Cloud on distance learning rules

Distance learning courses offered by institutions across the country could be headed for the freezer over the next six months after new rules notified by the University Grants Commission came into effect last week.

By Basant Kumar Mohanty
  • Published 29.06.17
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New Delhi, June 28: Distance learning courses offered by institutions across the country could be headed for the freezer over the next six months after new rules notified by the University Grants Commission came into effect last week.

The UGC (Open and Distance Learning) Regulations, 2017 - notified on June 23 - asks every institution intending to offer courses in distance mode to apply to the higher education regulator for approval "at least six months before the commencement of the academic session of the programme intended to be offered".

The regulations have left the 160-odd universities in the country that offer distance education worried because the recognition they had obtained earlier from the UGC has no relevance for fresh enrolment of students.

The latest guidelines say that every institution has to seek a fresh nod from the regulator even if the approval they had got under the earlier rules was still valid.

Most of these institutes have started the admission process for the 2017-18 academic session beginning next month when, going by the new regulations, they should have applied before January at least for courses they were intending to offer.

"The notification has come at a time when all universities have started the admission process for the 2017-18 academic session starting in July. The admission process in SOL is going on. It has created a lot of confusion," said J. Khuntia, a professor at the School of Open Leaning in Delhi University.

Nearly 1.5 lakh students enrol in July every year for the undergraduate courses the school offers.

No UGC official was available for comment. Till late this evening, UGC secretary Jaspal Sandhu had not responded to calls and a text message from this newspaper.

There are around 150 conventional universities and 14 open universities that offer degree and diploma courses in various subjects in distance mode. Dozens of standalone institutions not affiliated to any university also offer distance learning in diploma courses.

The medium, which helps students pursue their studies without having to be physically present in classrooms, caters to nearly 40 lakh of the 3.42 crore doing their higher studies in India.

Another provision in the new regulations bars institutions other than open universities from offering programmes that are not among subjects taught in the conventional face-to-face mode. At present, many private institutions offer courses they don't teach in regular classrooms.

Professor Manikrao Salunkhe, vice-chancellor of the Pune-based Bharati Vidyapeeth, said the regulations had several good provisions to ensure quality control. For example, it wants institutions to disclose details of faculty, tuition fees and facilities on their website and in brochures.

Salunkhe said there have been questions about the "standard of courses" offered in the distance mode. "The UGC has tried to standardise the courses."

The regulations have retained the restrictions on offering engineering courses, which, Salunkhe said, was a concern. "I was expecting that the regulations would enable institutions to offer various kinds of courses. But the restrictions are still there. It is a matter of concern," he said.

The regulations bar institutions from offering courses through franchisees. There have been allegations of irregularities in granting of permission to such centres by several universities, including the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).

A member of the faculty at Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University said the regulations should have disbanded study centres too. "The study centres and franchisee centres are the same thing. Only banning franchisee centres is not enough. They may come up as study centres," he said.

The regulations say 20 per cent of a course can be pursued online through the Massive Open Online Courses prepared by the UGC and the IITs in various subjects. Now the entire course is based on correspondence.

According to the new regulations, standalone institutions will not be given fresh recognition.

"The biggest sufferers are standalone institutions. The regulations have given them a deathblow. They can function only till the time their present permission is valid and not thereafter," said Ravi Bhardwaj, a lawyer who specialises in education-related cases.