HindustanTimes Fri,19 Sep 2014
Distance learning: Who has the right answers?
Jeevan Prakash Sharma, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, July 23, 2014
First Published: 12:12 IST(23/7/2014)
Last Updated: 12:16 IST(23/7/2014)

According to  the Madhava Menon Committee set up by the MHRD to regulate the standards of education through distance mode, till 2010, the number of students in distance education programmes was 36,36,744 (the report said that the actual numbers could be more than this).

A look at the history of distance learning in India suggests that initially  the University Grants Commission (UGC) had the mandate to regulate the universities, but when the Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou) was formed in 1985, the issue of regulation of universities offering distance education came under its purview. In 1991, a regulatory body called Distance Educational Council (DEC) was set up under Ignou.  Panned as a “weak regulator” by critics, the Distance Education Council (DEC) initially gave approvals based on universities’ programmes. Then in 2007 it switched to institutional approval and later went back to programme approvals.

DEC restricted state universities to operating within their respective states, and then in 2007 allowed them to offer degree programmes outside their states. However, On June 2012, it said that the territorial jurisdiction of state universities (both government funded and private) would be within the state.

On December 29, 2012, when DEC was dissolved and the UGC took over its regulatory functions, the latter also reiterated the same policy, ie, the state universities (both private and government funded) could offer programmes only within the state. There have been legal battles fought for quite some time over the issue of territorial jurisdiction as different high courts have passed various orders on the almost similar issues. The Delhi High Court, in the case of Punjab Technical University, restrained the university from offering any programme through institutes beyond the boundaries of Punjab. The Sikkim High Court, in another case, allowed the Sikkim Manipal University to go beyond its territorial jurisdiction.

“It’s quite shocking that the UGC is not even filing an appeal against the order passed in favour of Sikkim Manipal University. It should defend its notification. There is total confusion as one university is allowed to take its courses beyond the state while others are not,” says a legal officer from UGC requesting anonymity.

“The Madhava Menon committee had in 2011 recommended establishing an independent and effective regulatory authority on distance education through an act of parliament. The sooner it happens the better it is  for students in the country,” he adds.

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