Something does not seem to be quite right with the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), which claims to be the largest institute of learning globally. In the last three years, more than 400 programmes have been scrapped, leaving about five lakh students facing an uncertain future.
Students enrolled with IGNOU under various programmes – community college scheme, face-to-face scheme, BTech programmes, convergence scheme etc – have suffered as their courses have remained incomplete, exams have been postponed and results delayed for more than three years. Apart from that, the institute has remained engaged in a number of legal battles.
“Today IGNOU’s academic programmes have come down significantly. However, there is an increase in the number of litigation and court cases against the university. CBI investigations against the previous vice chancellor, VN Rajasekharan Pillai, more than 30 court cases and six contempt notices against the university, a one-man enquiry committee against the present vice chancellor professor M Aslam and Aslam’s petition in Delhi High Court do not bode well for the institute,” says a senior professor of the University. He does not want to be named because in October 2012, under the vice-chairmanship of professor M Aslam, Central Civil Service Conduct Rules were imposed on academics, effectively preventing them from speaking to the media.
Those in the know give reasons for the current state of the university. “When VN Rajasekharan Pillai became the vice chancellor of the university on October 20, 2006, he allowed unbridled expansion. The university had 130 programmes before he joined and during his tenure from October 20, 2006, to October 20, 2011, the number went up to approximately 500,” says another senior IGNOU professor.
The new programmes included MoUs with 532 community colleges for many new certificate, diploma and two-year associate degree courses; MoU with Indian Army, Navy and Air Force for community programmes, MoU with Shri Angala Parmeshwari Educational Trust (SAPET) in Tamil Nadu, granting it the right to identify institutions to run a full-time engineering programme etc – led to rapid expansion of the university which resulted into lack of quality control and allegations of corruption.
Strongly defending his actions, Pillai told this correspondent that “For any new programmes and activity, I got proposals from the experts, departmental councils, school board, planning board, academic councils, the finance committee, if it involves finance, and finally from the Board of Management of IGNOU. There was not any resistance or dissent from anybody during my five years of intense activity there. I say this with courage of conviction.”
The university’s problems began, say professors, when after October 20, 2011, Aslam became acting vice chancellor of IGNOU and discontinued all the programmes started by Pillai without realising how this would affect the five lakh students enrolled with IGNOU.
About 1.5 lakh students were hit the hardest. Anil Kaushik from GR IGNOU Community College, Karnal, says, “Since the community college scheme was started in July 2009, students admitted then were supposed to pass out in July 2011 and get their associate degree and certificates, but scrapping of the programme has destroyed their careers.” When the university remained non-committed towards holding exams and issuing mark-sheets, students went to court – about 37 cases were filed in various high courts and contempt notices were issued against the university. Orders from Punjab and Haryana and Kerala high courts resulted in some IGNOU community colleges restarting and others conducting examinations and declaring results. Hower, till date no further communication has been received by other colleges which did not take the legal route to resolve their problems. Principals and owners of these colleges are avoiding meetings with students as they do not know what to say to them,” says Ram Niwas Dagar, former principal of SR Paramedical IGNOU Community College.
Even the Rajya Sabha Committee, formed after several complaints of parliamentarians against IGNOU, in its report on the functioning of the university, said on May 6, 2014 that it was “strange” the acting vice-chancellor could “take decisions on crucial policies/schemes of the University when five nominees of the Visitor were to be nominated...The fact remains that where the authority is entrusted with the acting charge he should handle only routine affairs.”
On the Rajya Sabha committee’s recommendations and after other complaints from senior professors and academicians of IGNOU, the HRD ministry appointed a one-man committee of professor C Syed Bari, VC of Central University of Gujarat, to enquire into the functioning of IGNOU under Prof Aslam. The committee submitting the first part of the report on January 30, 2015, reportedly indicting Prof Aslam for violating norms. Fearing action, Prof Aslam filed a case in the Delhi High Court and challenged the enquiry against him. On February 10, 2015, the HC passed an interim order and restrained the HRD ministry from taking any action against him. The matter is coming up for hearing on March 16, 2015.
In its petition before the Delhi High Court, Prof Aslam has justified his decision of closing down all the programmes, saying, “The University, during 2006-2011, when professor VN Rajasekharan Pillai was the vice chancellor disgraced from its given mandate and ventured into offering all sorts of programmes in face to face mode through hundreds of MoUs signed with institutions and by establishing community colleges throughout the country in violation of act and statutes.”
Courses scrapped in the last three years
More than 280 courses such as MA (labour and development), master’s in social anthropology, MSc in chemistry, executive MBA, bachelor of architecture, BSc in medical laboratory technology etc
Schemes such as community college, Army community college, 4-year BTech programmes, convergence scheme, full-time Phd programmes etc
Joint programmes of IGNOU and Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) for BEd and diploma in primary education
Web portal e-Gyankosh, a repository of learning materials in the form of e-books
Telecast of academic programmes through tv channels Gyan Darshan and Gyan Vani on 37 FM radio stations spread across the country due to non-payment of dues
All international operations and online programmes and admissions
India sign language research and training centre established from the grants received from the ministry of social justice
Twenty-six on-campus face-to-face (full-time) programmes
Demands of IGNOU students
Completion of all courses of 1.5 lakh community college students, conducting exams and awarding of certificates as soon as possible
Clearance of all the cases of 3.5 lakh Army, Navy and Air Force personnel of the Army community colleges across the country
Remove court case details from mark-sheets as it hampers students’ career prospects
Declaring results of Phd examinations were held in February 2014
Awarding BEd and diploma in primary education to the students of MANUU, who have cleared their exams
Restore facilities such as e-Gyankosh, Gyan Darshan, Gyan Vani, online programmes and admissions