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 Varsities resent course/degree re-recognition

From Our Correspondent
Resentment is mounting among over 100 universities against UGC's circular dated March 21, 2016 seeking applications for approval of their distance education programmes.

The universities, including 15 open universities, have written to the UGC against the new practice.

The circular from the UGC's Distance Education Bureau asks universities running distance education courses to submit fresh applications for renewal for their programme for the year 2016-2017.

The circular gave reasons for inviting fresh applications and cited Human Resource Development Ministry' gazette notification dated June 10, 2015 which said : "all qualifications awarded through Distance Education by the Universities established by an Act of Parliament or State Legislature, Institutions Deemed to be Universities under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 and Institutions of National Importance declared under an Act of Parliament stand automatically recognized for the purpose of employment to posts and services under the Central Government, provided they have been approved by Distance Education Council, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi and wherever necessary by the All India Council for Technical Education, New Delhi"

The circular said that all universities who were granted approval for the year 2014-2015 are required to submit fresh application in a given format for the year 2016-17 by April 26, 2016. This has triggered anger in the universities who feel that the DEB authorities were needlessly harassing the universities.

Till 2012, open universities and other institutions had to seek recognition from the distance education council (DEC), created under Indira Gandhi National Open University Act. The DEC functioned under IGNOU, granting recognition to institutions, not specific courses. For technical and professional courses, the institutions had to seek approval separately from the respective regulators.

In 2012, control of the DEC was handed to the UGC by an executive order of the HRD ministry. Subsequently, the UGC set up a distance education bureau (DEB) to discharge the functions of the DEC and regulate the distance education sector.

On March 21, 2016 the DEB wrote a letter to all universities offering distance education asking them to seek course-wise approval from it -- and this triggered resentment.

"According to the act under which each university is set up, each institution can devise and offer its own course. For distance education, the institution needs recognition of the DEC. There is no need for course-wise approval by the UGC or the DEB," said an outspoken vice-chancellor who refused to be named.

The universities are also upset that UGC rules have not been allowing MPhil and PhD programmes by distance mode since 2009.

An IGNOU faculty member said the UGC did not ask for its approval for regular courses offered by any university. The UGC act has no provision to approve courses, he said.

"UGC does not ask for regular courses to be approved by it. It is a violation of the principle of equality. The UGC has banned MPhil and PhD in distance mode since 2009. We are yet to understand the reason for such decision," he said.

UGC chairperson Ved Prakash and secretary J.S. Sandhu could not be contacted for comment despite making several phone calls and sending texts.

A UGC source said the quality of distance education was an area of concern, calling for tough measures. After the protest by universities, the UGC has set up a committee under former IGNOU vice-chancellor H.P. Dikshit to examine the matter.

About 10 million students are enrolled in distance-learning programmes at present. Over four lakh students take admission into these courses every year.


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