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Why is a regulator needed?

Delay in enacting The Distance Education Council of India Bill 2014 could jeopardise the future of lakhs of students

education Updated: Dec 17, 2014 11:13 IST
Jeevan Prakash Sharma
Jeevan Prakash Sharma
Hindustan Times
University Grants Commission,UGC,RTI

It’s a nightmare for students who have joined distance learning classes. The issue of territorial jurisdiction and valid degree courses in the distance education sector is virtually getting out of control. Despite a June 2013 notification by the University Grants Commission (UGC) which restricts a state/private university from offering courses beyond its state boundaries, private universities continue to bend the rules.

That the UGC is helpless is obvious because all it has managed to do so far is complain to state chief secretaries about the mess and urge them to stop the universities from committing the violations. In a recent RTI reply, the UGC has also admitted to writing to the chief secretary of Karnataka to stop the Karnataka State Open University (KSOU) from offering degree courses through institutes in other states.

“The violation is so blatant that even in Delhi hundreds of institutes affiliated to state/private universities of other states, are offering degree courses which are illegal in view of the UGC’s own notification. Since the UGC is a mute spectator in this case, the future of lakhs of students is in jeopardy as the degrees they get will not be considered valid in spite of the fact that they have paid good money for the same,” says a UGC official.

Appointment of UGC as a regulator for distance education programmes is a stopgap arrangement till a new distance education council of India is set up. UGC does not have the requisite expertise to perform the task.

“There’s an urgent need for the distance education of India bill to be passed in Parliament and made an act so that a regulatory authority can take control of distance education in India. It should have come in earlier during the UPA government rule. There is a complete paralysis as private universities have been offering all sorts of courses without any checks for the last couple of years. So some authority must come up to stop this right now,” says Professor NR Madhava Menon, an eminent academician, under whose chairmanship a committee was set up to revamp distance education in India. It was his committee’s recommendation based on which the Distance Education Council was dissolved and the UGC was given power to regulate distance education till a new regulator came in. The Madhava Menon Committee has envisaged a regulatory authority such as the distance education council of India through an act of Parliament.

Another issue hampering student interests relates to new three-year and postgraduate degree courses being launched by numerous private universities without UGC approval.

Interestingly, a national collaborator of KSOU recently circulated a mail among various institutes informing them about new three-year-degree course devised and started by the university. These degree courses are BSc in hotel management, BSc in fashion technology, BSc in interior design etc. The collaborator also said there were some other degree programmes such as BSc in multimedia, BSc in fire and safety etc which are under process in the university. The institutes were asked to sign agreements with KSOU for running the courses. While other private universities are more discreet in offering such courses, KSOU is defiantly defending its programmes, with the registrar of the university saying, “These courses are approved by the statutory bodies such as academic council and board of management of the university so they are valid and the university has the power to introduce such new courses.”

HT Education has also received many replies through RTI applications in which the UGC has said that a private/state university cannot “invent” degree courses on its own and that such courses are illegal. In an RTI reply published by HT Education on July 23, 2014, the UGC had said that courses such as MSc in fashion communication, MBA in interior designing, BSc in operation theatre technology, MBA in fire safety, and BSc in airlines and hospitality etc were invalid.

Says Prof Menon, “The UGC has the overall authority in higher education and therefore, if you are introducing a new degree course, the UGC will have to concur. It is independent in its domain.”

Draft bill: Salient points
Lay down norms, guidelines and standards for offering various programmes of higher education through distance education system
Grant recognition toprogrammes of higher education offered through distance education system
Lay down norms, guidelines and standards for regulating and monitoring online programmes
Regulate the collaboration between foreign education providers and Indian higher education institutions and take steps to prevent commercialisation of distance education
Develop guidelines for fees to be charged by higher education institutions imparting distance education to ensure that the fees is not exorbitant and recovers programme development costs
Take all necessary steps to prevent commercialisation of open and distance education

36,36,744 students enrolled in 2009-2010
1,112 students joined the system in 1962-63

First Published: Dec 17, 2014 10:57 IST