education and targeted to increase up to 50 percent, the system needs a serious relook. The imminent need in this direction is to have an effective statutory regulatory authority with full functional autonomy.
Prof. Sudhir U. Meshram
Vice-Chancellor North Maharashtra University
"Students in India often face the problem of migration because of different educational policies. This requires central government to formulate policy of flexibility and harmonization for financial support and for uniform undergraduate and postgraduate courses with some common goals"
The ODL system
According to the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012–2017) document by the Planning Commission 2013, the enrolment in ODL programmes has increased considerably during the Eleventh Plan from 27.41 lakh students in 2006–07 to 42.01 lakh students in 2011–12. In the ODL system, apart from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), there are 13 State Open Universities and 240-plus other Distance Education Institutions (DEIs) approved by the Distance Education Council (DEC), now renamed as Distance Education Bureau (DEB), whose regulatory functions are now vested with the UGC. Enrolment in DEIs that includes 46 private institutions has grown most rapidly, over 10 percent per year during the XI Plan period. With the rise in institutions and enrolment, the complexities have also multiplied largely related to issues of regulation of ODL standards. The Committee under the Chairmanship of Prof. MadhavaMenon addressed many concerns and has put forth several recommendations.
Distance Education major IGNOU, educates one of the largest student bodies through both online and offline teaching and learning systems. It has over a million on its rolls
Illegality of DEB
The DEC, the regulator for Distance education was set up as a body under IGNOU Act, 1985. This resulted in a very analogous position wherein a participant university became a regulator for itself and all other players. Such a scenario was unacceptable and quite a few committees, including the MadhavMenon Committee recommended its transfer from under IGNOU. But the government decided to remove DEC from IGNOU by an executive order and the EC of IGNOU and DEC were steamrolled to pass a resolution to dissolve DEC and it was shifted to UGC again by an administrative order. This will not stand scrutiny in any court of law and the first whiff of legal challenge would make the whole arrangement crumble. What is all the more troublesome is the fact UGC has come up with fresh guidelines for Distance Education without applying their mind to issues and controversies that have plagued the system for long when it was under IGNOU’s control.
A core issue is that of ‘Territorial jurisdiction’ (TJ) as per the type of universities in the form of off-campus/ study centre/ affiliated college and centres operating through franchises. The DEB has not ensured that the ODL institutes are strictly adhering to the given norms for offering ODL programmes. These norms in a nutshell are that, for central universities, territorial jurisdiction is defined as per their Acts and Statutes; for state universities (both government funded and private) offering ODL programmes, the TJ should be as per their Acts and Statutes and must not go beyond the boundaries of their respective states.
For deemed to be universities, the TJ is as per the notification of Government of India to accord them this status until a policy decision is taken by the UGC (the case is subjudice), and for private institutes other than universities, the TJ is their headquarters. The Kurmanchal Judgment of the Supreme Court is exceptionally clear with respect to TJ. Either the parliament passes a new Act (which is fraught with dangers of upsetting the federal structure) or institutions observe the law in letter and spirit.
Online education through Internet is the next big frontier for India to leverage
Franchising of education
The mushrooming of study centres claiming university affiliation(s) has left the students stranded. In fact, study centres only act as facilitators in programme delivery and no university/ institution is allowed to franchise study centres. But institutions have been merrily appointing national, regional and state-wise franchises, study centres which masquerade as full-time institutions and cheat students with impunity (See http://www.university.careers360.com/articles/students-beware-degrees-for-sale).
UGC brings out periodic notices warning institutions to desist from this practice, but nothing concrete happens. Also quite a few websites nowadays have begun to offer Distance Learningprogrammes of various universities and have even discounts on offer. This again is completely illegal according to extant laws. A tough penalty system for offenders including de-recognition is the need of the hour. Or else a suitable law permitting such study centres, with adequate checks and balances must be brought out without fail.
Despite a developed ICT regime that India claims, there are grave concerns related to seamless access, robust interaction and inclusive delivery mechanisms. A policy to incentivize those institutes that are able to enhance the scale of access to quality ODL programmes and bring down the cost of higher education for individual learner will be a good step. There are also issues of what kind of degrees could be offered through the online mode. Technical education has been one of the contentious areas. In short, the Distance and online education system is an important component for any nation seeking to improver GER. It also is a drive to increase access to higher education opportunities especially from remote corners of the country. But such a robust system cannot operate within the current messy regulatory regime. It is high time the new regime wakes up to the challenge.
Immediate Legislative backing for DEB’s constitution under UGC. Amendment to both UGC and IGNOU Acts.
Owing to the complexity created by private institutes through various franchise programmes in the garb of being study centres of universities, the genuine institutes/universities should be directed to develop mechanism that establishes the students to be legitimately enrolled in a programme for the given period.
With plethora of online courses and use of ICT, ‘territorial jurisdiction’ needs to be redefined in the larger interest of students. The idea that a DEI should function within a geographical area, does not hold today.
Ask the regulator to state their stand on issues such as a) MPhil and PhD programmes through ODL system (presently banned by UGC), b) running of ODL programmes by deemed universities, c) status of ‘non-technical’ institutes which are not regulated by UGC and AICTE.
Develop a national repository for ODL resources that is accessible by anybody, globally. IPR issues may apply to non-open sources.
Promote more Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and virtual classrooms. Also encourage use of Interactive Multi Media including mobile phones and use of Computer Mediated Communication.
Foster employment oriented courses that encourage a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship among youth.
Steps for enactment of prohibition of unfair practices in ODL institutions and grievance redress for students.
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