The UGC's crackdown on distant education contradicts the spirit of NEP 2020.
The UGC's crackdown on distant education contradicts the spirit of NEP 2020.

The UGC’s territorial jurisdiction policy, especially for Open and Distance Learning, contradicts the concept of open learning since the technology on which it is based recognises neither geographic or political limits.
When a reputable institution, such as Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), is confronted with a national regulator (UGC), it is impossible not to notice. Established in 1981 and granted university status by the government in 2003 under the Deemed to be University (DU) category, the institute was placed 51st among management institutions and ninth among private institutions in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), 2022. However, according to an affidavit submitted recently in court by the UGC after an inspection, NMIMS established sub-campuses in five separate sites without the necessary approvals. Previously, it was stated that Delhi University was running open and distant learning (ODL) courses in flagrant violation of current norms and without authorization. It issued a notice prohibiting the institution from accepting any further students to ODL courses for the following three cycles.

There are a few questions that must be addressed at the risk of being branded with “whataboutry.” Though the UGC’s decision sends a strong message that it will not tolerate violations of its regulations on ODL education, and also reminds students to carefully research distance learning or online courses before enrolling, it would have been more credible if done through a transparent process that ensured that the UGC was acting on similar infractions by other universities as well. Now that NMIMS has brought the UGC to court, it seems that such an exercise has begun.


Higher education institutes (HEI) are obligated to follow the UGC’s territorial jurisdiction policy, which seems to be an oxymoron on the surface. It contradicts the concept of open learning since the technology on which it is based has no geographical or governmental restrictions. Trying to impose artificial constraints is akin to attempting to stop winds from sweeping over wide sky. How does one prevent people from Delhi from enrolling in Maharashtra? As a result, it is time to reconsider the Madhav Menon Committee’s 2011 suggestion.

If the rationale is weak, institutions, no matter how rule-abiding, will be inclined to violate them. Previously, this legislation forced some ordinary universities to lose their learning centres located outside of their jurisdiction. Bharathiar University in Coimbatore was compelled to close 450 franchisees, 200 of which were outside of Tamil Nadu. A same fate befell Punjab Technical University institutes more than a decade ago.

Any regulatory system that relies on inspections to achieve its goals will suffer from subjectivity, arbitrariness, and corruption. The breakthrough moment for AICTE occurred in 2009, when it implemented full e-governance, resulting in openness and accountability. Instead of relying on inspections as the main means of compliance, UGC must embrace technology. Depending on whether they wish to kill or pass a project, inspection teams are often reduced to a fly swot or a laundry. Serious academics often avoid becoming a member of such teams.

In a country where educational institution seats fall well short of demand, shutting off an efficient option like ODL would be a significant error that will harm the country in the long run. After all, isn’t it also the duty of UGC to guarantee that the nation meets the NEP2020 aim of 50% GER by 2035? As a result, governmental financing for higher education has decreased, and conventional brick-and-mortar colleges have become prohibitively costly.

Only institutions having an NAAC score of more than 3.26 on a scale of 4 (A+ grade) are eligible to begin ODL courses under the UGC’s graded autonomy model. Unfortunately, the nation does not have many institutions in this category. In reality, Kerala lacks a single such institution and so cannot operate any ODL courses. ODL is yet limited to a few colleges, which may lead to monopoly and cartelization.

Because DU laws prohibit the establishment of off-campus centres, schools like NMIMS that selected the DU path are likely to be short-changed, while others that arrived later through the state private university route are rapidly extending their network. They are also offended that IGNOU and Institutions of National Importance (INIs) are not subject to the same restrictions.

Nobody, on the other hand, can dispute that ODL courses are a significant source of money for institutions. Whereas the larger companies embark on an expansion binge, adding additional campuses, courses, disciplines, and initiating partnerships, doubling their profits exponentially, the others struggle to keep up, hampered by a slew of regulatory compliances outlined above. Whereas the AICTE permits an institution to have one or two divisions of 60 students in an academic year, certain institutions and private universities add more than 50 divisions in a single area when they identify a possibility for profit. With each division of over 100 students, the intake in a single topic might reach 5,000. This makes other nearby institutions, particularly those in rural areas, obsolete. Furthermore, the low-paying fields are unilaterally restricted. Although authorities such as the AICTE, the Pharmacy Council, and the Council of Architecture restrict technical courses from being delivered online, many do so with impunity. Regulators must put a stop to such flagrant violations.

Perhaps it’s time to call a spade a spade and reconsider our sunny view of “education without profit.” Even if it is unwise to annoy the authorities, the money must come from someplace. If the state does not supply resources, the responsibility must be shifted to the pupils at random. On the high table of the Indian HE system, there are no free lunches. Everything has a price.



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