Open universities struggling to improve quality of education

Last Updated: Friday, 13 September 2019 (20:08 IST)
With an alarming rise in the number of fake institutes luring students with “so-called” approved and accredited long-distance courses, is making stringent rules to ensure that institutes applying to them for approval adhere to minimum quality standards.
 
In its recent set of regulations, UGC has clearly stated that ODL (Open and Distance Learning) courses provided in the fields of - engineering, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, architecture, physiotherapy and agriculture are not recognized. 
 
This can very well be taken as a yardstick for detecting fake courses as any higher education institute (HEI) claiming to provide “approved” ODL courses in these fields is clearly lying.
 
History of ODL in India
ODL or Open and Distance Learning, is a unique approach to teaching. Students can study anytime, anywhere for much less cost. 
 
The history of ODL in India dates back to 1962 when the country’s maiden correspondence courses were launched by Delhi University. Furthermore, the Government of India first launched the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in 1985.
 
4 such institutes were set up in the 1960’s
A total of 21 more institutes for correspondence courses was launched in the 1970’s
8 institutes were added in the 1980’s.
 
While are all public university, UGC allowed private universities to set up a separate distance education department. Recently UGC has allowed private universities like Symbiosis (SCDL) offering regular courses to offer distance programs too. These are distance degree programs like distance MBA, not post graduate offered earlier. 
 
This has prompted many private universities like Lovely Professional university, Narsee Monjee University, Suresh Gyan Vihar university and recently Jaipur National University to start offering distance and online programs.
 
Fake and unrecognized degrees
Distance learning courses offer flexibility and they are less expensive than regular courses. School of Open Learning (SOL), Delhi University is a case in point. Due to intense competition for regular courses, many students from Delhi opt for SOL. Similarly, those looking for better career prospects also go for distance and online courses. 
 
But students often take admission without first doing rigorous research on the course and the institute. The institutes offering these courses need to  recognised and accredited by the concerned authorities. At the same time, the quality of these courses should be at par with the regular ones.
 
Such students often end up with a degree of negligible value in the job market and in the academic sector. Very often students have been scammed by fake degrees provided by unrecognised institutes and have lost both time and money.
 
Issue of quality
It is not just the fake universities that are facing the heat. Recognized government universities too are to keep up the quality of the graduates. Universities follow different curriculums for regular and ODL courses making these degrees less valuable. Many employers do not recognize distance degrees. 
 
To tackle this issue of quality, UGC is taking some concrete steps. A minimum accreditation of 3.26 from NAAC and top 100 NIRF ranking is mandatory for all institutes offering distance learning courses.
 
Private universities intending to provide ODL courses must have been mandatorily providing the same courses in the regular mode as well over the last 5 years. This helps to address the issue of the lack of quality faculty.
 
Later in 2018, IGNOU also asked universities to close down exam and study centres out of their states. Universities like ICFAI and SMU had to substantially scale down their nationwide operations.
 
The need for ODL in India
In a nation such as India, ODL became the need of the hour. These courses provide continuing education to students with financial restraints, or those with limited access to higher educational institutes. 
 
ODL courses through the correspondence method proved to be the way out for these students. The courses material is delivered at the doorstep or is easily available online. Students can also take exams at their convenience.
 
According to data from the Financial Express, in 2009-2010 approximately 3.6 million Indian students were enrolled in ODL courses
 
But it is clear that unless quality of these courses improves, those taking up these courses will struggle to improve their skills and employability. With recent regulation, UGC has clearly taken a step in the right direction.