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Plan for distance engineering

New Delhi, July 24: Distance education may not be confined to general streams any more.

Technical education regulator AICTE has set up a committee to suggest how courses in technical streams, mainly BTech programmes, could be offered in “correspondence mode”. The committee, headed by IIT Kanpur director S.G. Dhande, will submit its report in three months.

“We set up this expert committee a fortnight ago. This committee will look at the new trend in distance education and suggest how engineering courses can be offered in correspondence mode,” AICTE chairman S.S. Mantha told The Telegraph.

The committee will also examine if Information Communication Technology (ICT), which has increased access to education in recent years, could be a tool in teaching engineering through correspondence courses.

Mantha said the AICTE had earlier set up a committee under IIT Kanpur chairman M. Anandkrishnan to study if engineering courses could be offered in distance mode. That committee had favoured the idea on the condition that students should have adequate facilities for practical training.

“We have said in a report that BTech courses can be offered in distance mode, provided students get lab facilities to do experiments. The concept of virtual labs cannot replace the need for actual labs. There are many experiments which cannot be conducted in virtual labs,” said IIT Delhi director R.K. Shevgaonkar, a member of the Anandkrishnan committee.

The new committee headed by Dhande would examine the practical training requirement for each course and suggest how such courses could be offered in distance mode.

Distance education has largely been confined to the general stream so far. A few institutions such as Ignou offer courses in technical education like MCA but tie up with other institutions so that students can use their laboratories for practical training.

The AICTE’s action assumes significance in the backdrop of a suggestion by a committee headed by academic N.R. Madhava Menon that courses in technical education be provided in distance mode. The Menon committee had also suggested that courses in higher education be offered online.

The human resource development ministry had held a meeting yesterday to discuss the Menon committee report. The ministry is in the process of finalising a policy on how to use ICT for delivery of higher education.

At present, 14 open universities and 172 other institutions offer courses in higher education in distance mode to nearly 40 lakh students. Distance education courses are regulated by the Distance Education Council (DEC), a body that operates under Ignou.

The Menon committee found that the DEC had failed to regulate institutions adopting fraudulent methods to offer courses in distance mode. The ministry is likely to bring the council under the direct control of the University Grants Commission.