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.
The writer is Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University