Change of Guard

While a majority of educationists welcome the Union Government’s decision of replacing the Distance Education Council with University Grants Commission for regulating open and distance learning.

Updated: Feb 25, 2014, 00:33 AM IST

While a majority of educationists welcome the Union Government’s decision of replacing the Distance Education Council with University Grants Commission for regulating open and distance learning, some are apprehensive of the new development. Prachi Rege reports
Many educationists across the country hail Union Human Resources Ministry’s recent decision of disbanding the Distance Education Council (DEC), the apex regulatory body for distance education, and handing over the reins to the University Grants Commission (UGC). The change of guard should address the plummeting quality of the Open and Distance Learning (ODL), they say. “This move will empower the new regulatory body to function and monitor ODL closely,” says Vidya Naik, associate dean, School of Distance Learning, NMIMS.

A section of intelligentia however, express apprehension regarding the ability of the “already burdened” UGC to handle the new challenge. Professor Varun Arya, director, Aravali Gurukul Ashram, Jodhpur, says, "With numereous universites under their ambit, the UGC’s plate is full. There is a serious question mark on the functioning of these institutes. How will they manage to monitor ODL?" he questions.

Dhaneswar Harichandan, director, Mumbai University’s Institute of Distance and Open Learning, is optimistic and believes that UGC will monitor ODL in the same manner as it does the other higher educational institutes. "The quality control of ODL institutes will become regularised."

Naik too feels that it is better to have a “dedicated body” to regulate ODL. Going into the history, she says that formulating DEC under the IGNOU Act, 1985 to regulate distance education, was an anamoly as IGNOU itself offered ODL courses. As a result, DEC did not have an independent existence to regulate distance education. Rakesh Khurana, chairman, Knowledge Network India, agrees with Naik. "How could an university which offers ODL courses become its regulator?"
Educationist highlight DEC’s shortcomings. Khurana, who was also the former pro vice chancellor of IGNOU states that DEC was entangled in conflict with nodal authorities like AICTE. "Efforts to call a truce between them failed and in turn affected ODL programmes. Many of them remained unapproved. Also, exams and results were delayed putting students to great inconvenience.”

Naik adds that one of the main reasons for DEC’s inability to cope up with a plethora of ODL institutions mushrooming in the country, was the acute shortage of manpower. Bholanath Dutta, president, Management Teachers Consortium (MTC) Global, Bangalore, says, “Irregularities in terms of approval of the courses, quality maintenance and issues related to the operational jurisdiction, were reported under the old guard." They all hope that a dedicated regulatory body, will have adequate resources to invest in distance learning.

UGC is developing comprehensive guidelines for ODL based on the recommendations of the Madhava Menon Committee Report of December 2011. Khurana who is is looking forward to UGC`s intervention in the distance learning space, hopes that the commission executes its system soon. "Given the robust structure and past credentials, I believe that UGC will be able to deliver," affirms Dutta. However, he observes that it woud be interesting to see how UGC ensures quality compliance and fosters excellence in ODL.

Educationists are looking forward to an effective mechanism to monitor ODL. Since quality is the prime concern, they want UGC to have a separate wing to check the performance of the distance education programmes. "They have the wherewithal like edusat and quality resource personnel, to connect with the ODL students and must capitalise on the same to extend quality inputs," says Dutta. ODL institutes which do not adhere to the regulations, should be derecognised and be made to pay a hefty penalty, signs off Naik.