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Students with borders

Institutes across Mumbai, and the rest of the country, still offer distance-learning courses that are technically invalid, according to UGC norms. A look at what students should consider before signing up.

education Updated: Oct 08, 2014 20:31 IST

Sahil Arora, 28, enrolled in July for a distance-learning MBA programme at the Success Assured Institute in Andheri (West). Having paid Rs. 17,000 as first year fee, Arora is still awaiting his books — unaware that he may have signed up for an invalid degree. The course is affiliated to Madurai Kamraj University in Tamil Nadu, and as per a University Grants Commission notification, no state university (government or private) can function beyond its state boundary.

Officials at Success Assured said they were unaware of this rule. “We are the official study centre for Madurai Kamraj University and many other universities. We provide students with course material and conduct yearly examinations,” says the branch manager. “In fact we have a passing guarantee. As the marks are in our hands, we make sure that no student fails,” he adds. This institute has branches in Andheri, Borivli and Vashi, and offers degrees from BA, BCom to LLM and MTech.

Success Assured is one of hundreds of institutes in Mumbai offering degrees that are, in essence, invalid. Softkey Education, with centres in Andheri (East), Chembur and Ulwe, claims that they have a collaboration with Vinayak Mission University, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka State Open University, Karnataka. “We are not aware of this rule. We will continue offering BTech till January next year because batches have been formed,” says branch manager Jitendra Chera.

Saraswati College of Distance Education, Andheri (West), offers courses from Jaipur National University, Rajasthan and Periyar University, Tamil Nadu. “The UGC rules do not stop the universities from opening centres only for admission purposes. We only take admission here on behalf of the universities,” says Aman Sanam, head of the institute. The regulations, though, forbid the university to have an association with any private company outside its home state.

The UGC notification was issued on June 27 last year, rendering these degrees illegal. Such courses have been running in study centres for many years, as most of these universities are more than 10 years old. As per the notification, “In case of State Universities (both government and private), the territorial jurisdiction for offering programmes through distance mode will be as per their acts and statutes but not beyond the boundary of the respective states”.

As a large number of courses have become invalid under this notification, experts say that thousands of students may eventually find themselves stuck, since the UGC is not yet conducting checks on the institutes.

“The UGC should enforce its notification or thousands of students will suddenly have the validity of their degrees questioned. So while universities and institutes will make money, the students will suffer,” says Yash Pal, former UGC vice-chairperson.

Flouting rules
The notification is being violated at off-campus study centres across the country. Between 2007 and 2012, under the rules of the then national ruling body for distance education, the Distance Education Council (DEC), these centres were allowed to function. After the DEC dissolved in December 2012, the UGC took over the reins of distance education and issued the aforementioned regulations.

“The UGC notification is clear in defining boundaries. Even so, Mumbai is filled with study centres of institutes such as Annamalai University, Karnataka State Open University and many others. They are all illegal and the public must be notified about them,” says Dhaneswar Harichandan, head, Institute of Distance and Open Learning (IDOL), Mumbai University.

Even in courts of law, these rules are not uniformly enforced.

For instance, while the Delhi high court restrained Punjab Technical University from offering programmes beyond Punjab’s boundaries, the Sikkim High court allows Sikkim Manipal University to do so. Efforts to reach these universities were futile.

Quality control
Over the past few years, there has been an exponential rise in the number of universities of all kinds: state, deemed, private, to-be-deemed, etc. Due to this, universities began to partner with many for-profit privates, who now run their off campus study centres.

“The quality of education and the facilities offered at many of these centres was ‘abysmal’. The UGC notification was a knee-jerk reaction to amend this mushrooming,” says Kunal Mehra, marketing head of law education platform

“These notifications lack foresight and a vision of where distance education in the country is headed,” adds Mehra. “They were crafted in a rush to deal with the immediate problem of quality control of distance education. But even after a year, there is no clarity from the UGC.”

Experts feel that putting a blanket ban on associations between universities and private universities outside state boundaries, is unfair. “The intrinsic objective of distance education is to ensure that any student should be able to benefit from the quality education, evaluation and counselling available anywhere. The UGC notifications are defeating this objective,” says HN Verma, vice chancellor, Jaipur National University. “If a student prefers University A to University B, he or she should be able to study there, irrespective of where the universities lie on the map.”

(With inputs from Jeevan Prakash Sharma in New Delhi)

First Published: Oct 08, 2014 20:02 IST