Absence of dedicated regulator hits open varsities
IN A FIX No approvals given for new study programmes, no funds allowed for development initiatives
E ve r s i n c e t h e D i s t a n c e Education Council (DEC) of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou) was dissolved in 2012, open universities in the country have faced a number of challenges. Most of them have not been able to start courses because of lack of approvals. Some institutes have also not been allocated development funds.
Regulatory powers related to open and distance learning (ODL) were transferred to the University Grants Commission (UGC) after the dissolution and it was given the task of framing new regulations. However, it was decided that till the new rules were notified DECguidelines for recognition of ODL institutions would be implemented.
No new courses since 2014 have been recognised, says Professor Nageshwar Rao, VC of Uttarakhand State Open University. “We cannot start any new course. Even after inspection and permission by statutory bodies such as the National Council for Teacher Education and Rehabilitation Council of India, open universities are waiting for approval for starting such courses since 2014. Courses developed during 2013/14 have become obsolete. The ODL system cannot contribute to the initiatives and thrust of the government regarding higher education, especially digital India and skilling.”
The HRD minister had directed the distance education regulator to allow ODL universities to start certificate and diploma courses on their own on August 30 this year, but Professor Rao said he had yet to receive the order. The absence of a regulator affects quality of education imparted and new initiatives in distance education mode. “The DEC should be revived or a new regulatory body should be formed. If both are not possible, the UGC should be given adequate manpower to support this activity of regulating ODL institutions as the ODL system requires a different approach. At present, UGC as regulator monitors the ODL system with the mindset of conventional education,” Prof Rao adds.
Ignou was, in August 2016, granted approval by the regu- lator to resume PhD courses but some other state open universities have yet to receive a letter of approval.
Most of the state universities are also struggling to get funding from the UGC’s Distance Education Bureau for their developmental initiatives as the regulator is now insisting that such institutes be recognised under Section 12(B). “For recognition under this section, the UGC revised the provisions for an ODL university to have 15 acres of land. As no notification was issued to implement this, the review has become redundant and ODL universities are suffering,” says Professor Rao.
On other challenges, Professor Ashok Sharma, vice chancellor, Vardhman Mahaveer Open University, Kota, says, “We are struggling to get recognition for new courses. We were assured that we will get permission till October-November for the January admission cycle but we are yet to receive the approvals. Getting grants is also a problem. The Central government has allocated ₹ 100 crore as grant for state open universities but the funds are not released yet. We are also made to take frequent approvals for courses despite having the power to offer our own programmes.”
T h e M a d h av a M e n o n Committee also recommended that there is an urgent need to pass the Distance Education Bill which will also cover ODL courses offered by private universities. Heads of ODL varsities and experts have said that the transfer of the Distance Education Council ( DEC) from Indira Gandhi National OpenUniversity (Ignou) to University Grants Commission (UGC) is “not right’ and is causing a number of problems for universities.
According to MM Ansari, former member UGC, transfer of DEC from Ignou to UGC was “done administratively” and was “illegal.” The UGC ‘largely’ has the power to regulate and fund conventional courses. “The Ignou Act gives the university the power to perform these roles for ODL institutions. Both UGC and Ignou Acts have been passed by Parliament with the Ignou Act being passed in 1985 – much after the UGC Act.”
Shifting of DEC from Ignou to UGC required an amendment in the Ignou andUGCActs. Thepowers to regulate institutions have been vested with both through Parliamentary provisions. The emergency clause, ie Section 20 (1) of the UGC Act was invoked by the HRDministry under which DEC was transferred from Ignou to UGC. This clause can only be used sparingly for policy matters but this was not a policy matter, he says.
DEC can be given back to Ignou as it is legally possible. “The UGC cannot keep it for long until the Parliament authorises both through amendments. The DEC draft bill is still pending and cannot be enacted. The UGC is under pressure after the Niti Aayog and Hari Gautam Committee have recommended to modify its structure and stature. The UGC and DEC’s future is uncertain, Ansari adds.
The National Education Policy draft proposes setting up of an autonomous body, responsible for the promotion, coordination, regulation and maintenance of standards in the ODL/Massive Online and Open Courses system. This body will prepare norms, standards and guidelines for systemic development and regulation of ODL/ MOOCs. It will also develop a mechanism for recog- nition, transfer and accumulation of credits earned through MOOCs, award and recognition of degrees, suggests the draft.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee also directed the HRD ministry earlier this year to speed up the process of appointing a distance education regulator.
Professor Ravindra Kumar, vice chancellor (in-charge) Ignou, says, “We hope the UGC will appreciate that this kind of differential treatment will hamper the growth of ODL institutions and will jeopardise the long-term national goal of providing wider access to higher education.”
Kumar feels it is futile to revive DEC in its old form and that it is a better idea to revamp the erstwhile DEC and make it capable of dealing with the “rapidly changing universe of open learning”. He says, “It is a most glaring reality today that the concept of distance learning has evaporated in thin air with theadventof moderninformation and communication technology. Use of mobile, television andcomputer has completely dissolved the notion of distance learning and replaced it with digital learning. We should comprehend this reality without any further loss of time and regear ODL as open and digital learning system/s,” he says. In this scenario, the role of a regulator needs to be “genetically modified to answer these issues.”
The UGC or DEC, any regulator, which does not comply with the changing trends in distance education will “fail miserably in performing its task,” he says.
It must also be noted that a number of ODL institutions are offering online courses which are not valid. “This is mainly because of the absence of a proper regulator for such courses. The UGC had set up a committee to look into it. The DEC did not approve any university to run a course solely through the online mode,” says Ansari. The French gover nment i s i nviting applications f rom international students for its Eiffel Excellence Scholarship Programme.
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Authorities at distance learning universities feel the absence of a regulator affects quality of education imparted and new initiatives.