Education experts say the Distance Education Council of India Bill 2014, details of which are up on the website of the ministry of human resource development for suggestions/views/comments of all stakeholders, should be passed in Parliament as soon as possible.
Academicians are of the view that open and distance learning (ODL) institutions, which enrol one-third of students in higher education, offer huge opportunities for providing low cost education to anyone and anywhere.
“However, there is hardly any attempt to make a comprehensive survey of the functioning of open and distance learning centres on the basis of which appropriate inferences for designing policies on ODL could be drawn. Unfortunately, the UGC, as regulator, has been oblivious to the lack of quality and efficiency in functioning of ODL institutions. I think the draft bill should be enacted as soon as possible to protect the interests of the students,” says MM Ansari, member, UGC.
Even on the question of territorial jurisdiction, a majority of the stakeholders agree that distance education shouldn’t be confined to any boundary and allowed to go beyond the country, provided there is a mechanism and regulatory methods to control the quality and standards of education.
According to RK Arora, former deputy director, erstwhile Distance Education Council, “I don’t see a specific provision in the draft bill on the subject of territorial jurisdiction. However, I believe that once the regulator comes into place, it will not restrict the distance education within any boundary. I firmly believe that distance education needs no boundaries.”
Agrees Prof Menon, “There are ample provisions in the bill which ensure that the quality of education will not suffer and learners’ rights will be protected even if a university is allowed to offer courses beyond its own territorial boundary. If there is no provision for ensuring quality, then distance education even within the territory of the university remains a big problem.”
Owners of some institutes have objected to a lot of provisions of the draft act. AK Bajpai, secretary, Kurmanchal Institute of Degree and Diploma Engineering (KIDE) Educational Society, Nainital, which had got a clean chit from a Supreme Court-appointed committee investigating allegations against it for not maintaining proper infrastructure and facilities, says: “I have written to the HRD ministry objecting to provisions in the bill. It allows study centres at existing degree colleges and
AICTE-approved centres which, according to me, is wrong. If an institute can have proper facility, faculty and infrastructure, it should be allowed to run distance education programmes. I have seen many AICTE-approved institutes not maintaining adequate infrastructure. “
Once the regulator comes in place, it will not restrict distance education within boundaries ---RK Arora, former deputy director, erstwhile distance education council
In the absence of a provision to ensure quality, ODL within a state can pose major problems --- NR Madhava Menon, eminent scholar and academician