Around the world, distance learning caters to an approximate 65-70 per cent of humanities students, 30 per cent science students and 85 per cent of students enrolled in capacity-building courses.
In India, the figure stands at approximately 40 per cent. It was no surprise then that there was a mammoth crowd of aspirants queuing up at the Mumbai University's Institute of Distance Education (MU-IDE) enquiry counter at Kalina campus on Monday morning.
And, it was not just students with low scores or those wanting to return to education after long breaks, but also those who had scored well in Class 12 but preferred to learn and earn at the same time and established professionals who want to upgrade their knowledge.
At the state government's Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU), Nashik, around 15 per cent students are those who have passed HSC and chosen not to go to a conventional university, said vice-chancellor Rajan Welukar.
"With a boom in retail and call centers, there are many employment opportunities and students are taking up jobs at an early age. But they also want to complete their education," said MU-IDE Director S.D. Pawar, adding student enrolment is likely to rise from 61,000 to 65,000 this year.
Distance Education has also been re-invented to suit the needs of the time. YCMOU has decided to introduce a certificate course in Cyber Crime Prevention and Detection after a successful pilot-run with the Nashik police. SNDT University, on the other hand, is all set to introduce a Call Centre Management course.
The nine-month course will cover computer skills, customer relationship management, skills for selling over the phone, personality development and accent training. The course will end with an internship. "This will be the first time a university will offer such a course. We have already started getting enquiries," said director Chandrakant Puri.
Satellite technology has also enabled open universities to ensure students don't miss out on the classroom experience. YCMOU has 19 active Virtual Learning Centres across the state and hopes to add 40 more. Nashik and Pune have studios from where teachers conduct virtual lessons with students in different parts of the state. Mumbai University has tied up with YCMOU to set up a studio at the campus.
"The studio will broadcast programmes and special lectures by YCMOU. Lectures by visiting faculty will also be transmitted to colleges conducting distance education classes," said Vice-Chancellor Vijay Khole.