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Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, August 23, 2011
To give a fillip to distance education in India, the HRD has decided on a new mechanism which will enable faster and transparent clearance to new distance education institutes and courses. The ministry last week decided that all distance education proposals will be discussed once every month by a joint committee of the University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), the three higher education regulatory bodies.

Proposals regarding distance education are cleared by Distance Education Council (DEC) under IGNOU but the UGC and AICTE have been opposing several decisions citing regulatory flaws. No distance education institute or course is allowed without a mandatory no-objection certificate from UGC and AICTE but still approvals have been given.

“The distance education council used to seek post facto clearance which we had opposed,” said UGC chairperson Ved Prakash. It meant a customary three to four months to decide on a specific proposal resulting in huge delays.

To end the continuous wrangling between different higher education regulatory bodies and speed up the approval process, HRD minister Kapil Sibal held discussions with chiefs of these regulatory bodies last week and decided to constitute a joint committee to be convened by a ministry official.

“The onus of fostering distance education will now be ministry’s responsibility,” a HRD ministry official said. But, the final decision would still remain with the regulatory bodies. “We have provided a mechanism for faster disposal of disputes,” the official explained.

The decision was fall-out of the concern raised by educationists regarding anticipated failure of existing universities and colleges to meet the increase in demand for higher education in the coming years. There are just 70 approved institutions to provide distance education as against the requirement of over 200. “Distance education is a viable alternative but we have to provide enough quality institutions to attract students,” the official said.

According to Ved Prakash, the new committee will consider all proposals and the decision will be taken there and then. Looking into quality of the courses provided is another aspect the committee will look into. The IGNOU will act as secretariat of the committee.