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Absence of dedicated regulator hits open universities

No approval given to open universities for new study programmes, no funds allowed for development initiatives

education Updated: Nov 29, 2016 20:11 IST
Gauri Kohli
Authorities at distance learning universities feel the absence of a regulator affects quality of education imparted and new initiatives.
Authorities at distance learning universities feel the absence of a regulator affects quality of education imparted and new initiatives.(Imagesbazaar)

Ever since the Distance 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 DEC guidelines 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 regulator 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.”

The Madhava Menon 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.

Read more: Are open learning varsities flouting UGC norms to offer PhD courses?