Push for distance education markers

The UGC has asked universities offering distance education to clearly mention the mode of learning on its certificates and degrees, in a move that is likely to deepen the bias against such courses.

Officially, the government and the higher education regulator are said to consider distance education to be on a par with conventional classroom learning. But instances of distance-mode candidates facing discrimination at job interviews and during promotions are not few or far between.

In a letter to vice-chancellors and directors of all universities and institutions, UGC secretary Jaspal Sandhu said the mode of delivery of a study programme should be reflected in all documents “in order to erase ambiguities between conventional mode degrees with that of ODL (open and distance learning) mode degrees”.

“All institutions offering programme through ODL mode are essentially required to mention ‘Mode of delivery: ODL/Distance’ on all documents issued to students during or after the completion of programme,” the letter said, citing a decision taken at the UGC’s September 2 meeting.

Sandhu pointed out that some institutions offering distance courses had been issuing degrees, mark-sheets, diplomas and certificates to students without indicating the mode of delivery of the programme.

There are 14 dedicated open universities offering only distance courses. Nearly 150 conventional universities have started separate departments to offer distance courses.

No institution mentions “ODL” in its academic transcript. Distance-mode students are usually identified by the name of the university, so such candidates from a conventional university are difficult to pinpoint.

A UGC official said complaints had been received about conventional universities not mentioning the mode of education, leading to ambiguity.

Manoj Killedar, who teaches at Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University in Nashik, said: “Mentioning ODL in certificates will strengthen the undue bias against the distance mode and destroy distance education in the long run.”

He said research findings had shown no difference in learning outcome between distance and classroom students, but the UGC move would needlessly strengthen the divide between the two.

Manoj Kulshrestha, a faculty of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, said distance students were awarded degrees only after they cleared exams having the same question paper as classroom students.

“If they clear the same exam and pass through the same rigor, there is no reason for creating a division between the two modes,” he said.

The UGC directive will be followed only after the academic council of each institution approves it, he said.

Out of 35 million students enrolled for higher education, nearly five million are studying in distance mode. Distance education is cheap and allows students to study at their own pace without having to regularly attend an institution.

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