In pursuance of the announcement of 100 days agenda of HRD of ministry by Hon’ble Human Resources development Minister, a New Policy On Distance Learning In Higher Education Sector was drafted.
1. In terms of Entry 66 of List 1 of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, Parliament can make laws to coordinate and determine standards in institutions for higher education for research and scientific and technical institutions. Parliament has enacted laws for discharging this responsibility through the University Grants Commission (UGC) for general Higher Education, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for Technical Education, and other Statutory bodies for other disciplines. As regards higher education, through the distance mode, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) Act, 1985 was enacted with the following two prime objectives, among others: (a) To provide opportunities for higher education to a large segment of the population, especially disadvantaged groups living in remote and rural areas, adults, housewives, and working people; and (b) to encourage Open University and Distance Education Systems in the educational pattern of the country and to coordinate and determine the standards in such systems.
2. The history of distance learning or education through distance mode in India goes way back to when the universities started offering education through distance mode in the name of Correspondence Courses through their Directorate/School of Correspondence Education. In those days, the courses in humanities and/or in commerce were offered through correspondence and taken by those who, owing to various reasons, including a limited number of seats in regular courses, employability, problems of access to the institutions of higher learning, etc., could not get themselves enrolled in the conventional ‘face-to-face’ mode ‘in-class programs.
3. In the recent past, the demand for higher education has increased enormously throughout the country because of awareness about the significance of higher education. In contrast, the system of higher education could not accommodate this ever-increasing demand.
4. Under the circumstances, several institutions, including deemed universities, private universities, public (Government) universities, and even other institutions, which are not empowered to award degrees, have started cashing on the situation by offering distance education programs in a large number of disciplines, ranging from humanities to engineering and management, etc., and at different levels (certificate to under-graduate and post-graduate degrees). There is always a danger that some of these institutions may become ‘degree mills’ offering sub-standard/poor quality education, consequently eroding the credibility of degrees and other qualifications awarded through the distance mode. This calls for a far higher degree of coordination among the concerned statutory authorities, primarily UGC, AICTE, IGNOU, and its authority – the Distance Education Council (DEC).
5. Government of India had clarified its position regarding recognition of degrees earned through the distance mode for employment under Gazette Notification No. 44 dated 1.3.1995.
6. Despite the risks referred to in para 4 above, the significance of distance education in providing quality education and training cannot be ignored. Distance Mode of education has an important role for:
(i)providing the opportunity of learning to those who do not have direct access to face-to-face teaching, working persons, housewives, etc.
(ii)providing an opportunity to working professionals to update their knowledge, enabling them to switch over to new disciplines and professions and enhance their career advancement qualifications.
(iii)exploiting the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning process; and
(iv)achieving the target of 15% of GER by the end of the 11th Plan and 20% by the end of the 12th five-year Plan.
7. To discharge the Constitutional responsibility of determination and maintenance of the standards in Higher Education, by ensuring coordination among various statutory regulatory authorities as also to ensure the promotion of open and distance education system in the country to meet the aspirations of all cross-sections of people for higher education, the following policy in respect of distance learning is laid down:
(a) To ensure proper coordination in the regulation of standards of higher education in different disciplines through various modes [i.e., face to face and distance] as also to ensure credibility of degrees/diploma and certificates awarded by Indian Universities and other Education Institutes, an apex body, namely, National Commission for Higher Education and Research shall be established in line with the recommendations of Prof. Yash Pal Committee/National Knowledge Commission. A Standing Committee on Open and Distance
Education of the said Commission shall undertake coordination, determination, and maintenance of education standards through the distance mode. Pending establishment of this body:
(i) Only those programs, which do not involve extensive practical course work, shall be permissible through the distance mode.
(ii) Universities/institutions shall frame ordinances/regulations/rules, as the case may be, spelling out the outline of the programs to be offered through the distance mode indicating the number of required credits, list of courses with assigned credits, reading references in addition to self-learning material, hours of study, contact classes at study centers, assignments, examination and evaluation process, grading, etc.
(iii) DEC of IGNOU shall only assess the competence of the university/institute in respect of conducting distance education programs by a team of experts, whose report shall be placed before the Council of DEC for consideration.
(iv) The approval shall be given only after consideration by the Council of DEC and not by Chairperson, DEC. For this purpose, a minimum number of mandatory meetings of DEC may be prescribed.
(v) AICTE would be directed under section 20 (1) of the AICTE Act 1987 to ensure accreditation of the programs in Computer Sciences, Information Technology and Management purposed to be offered by an institute/university through the distance mode, by the National Board of Accreditation (NBA).
(vi) UGC and AICTE would be directed under section 20 (1) of their respective Acts to frame detailed regulations prescribing standards for various programs/courses offered through the distance mode under their mandate,
(vii) No university/institute, except the universities established by or under an Act of Parliament/State Legislature before 1985, shall offer any program through the distance mode, henceforth, without approval from DEC and accreditation by NBA. However, the universities/institutions already offering programs in Humanities, Commerce/Business/Social Sciences/Computer Sciences and Information Technology and Management may be allowed to continue, subject to the condition to obtain fresh approval from DEC and accreditation from NBA within one year, failing which they shall have to discontinue the program and the entire onus concerning the academic career and financial losses of the students enrolled with them shall be on such institutions/universities.
(viii) In light of Apex Court’s observation, ex-post-facto approval granted by any authority for distance education shall not be honored and granted henceforth. However, the universities established by or under an Act of education programs in the Humanities/Commerce/Social Sciences streams before 1991 shall be excluded from this policy.