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Distance education: institutes must become deemed-to-be varsities

Deccan Chronicle | Prakash Kumar | DH News Service | Oct 19 2017 |

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has amended its ODL regulations for this

NEW DELHI : Standalone higher educational institutions, which offer various certificate and post-graduate diploma programmes in the open and distance learning (ODL) mode, will have to qualify for deemed university status to continue their operations from the next academic session. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has amended its ODL regulations for this.  The revised UGC (ODL) regulations, 2017 are applicable to all standalone institutions which have been offering distance education with the approval of the erstwhile Distance Education Council (DEC) under the Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou).  The standalone higher educational institutions include those which are not affiliated or recognised by any university.

“Certificates, diplomas or post-graduate diplomas awarded by the standalone institutions, which have also been approved by the commission based on the policies of the then Distance Education Council till the academic year 2016-17, shall remain valid programmes till the academic session 2017-18,” the UGC said, notifying the changes in its ODL regulations in an official gazette on October 11. “Thereafter, they shall be free to get their standalone institution status converted to university or deemed-to-be-university for the purpose of these ODL regulations, failing which, the commission shall not accord any approval to the ODL programmes of standalone institutions,” it said. This comes after many standalone institutions faced UGC regulations banning them from offering any distance education programmes earlier this year, even though they were running the courses with the approval of the DEC. Some of these institutions, including Maharashtra Academy of Engineering and Research, approached the Delhi High Court, seeking relief. Hearing their petition, a division bench of the high court recently directed the government to let all approved standalone institutions continue offering distance education programmes, as approved by the DEC, in the current academic session of 2017-18. It also held that petitioners may, in the meantime, commence the process of admissions to the courses they offer. – Courtesy

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Cloud on UGC distance learning rules : UGC Open and Distance Learning Regulations, 2017

The Telegraph | June 29 , 2017 |  Basant Kumar Mohanty |  Cloud on distance learning rules | Opinion |

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. – Courtesy

Distance learning rule ‘for 2018’   :   The Telegraph, July 1 , 2017, Special Correspondent

New Delhi, June 30: The University Grants Commission (UGC) has issued a clarification saying its new rules making it mandatory for distance learning courses to seek approval six months prior to commencement is applicable for the 2018 session. The Telegraph had reported on June 29 that distance learning courses could be headed for the freezer over the next six months because of the new rules that 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 left the 160-odd universities in the country that offer distance education worried because the admission for the current session begins in July and according to the new rule, permission would have had to be sought in January.

However, in a public notice dated June 29, the UGC has now said: “Applications for recognising new higher  educational institutions and/or starting of new programmes are invited online shortly as per the UGC ODL Regulations, 2017, for the academic session beginning January 2018/July 2018.” The notice has been issued by Avichal Kapur, a joint secretary in the UGC. The rules that came into effect last week did not mention any date. The regulation notified in the government’s gazette, however, is yet to be amended. “How can a clarification of the UGC override its law notified in a government gazette? The UGC should have amended its own regulation. Otherwise, there will be a lot of legal complications,” said Ravi Bhardwaj, a lawyer. – Courtesy

Click here to download, UGC Circular : Published on 29/06/2017 :  University Grants Commission, UGC gazette notification , 72 Pages, pdf  (Open and Distance Learning) Regulations, 2017

Click here to download, UGC Circular : Published on 29/06/2017 :  Public Notice reg.: Open and Distance Learning Programmes, 1 Page, pdf

Distance learning policy needs a needle, not noodles approach

The New Indian Express | By S Vaidhyasubramaniam  |  15th October 2016 | Opinion|

Any noodles brand will deliver steamy and tasty noodles in two minutes and none can deliver the same with untangled strands. Taste and entanglement are inversely proportional—the more you untie, the more the noodles will get cold and lose its taste. An entangled but tasty noodle is okay to satisfy the gastric appetite of students but educational policy-making needs a needle approach which directs the thread of thoughts and sews them together to create a fine educational fabric. The post-2004 charitable grant of deemed universities, the Supreme Court’s order on the Yashpal case, Tandon Committee’s armchair arbitrary and faulty analysis leading to paralysis of deemed universities, justifiable closure of IGNOU’s Distance Education Council (DEC) and taking over of distance education by the Distance Education Bureau (DEB) of the University Grants Commission (UGC) without any legislative sanction have all resulted in certain avoidable confusions in the current distance education policy-making. The unrecognised and unnoticed off-campus centres of deemed universities (winked at by the Tandon Committee), the mixing of Yashpal order on regular campuses and franchising of regular programmes in unauthorised study centres by regular State/private universities have resulted in the UGC’s understandable tri-state policy mind—caution, care and confusion.

The recent and hasty decision of an ‘expert committee’, constituted by the UGC to approve distance education courses for 2016-17 which have so far been approved, both by the erstwhile DEC and UGC’s own DEB, has rattled the distance education system. There is no need to emphasise the globally well-known fact that distance education provides accessibility, affordability, equity and continuity through life-long learning. All these ‘ities’ are bundled and thrown out by some of the DEB ‘expert committee’ recommendations, which not only lack statutory and regulatory source but are also arbitrary and unfair. For example, the DEB’s decision not to approve a university’s distance education programme if it is not offered in regular mode runs against our national policy of providing higher education to the deprived. The DEB’s decision is also against the spirit of UGC’s own SWAYAM Regulation 2016 allowing 20 per cent of a regular programme to be integrated with SWAYAM, a distance education MOOC platform that offers courses of other universities that may not offer such regular programmes. The lack of clarity in the operational approach of DEB on one hand is further compounded by exercising a power without any proper source.

The UGC in its June 2013 notification decided to adopt the DEC guidelines under the extant (but now repealed) Statute 28 of the IGNOU Act. This notification categorically stated that “modifications in these guidelines, if necessary, will be notified from time to time and in this, notification shall cease to be in force with effect from the date of coming into force of the UGC regulations on the subject mentioned therein”. No new regulation has been notified so far and without it as statutory backup or modifications in existing guidelines after following due process, an ‘expert committee’ decision without specific law or statutory rules runs contrary to the law laid down by many courts, including the apex court, in a catena of cases. There is an urgent need to come out of this year’s chaos. UGC should approve all existing distance programmes for the year 2016-17 and notify new regulations as per law for open and distance learning before the 2017-18 process starts. In short, distance education needs a needle pathway and not a noodles entanglement. –  Courtesy

Ban on distance B.Tech, M.Tech engineering lifted

New Delhi: The Centre has lifted its six-year-old ban on B.Tech and M.Tech in distance mode but said institutions will require the approval of regulators to start such courses. A gazette notification by the human resource development (HRD) ministry said all degrees, diplomas and certificates – including those in technical education – awarded through open and distance mode , stood automatically recognised for employment to central jobs, provided the courses have been approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC). But there is no relief for those already holding such degrees, which continue to remain invalid. The UGC has a distance education bureau (DEB) to approve such programmes. The bureau, advised by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), has been giving approval to two such technical courses – MCA and MBA – in distance mode.

The bureau – known as the Distance Education Council (DEC) before 2012 – has stopped approving courses like B.Tech and M.Tech since 2009 after the ministry put a ban on them on the ground that their quality was compromised. “The ministry has lifted its ban. Now it is up to the regulators like the UGC and the AICTE to take call on whether to allow universities to start these courses,” said a ministry official. The AICTE , which regulates technical education, has always followed a policy of not approving B.Tech, M.Tech, pharmacy, hotel management, and architecture courses in distance mode. Lawyer Ravi Bhardwaj said the latest notification was a “positive departure”. “The government has taken the first step for recognition of such B.Tech and M.Tech degrees in government jobs with prospective effect. I think this decision will prompt the regulators to start approving technical education courses in correspondence mode.”

However, the notification does little to help the thousands already holding such degrees and facing discrimination in jobs. While inviting applications for posts like those of junior engineers, most state and central agencies do not accept B.Tech completed in distance mode. Many such degree-holders are languishing at junior levels in the railways and other Centre-run units like the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) as these organisations do not consider their B.Tech valid. “I have been working in SAIL for the past 10 years. My B.Tech degree is not being entered into my service record and I am not getting promotions,” said one official. Thousands more – many from varsities like Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University – have been running from pillar to post in the hope of getting their qualifications recognised. But lawyer Bhardwaj said the notification could not be implemented retrospectively, hence the earlier degree holders would not get the benefits unless the government and regulators took a specific decision to this effect. Sources in the ministry said the AICTE had been recently asked to look into the issue of recognition of such previously issued degrees. An IGNOU official said many open universities were running B.Tech and M.Tech courses in distance mode, after approvals from their academic councils. The regulatory bodies had not clamped any restrictions on them till 2009. “Before I took admission for B.Tech in IGNOU in 2008-09, I had checked with the AICTE and the UGC. They had no problems with B.Tech in distance mode. Then they arbitrarily put the restriction and pushed our career into jeopardy,” the SAIL employee said. – Courtesy

Does the draft bill (Distance Education Council of India Bill 2014) address concerns of all stakeholders?

HT Education Correspondent, Hindustan Times | New Delhi, December 17, 2014 |

Education experts say the Distance Education Council of India Bill 2014, details of which are up on the website of the ministry of human resource development for suggestions/views/comments of all stakeholders, should be passed in Parliament as soon as possible. Academicians are of the view that open and distance learning (ODL) institutions, which enrol one-third of students in higher education, offer huge opportunities for providing low cost education to anyone and anywhere. “However, there is hardly any attempt to make a comprehensive survey of the functioning of open and distance learning centres on the basis of which appropriate inferences for designing policies on ODL could be drawn. Unfortunately, the UGC, as regulator, has been oblivious to the lack of quality and efficiency in functioning of ODL institutions. I think the draft bill should be enacted as soon as possible to protect the interests of the students,” says MM Ansari, member, UGC.

Even on the question of territorial jurisdiction, a majority of the stakeholders agree that distance education shouldn’t be confined to any boundary and allowed to go beyond the country, provided there is a mechanism and regulatory methods to control the quality and standards of education. According to RK Arora, former deputy director, erstwhile Distance Education Council, “I don’t see a specific provision in the draft bill on the subject of territorial jurisdiction. However, I believe that once the regulator comes into place, it will not restrict the distance education within any boundary. I firmly believe that distance education needs no boundaries.” Agrees Prof Menon, “There are ample provisions in the bill which ensure that the quality of education will not suffer and learners’ rights will be protected even if a university is allowed to offer courses beyond its own territorial boundary. If there is no provision for ensuring quality, then distance education even within the territory of the university remains a big problem.”

Owners of some institutes  have objected to a lot of provisions of the draft act. AK Bajpai, secretary, Kurmanchal Institute of Degree and Diploma Engineering (KIDE) Educational Society, Nainital, which had got a clean chit from a Supreme Court-appointed committee  investigating allegations against it for not maintaining proper infrastructure and facilities, says: “I have written to the HRD ministry objecting to provisions in the bill. It allows study centres at existing degree colleges and AICTE-approved centres which, according to me, is wrong. If an institute can have proper facility, faculty and infrastructure, it should be allowed to run distance education programmes. I have seen many AICTE-approved institutes not maintaining adequate infrastructure. “

Once the regulator comes in place, it will not restrict distance education within boundaries —RK Arora, former deputy director, erstwhile distance education council.
In the absence of a provision to ensure quality, ODL within a state can pose major problems — NR Madhava Menon, eminent scholar and academician

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UGC to suggest alternative to check study centres

Daiji World | Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | New Delhi, Aug 19 (IANS) |

The UGC will now direct universities offering open distance learning (ODL) outside their territorial jurisdiction to transfer all the students to the state open university in that jurisdiction. However, in the absence of such state universities, the students should be transferred to the nearby Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) centre, the University Grants Commission has suggested. The alternative has been suggested as some varsities flout norms by admitting students through franchise tie-ups with centres outside their territorial jurisdiction.

As a one-time compassionate reprieve to the students enrolled under open and distance learning mode, the UGC – the regulator of higher educationm in India – has suggested the alternative proposal which will be taken up during the commission’s next meeting. “Universities which are offering ODL programme through study centres franchise located outside their territorial jurisdiction may be issued policy directive to transfer all the students admitted in such centres to the state open university under whose jurisdiction these centres are located,” the UGC has said in a letter that would be taken up at its forthoming meeting. It is the alternative proposed to check mushrooming of unauthorised study centres through ODL system in universities. The letter mentions: “If the study centres/franchise of the university is located in the state where there is no state open university, then the students of such centres be transferred to the centre of IGNOU located at nearby place.” Earlier too, the commission had issued such circular, which stated that any university which is established under a state Act can operate only within the territorial jurisdiction allotted to it under its Act and in no case beyond the territory of the state of its location. No university, whether central, state or deemed one, can offer its programmes through its franchise, it had said.

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CUSAT widens eligibility norm : To accept distance education courses offered by recognised universities; IGNOU

The Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat) has amended its rule that only distance education courses offered by the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) would be recognised as eligibility criteria for admission to its various programmes.

The academic council of the varsity has now decided to recognise the distance education courses offered by universities that are established by an Act of Parliament or the State Legislature and approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

From next year, Cusat will admit students who had pursued distance education courses offered by such universities for its academic programmes. The prospectus for admission to various courses for the year 2015-16 will include this amendment.

For years, Cusat had only considered the applications of candidates who had passed the distance education programmes of IGNOU for admission to its courses through either the Common Admission Test or the Departmental Admission Test.

The academic council observed that many students were denied opportunity despite having the required credentials as they had pursued a distance education programmes by other universities. Even the academic courses offered by State universities under Schools of Distance Education were not recognised by Cusat.

A few years ago the varsity had decided to recognise the courses offered by universities recognised by the Distance Education Bureau but later changed it and restricted it to the courses offered by IGNOU.

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UGC deadline for Mahatma Gandhi University to shut down off-campus centres

The Hindu | | G. Krishnakumar.

Report to be filed on July 23

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has set July 23 as deadline for the Mahatma Gandhi University to submit a compliance report after closing down its seven international and six national off-campus centres.

The apex body’s latest missive came after it turned down a request by the university Vice Chancellor in-charge Sheena Shukkur to review the decision to shut down the 13 centres functioning outside the State and abroad. The university authorities will have to close down its seven international off-campus centres at Sharjah, Doha, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Oman and the national centres in Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka and the Union Territory of New Delhi before July 23 as per the UGC directive.

The Hindu had reported on June 24 that the Distance Education Bureau (DEB) of the commission found that the centres were opened in violation of the UGC guidelines on territorial jurisdiction. In a letter dated July 8 sent to the Vice Chancellor, D.K. Rao, Deputy Director of DEB, has requested the university not to admit any students in the programmes offered through distance mode for the year 2014-15.

The DEB letter pointed out that the UGC has been time and again requesting the State universities to limit offering their programmes within the territorial jurisdiction of their Act and statutes but not beyond the boundary of the respective State of their enactment.

“The State university is not authorised/competent to open study centres/off campus centres beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the State as per the judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Prof. Yashpal vs. State of Chhattisgarh,” it said.

The regulatory body recalled that it had written to all the universities or State governments on April 16, 2009, to stop all State or State private universities from operating beyond the territorial jurisdiction in any manner either in the form of off-campus or study centre or affiliated college and the centres opened through franchises. University officials said the UGC’s latest directive would be discussed at the syndicate meeting to be held on July 19.

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Accreditation to become mandatory for distance education centres

DNA Analysis | Tuesday, 8 July 2014 | Kanchan Srivastava

There is good news for all those who wish to enrol for distance education courses of open universities or open and distance learning institutes (ODL) of universities. To enhance recognition and value of distance learning programs, the centre has proposed mandatory accreditation for all ODL centres and open universities in the country.

The proposal was tabled at the conference of vice chancellors of open universities in Delhi on June 26 by ministry of human resources and development (MHRD).

Prof Hari Chandan, director, Institute of Distance and Open Learning (IDOL) of University of Mumbai, who attended the conference, told dna: “With accreditation system in place, MHRD aims to upgrade the value of distance education.”

It would enable institutions to raise their profiles, promote academic programmes, enhance faculty and learner strength, and grow in substantial ways while keeping a check on the standard of learning, he added.

Currently, distance programmes are being offered to more than 2.5m learners, who constitute nearly 25% of the total students in higher education. However, there are no checks and balances on the quality of education or infrastructure due to absence of an accreditation system.

Most established open varsities abroad such as UK Open University (UKOU) and Hong Kong Open University ((HKOU)) have well-established systems of accreditation.

Accreditation has been mandatory for formal higher education institutions in India for a decade now. Going a step ahead, these institutes are now going for course-wise accreditation as mandated by the UGC a year ago.

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Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU) asked to shut down 13 off-campus centres

| G. Krishnakumar | The Hindu.

They were in violation of the UGC guidelines on territorial jurisdiction.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has asked the Mahatma Gandhi University to shut down its seven international and six national off-campus centres immediately.

According to a letter written by Dev Kant Rao, deputy director of the UGC Distance Education Bureau (DEB) to the director of the varsity’s School of Distance Education, a copy of which is available with The Hindu, the opening of the centres was in violation of the UGC guidelines on territorial jurisdiction.

“The DEB, UGC vide its letter dated November 28, 2013, had requested the university to close down all study centres for offering programmes through distance mode opened in violation of the UGC policies. But it seems that the university has continued admitting students through these centres, thus jeopardizing the careers of the students,” says the letter.

According to the list opublished on the MGU’s website, the seven international off-campus centres are at Sharjah, Doha, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Oman.

The national centres offering off-campus programmes are in Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka and the Union Territory of New Delhi.

Courtesy

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