The Supreme Court (SC) recently came down heavily on institutions conferring distance education degrees in an erratic manner. The SC has maintained
that postgraduate degrees awarded by open universities under the distance education programme to students who did not have the basic three-year degree could not be treated on a par with conventional postgraduate degrees.
The ruling comes in the wake of the Madras High Court judgment that declared N Ramesh as ineligible for the post of principal, on account of acquiring an MA degree from Annamalai without having a three-year graduation degree. The ruling, in fact, has opened a Pandora’s Box.
First, there is confusion about whether the judgment is applicable to degrees offered by open universities or those acquired through distance mode. Moolchand Sharma, lawyer and vicechairperson, University Grants Commission (UGC), explains, “There is a confusion regarding the way education is imparted through correspondence, open universities or distance education. These three may coincide at some point when it comes to delivery of content but these are different concepts and play different roles.” Delhi University’s School of Open Learning (SOL), too, offers correspondence courses.
Explaining its position in the context of the judgment, H C Pokhariyal, executive director, SOL, said, “We offer programmes as per the norms set by UGC, hence, students should not feel that their degree’s value is lesser than the conventional one.”
Coming back to the verdict, does it mean that degrees offered by open universities will henceforth not be on a par with regular universities? V N Rajshekharan Pillai, while clarifying the stand of open universities, said, “We cannot compare an open university degree with a conventional one. They play different roles. Open universities reach out to the lowest strata of society to include poor, underprivileged and dropouts. But, considering the fact that open universities like Ignou are imparting quality education, one cannot undermine the validity of such degrees.”
To add to it, there is confusion about the role of Distance Education Council (DEC) and UGC in the area of distance education. Though open universities and other institutes offering distance education come under DEC, the SC has held the regulations framed by UGC as above DEC.
In 1989, formal universities had been prevented from granting Master’s degrees if students had not completed a three-year degree course. Open universities continued doing so till 2004. Now the SC has thrown its weight behind the UGC’s 2004 cut-off for open varsities. Pillai, who has also been the chairman of UGC, thinks that the judgment must be applicable to those who are not offering courses listed under UGC’s norms.
“If any institution is offering courses outside the UGC provisions they are following malpractice. But by and large, degrees offered by open universities follow UGC guidelines,” says Pillai.