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 7th Schedule to the Constitution of India, Parliament is competent to make laws for the coordination and determination of 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, homemakers, 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, and IGNOU and its authority – the Distance Education Council (DEC).
5. Government of India had clarified its position in respect of recognition of degrees, earned through the distance mode, for employment under it vide 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 a learning opportunity to those who do not have direct access to face-to-face teaching, working persons, housewives, etc.
(ii)providing the opportunity to work 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 5 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 educational 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 university/institute regarding 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, the minimum number of mandatory meetings of DEC may be prescribed.
(v) AICTE would be directed under section 20 (1) of 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 streams of Humanities/Commerce/Social Sciences before the year 1991 shall be excluded from this policy.
(ix) The students who have been awarded degrees through distance mode by the universities without taking prior approval of DEC and other statutory bodies shall be given one chance, provided they fulfill the requirement of minimum standards as prescribed by the UGC, AICTE, or any other relevant Statutory Authority through Regulation, to appear in examinations in such papers as decided by the university designated to conduct the examination. If these students qualify for this examination, the university concerned shall issue a certificate. The degree and the said qualifying certificate might be recognized for employment/promotion under Central Government.
(x) A clarification shall be issued concerning Gazette Notification No. 44 dated 1.3.1995 that it shall not be applicable on to the degrees/diplomas awarded by the universities established by or under an Act of Parliament or State Legislature before 1985, in the streams of Humanities/Commerce and Social Sciences.
(xi) The policy initiatives spelled out in succeeding paragraphs shall be equally applicable to institutions offering distance education/intending to offer distance education.
(B) All universities and institutions offering programs through the distance mode shall need to have prior recognition/approval for offering such programs and accreditation from the designated competent authority, mandatorily regarding the programs offered by them. The violators of this shall be liable for appropriate penalty as prescribed by law. The universities/institutions offering education through distance mode and found involved in cheating students/people by giving wrong/false information or wilfully suppressing the information shall also be dealt with strictly under the penal provisions of law.
(C) The universities/institutes shall have their own study centers for face-to-face counseling and remove difficulties and seek other academic and administrative assistance. Franchising of distance education by any university, institutions whether public or private, shall not be allowed.
(D) The universities /institutions shall only offer such programs through distance mode on their campuses through conventional mode. In open universities, they shall have the required departments and faculties before offering relevant programs through distance mode.
(E) It would be mandatory for all universities and education institutions offering distance education to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to deliver their programs, management of the student and university affairs through a web portal or any other such platform. The said platform shall invariably display in the public domain the information about the statutory and other approval, and other necessary information about the programs on offer through distance mode, their accreditation, and students enrolled, year-wise, etc. This may be linked to a national database and, when created, to facilitate the stakeholders to recognize the degrees for academic pursuit or employment with/under them.
(F) All universities/education institutions shall make optimal use of e-learning contents for delivery/offering their programs through distance mode. They shall also be encouraged/required to adopt e-surveillance technology to conduct clean, fair, and transparent examinations.
(G) The focus of distance education shall be to provide education to people in educationally disadvantaged situations such as living in remote and rural areas, adults with no or limited access to education of their choice, etc.
(H) To promote flexible and need-based learning, a choice-based credit system shall be promoted. All ODE institutions shall be encouraged to adopt this system and evolve a mechanism for acceptance and transfer of credits of the courses completed by students in face-to-face or distance mode. For this purpose, the establishment of a credit bank may be considered. Similarly, conventional universities offering face-to-face mode programs shall be encouraged to accept the credits earned by the students through distance mode. A switch over from the annual to semester system shall be essential.
(I) Convergence of the face-to-face mode teaching departments of conventional universities with their distance education directorates/correspondence course wings and open universities/institutions offering distance education shall be impressed upon to bridge the gap in distance and conventional face-to-face mode of education.
(J) Reputed Foreign education providers well established, recognized, and accredited by a competent authority in their country and willing to offer their education programs in India shall be allowed, subject to the fulfillment of the country’s legal requirement.
(K) A National Information and Communication Technology infrastructure for networking of ODE institutions shall be created under National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology.
(L) Efforts would be made to create a favorable environment for research in the Open and Distance Education (ODE) system by setting up infrastructure like e-libraries, digital data-base, online journals, holding regular workshops, seminars, etc.
(M) Training and orientation programs for educators and administrators in the ODE system, focusing on ICT and self-learning practice, shall be encouraged.
(N) ODE institutions shall be encouraged to take care of the educational needs of learners with disabilities and senior citizens.
(O) An official notification clarifying the recognition of academic qualification, earned through distance mode, shall be issued for employment.
(P) A mechanism shall be set up to evaluate degrees of foreign universities for academic pursuit and employment under the Central Government. This may include assessing the credentials of the university concerned and testing the competence of the degree holder if needed.