When Delhi University launched the first-ever correspondence course in 1962, no one was sure of its fate. Of course, the need for such a mode, which is less expensive and an efficient form of education for students who cannot afford or qualify for regular programmes, was long felt. But not many were confident about the success of this new system of making higher education reach the doors of knowledge seekers.
However, as time passed, not only did Delhi University's experiment meet with stupendous success, but today, the model has emerged as the most effective method of ensuring access to higher education for millions who are deprived of the opportunity of going to regular universities for various reasons, including economical and social ones. The low percentage of people pursuing higher education (seven per cent) in the country, coupled with the growing demand for qualified candidates in the fast changing and growing job market, has increased the demand for external education. These courses come in handy for professionals who wish to improve their academic record. Moreover, the external courses being treated on a par with the regular courses has encouraged many to join these courses.
Though the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the Karnataka State Open University (KSOU) have pioneered the cause of external education, the regular universities too have realised its benefits and potential and have begun offering courses in the distance or correspondence mode. The University of Mysore is the latest addition to this list.
The open universities are a step ahead in introducing innovative courses which suit the requirements of the modern-day job market. Along with the undergraduate and postgraduate courses, their diploma courses are popular both among working professionals as well as students who opt to pursue these short-term courses side by side with regular studies. The Karnatak University Dharwad (KUD) went a step ahead by removing restrictions on its regular students from pursuing external diploma courses offered by open universities simultaneously. It has even invited KSOU to open shop on its campus.
Vice-Chancellor H.B. Walikar who took this decision said, “Short-time courses help in value addition and keep the students in a better position when they complete regular courses and go for job hunting. When our departments fail to introduce such courses, what is wrong in helping the students by removing restrictions?” He said the short-term courses offered by IGNOU and KSOU are quite helpful for students to compete in the job market. Even the postgraduate courses offered by KSOU have become popular. Despite certain limitations, KSOU has emerged as a student-friendly varsity by improving services and introducing innovative methods. It has introduced entrance tests for courses such as MBA and B.Ed, where the number of applicants is much higher than the total available seats. It has also started offering technical courses in association with partner institutes and online courses in management to allow students to fit their academic schedule around the demands of the current job.
Another advantage is that course materials come in handy for the students. It has not remained a secret that the course materials of open universities are also popular among the regular varsity students, mainly in the arts stream. The conventional universities offering correspondence courses even allow the external students to use their libraries subject to certain conditions. Kuvempu University offers e-mail support for study-related issues, dedicated library at the headquarters, SMS services for quick dissemination of routine and needful information, and active support through web services for internal assessments, reference to old question papers and publication of results.
As the distance education courses have proved to be a boon for those who do not have access to regular universities, the admission rate is increasing by the day. The total admission for external courses at KUD is 23,903 for 2011-12. The previous years' data included 23,901 in 2010-11, 20,866 in 2009-10 and 17,367 in 2008-09. Similarly, the number of admissions at the Directorate of the Kuvempu University stands at 64,984 for 2010-11. It was 56,969 in 2009-10 and 44,130 in 2008-09.
The external courses have also emerged as an ideal source of income for the universities. For instance, the total fee collected by the Directorate of Correspondence Education of KUD is Rs 13.11 crore for 2011-12. In 2008-09 the total fee collection stood at Rs. 6.87 crore, it rose to Rs 9.06 crore in 2009-10 and to Rs 11.35 crore in 2010-11. This indicates that the external courses have been emerging as an income generation machinery for the university. Prof. Walikar said this income takes care of some of the major expenses of the varsity. As the government expects the varsities to evolve self-funding methods, the regular universities are exploring the potential of external education. In a recent development the State's universities have proposed to open shop outside their jurisdiction and also the State. The proposal is awaiting the government's nod.
However, external education is not free from drawbacks. The major concern is the rise in number of complaints regarding out-campus study centres promoting unethical practices such as mass copying and swindling students by promising degrees.
Last year the study centre of an outstate university came under the scanner for reportedly allowing mass copying. Similarly, another outstate university faces allegations of offering more than 3,000 doctoral degrees at a stretch sometime ago. Academicians feel that such practic shoesuld be curtailed; otherwise, this would either affect the prospects of the regular students or may gradually make external education lose credit. There is an ardent need to bring in strict regulations and a vigilance system to curb such practices and to maintain the quality and credibility of the external education system, they said.
courtesy The Hindu