Heads of ODL varsities and experts have said that the transfer of the Distance Education Council (DEC) from Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou) to University Grants Commission (UGC) is “not right’ and is causing a number of problems for universities.
According to MM Ansari, former member UGC, transfer of DEC from Ignou to UGC was “done administratively” and was “illegal.” The UGC ‘largely’ has the power to regulate and fund conventional courses. “The Ignou Act gives the university the power to perform these roles for ODL institutions. Both UGC and Ignou Acts have been passed by Parliament with the Ignou Act being passed in 1985 – much after the UGC Act.”
Shifting of DEC from Ignou to UGC required an amendment in the Ignou and UGC Acts. The powers to regulate institutions have been vested with both through Parliamentary provisions. The emergency clause, ie Section 20 (1) of the UGC Act was invoked by the HRD ministry under which DEC was transferred from Ignou to UGC. This clause can only be used sparingly for policy matters but this was not a policy matter, he says.
DEC can be given back to Ignou as it is legally possible. “The UGC cannot keep it for long until the Parliament authorises both through amendments. The DEC draft bill is still pending and cannot be enacted. The UGC is under pressure after the Niti Aayog and Hari Gautam Committee have recommended to modify its structure and stature. The UGC and DEC’s future is uncertain, Ansari adds.
The National Education Policy draft proposes setting up of an autonomous body, responsible for the promotion, coordination, regulation and maintenance of standards in the ODL/Massive Online and Open Courses system. This body will prepare norms, standards and guidelines for systemic development and regulation of ODL/ MOOCs. It will also develop a mechanism for recognition, transfer and accumulation of credits earned through MOOCs, award and recognition of degrees, suggests the draft.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee also directed the HRD ministry earlier this year to speed up the process of appointing a distance education regulator.
Professor Ravindra Kumar, vice chancellor (in-charge) Ignou, says, “We hope the UGC will appreciate that this kind of differential treatment will hamper the growth of ODL institutions and will jeopardise the long-term national goal of providing wider access to higher education.”
Kumar feels it is futile to revive DEC in its old form and that it is a better idea to revamp the erstwhile DEC and make it capable of dealing with the “rapidly changing universe of open learning”. He says, “It is a most glaring reality today that the concept of distance learning has evaporated in thin air with the advent of modern information and communication technology. Use of mobile, television and computer has completely dissolved the notion of distance learning and replaced it with digital learning. We should comprehend this reality without any further loss of time and regear ODL as open and digital learning system/s,” he says. In this scenario, the role of a regulator needs to be “genetically modified to answer these issues.”
The UGC or DEC, any regulator, which does not comply with the changing trends in distance education will “fail miserably in performing its task,” he says.
It must also be noted that a number of ODL institutions are offering online courses which are not valid. “This is mainly because of the absence of a proper regulator for such courses. The UGC had set up a committee to look into it. The DEC did not approve any university to run a course solely through the online mode,” says Ansari.