Govt axes off campus study

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The state move to ban distance mode courses offered through off campus study centres has created panic among the students and the private education fraternity. Shazia Khan reports.
The Higher Education Department issued a notice on July 10 banning most off campus study centres, thus shutting down 148 study and coaching centres affiliated with outside universities and a few other private colleges operating in valley.
The government invoked the J&K Private Colleges (Regulation and Control) Act 2002 and 2005 to impose the ban. The Act makes it obligatory for institutes offering programmes at undergraduate level to seek the No Objection Certificate (NOC) for running any courses of study, (regular/part time/correspondence etc) from the government of J&K.
Besides it makes mandatory for these institutes to be approved by a competent authority and also to have affiliation with a university in Jammu and Kashmir.
“The notice was published only after UGC came out with guidelines for universities offering distance mode courses through franchises without permission from Distance Education Council,” an official from Higher Education Department told Kashmir Life.
UGC has identified 38 universities and banned their practise of distance mode courses. In most of the cases UGC found these study centres as “shops or franchises” and called them private enterprises.
The institutes were found violating the UGC’s Establish and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities Regulation, 2003.  
“In the name of collaboration universities were entering into money making business with the franchisers not only in India but also in valley. They even conduct examination for these courses on the behalf of university which is illegal,” said the official.  
PRO University of Kashmir Showkat Shafi says about the affiliation of these institutes, “We have nothing to do with the affiliation of these study centres. So far no study centre has approached us regarding this matter. If the state government has come out with any such law we will ponder over the situation and follow our own (University) framed Act and Statue.”   
Kashmir Association of Distance Mode Education says the ban imposed by Higher Education department should be for regular private colleges or off campus centres. “With less infra structure and compromised quality education, these private colleges and off campus study centres are conducting regular mode of courses in valley,” said a member of Association wishing not to be named.
Many are questioning the invoking of act. “We are not able to understand why the Higher Education Department have put distance mode of education under private regular collage Act,” said an official at AAJ Deemed University, Parray Pora Bagaat.
“If the department authorities have labelled distance mode of study centres as unauthorised, then on what basis they have appointed pass out students of these centres as contractual lecturers at many government colleges or higher secondary schools,” he said.
This is not the first time when the government has come up with such notification. Earlier in 2002 and 2004, similar notifications were published and private education fraternity were asked to apply for NOC. “However after submitting all required documents for No Objection Certificate the government didn’t grant NOC to any institute,” said Tauseef Ahmad, Director Academics Kawa Institute of Management and Technology.
“We are helpless and have become victims of system. Though the department of Higher Education easily grant NOC to many private B Ed and M Ed colleges, but we are denied the same,” said Tauseef.
Bashir Ahmad Khan of Global College of Professional Studies says, “For setting up of any study and counselling centres, no state government in other parts of India ask for NOC, why J&K?”
“Instead of asking NOC to private distance mode of education centres, it would be better for state government to come up with framed guidelines for better quality of education and improved infrastructure of distance education centres. They are misleading students of valley by mixing distance study centres with private regular colleges operating in valley,” added Khan.
Majority of private distance education study centres offering a range of courses through distance mode in valley claim to be affiliated with recognised universities of other states which are empowered to award degrees as specified under section 22 of the UGC Act 1956.
For running programmes in distance mode in any state, the recognised universities have to seek approval of joint Committee of UGC-AICTE-DEC. The Distance Education Council acts as the coordinator of the joint committee.
According to its recognition policy, any recognised institution that satisfies minimum criteria prescribed by DEC can offer programmes in distance mode. Such institutions are first given provisional recognition and can subsequently apply to DEC for regular recognition.
The DEC has decided not to insist on territorial jurisdiction to be followed by institutions in offering programmes through distance mode or online modes. On that matter, universities are governed by their own acts and statutes.
Besides, the DEC does not consider giving approvals to study centres of any distance education institution for opening of study centres and regional centres. It is an internal policy matter of the concerned institution/ university, and as per provision in their own Act / Statute.
Education experts say that open and distance learning system has emerged as a vibrant and dynamic component of higher education infrastructure throughout India.  
“Open and Distance learning helped to provide access to quality education to about 25 per cent of total population of learners in higher education. It has vast potential for taking higher education to more and more people irrespective of the barriers of education system. It not only caters to in service people but also to unreached masses of society,” said S K Singh, Chief Executive Officer of Indian knowledge Corporation.
At the same time some experts say that banning these study centres can create more problems for the students of Valley and people associated with these institutes, which have very less avenues for pursuing higher education or job opportunities. The government should put more stress in improving the quality of these institutes cum study centres than closing them down.
The students of these study centres, who are already pursuing courses through these institutes, have, however, been allowed to finish their courses.
“If we talk about regular mode of higher education here in valley, the government has not built up enough universities to cater the need of all students. As a result these study centres have become a good option for students to pursue their studies,” said Nadia Ali Mir, student Kawa Institute of Management and Technology.
Kashmir Valley has three universities with an overall intake capacity of around 2500 for various postgraduate courses. Every year around 20 to 25 thousand students graduate from different colleges of valley and nearly 27 to 30 thousand students appear for university entrance examinations. Out of that only eight percent are able to get through.
The rest of students are forced either to move outside valley for continuing studies or avail distance mode of education.  
According to DEC figures, seven million people across India are enrolled in open and distance education.  By 2017, this count is estimated to reach 16 million approximately.  
In Jammu Kashmir alone, around 200 centres, catering to more than 10,000 students, were conducting distance mode of programmes. One third of these have been affected by the recent ban.
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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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