UGC may regulate distance learning

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 5 2012, 08:59am hrs
Despite an overarching body being proposed to monitor higher education, there is an ongoing tussle among the regulators with the government still unable to decide upon a regulatory body for distance education. In fact, a panel formed by the human resource development (HRD) ministry on the matter suggests that the University Grants Commission would handle the task better than Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou), which currently monitors distance learning.

Though the HRD ministry had proposed a National Commission for Higher Education and Research, which would subsume all other regulators, including Ignou, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Medical Council of India for distance education, it is planning to take away the regulatory powers from Ignou and hand it over to the UGC instead.

The committee constituted almost two years ago under Centre for Development Studies chairman NR Madhava Menon to suggest measures for regulating distance education has said that the UGC should be made responsible for maintaining the standards in the open and distance learning (ODL) system.

The seven-member committee has emphasised that the position of UGC, vis-a-vis Ignou, as a regulator, is stronger and more acceptable to the whole university system, including the open universities. At present, the Distance Education Council (DEC) of the university helps in regulating and maintaining the ODL system.

We have submitted the report to the ministry and the idea is to have a separate organisation to govern distance education. This can be done by creating a different statute for distance learning. However, in the interim, we would suggest UGC to manage the ODL, Menon told FE.

Moreover, there is a problem of multiplicity of regulators as the DEC governs the courses offered by Ignou whereas the AICTE governs courses in technical streams and the UGC regulates other conventional courses.

Taking into account the irregularities in distance education in India, the committee has also recommended setting up an independent regulatory authority to be called the Distance Education Council of India (DECI), as reported by FE earlier. Eventually, when the National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill is passed, DECI will get subsumed into the proposed overarching regulator along with other existing regulators like UGC, AICTE and MCI among others.

In its report to the ministry, the committee said: The committee is aware that passing of the proposed DECI Bill may take some time. Meanwhile, the existing ambiguity and uncertainty cannot be allowed to prevail and be exploited by the foul players of the ODL system.

It added that there is a moral dilemma before the DEC in acting as a regulator of the ODL system regulating other open universities. Also, the UGC remained the regulator in respect of distance education system before the commencement and even after some years of the commencement of the Ignou Act.

Ignou is Indias largest open university with 4 million students in the country and 36 other countries through 21 schools of studies and a network of 67 regional centres, around 3,000 learner support centres and 67 overseas centres.

Keeping all this in view, the committee recommends that the government should issue a policy direction or notification to UGC for assuming the responsibilities of maintaining standards in ODL system and creating a DECI-like interim authority for the purpose. Needless to say that while doing so the UGC and the interim authority will utilise the framework and resources available with the DEC working under Ignou, the report noted.

Once the system is in place, the DECI of UGC may start the recognition of ODL institutions as per the newly developed system and enforce norms and standards laid by it in the recognised institutions.