The Chairman of India's apex distance education regulator approved a multinational open university that does not have sanction to run courses here but used his certification to sell illegal courses to students across the country.
Malaysia-based Asia e University used the approval by VN Rajasekharan Pillai, Chairman, Distance Education Council to start 70 centres across India, advertising and offering courses unauthorized by the government, an HT investigation has revealed.
Under pressure from independent academicians who complained, the human resource development ministry and the DEC have formally declared AeU courses in India illegal, but the university is not shutting down its study centres.
The AeU now plans to take up the case diplomatically through the Malaysian government to “clarify” the position with the Indian government, university registrar Meilina Puteh said, in a clear indication that it feels wronged by Pillai.
"Asia e-University received a letter from the Chairman of the Distance Education Council on August 20, 2009 giving permission to operate in India. On the basis of this approval and understanding AeU commenced its operations," Puteh said, in an email response to queries from HT. She refused to divulge the number of students enrolled in its courses in India, calling the details “confidential.”
The AeU was born in 2007 based on the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), of which India is a founding member. The Doha Declaration in 2006 also supported the creation of the AeU to promote e-education in member countries.
Puteh said Pillai had also personally handed AeU the approval in January this year in the presence of HRD minister Kapil Sibal and his Malaysian counterpart minister in charge of education, during a meeting at Shastri Bhawan.
HT has access to key documents trailing the communication between AeU, the Indian High Commission in Malaysia and Pillai, including the August 20, 2009 letter and the DEC’s formal declaration that AeU courses are unrecognised.
Pillai, also Vice Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, told HT that his August 20, 2009 letter only granted institutional approval to AeU – which he said was required for any collaboration. “Apart from institutional recognition, my letter did not approve anything – no courses or programmes,” Pillai said.
But if institutional recognition was required for collaboration, Pillai violated this rule himself -- because IGNOU had already signed a memorandum of understanding with AeU before the August 20 letter.
When asked to explain why the MoU was signed before the approval for AeU, if institutional approval is required for collaboration, Pillai effectively contradicted his earlier statement. “The approval need not come before the collaboration. It can come after the collaboration,” he said.