MHRD proposes an independent regulatory authority – Distance Education Council of India (DECI) for Open and Distance Learning (ODL) education

MHRD has proposed establishment of an Independent Regulatory Authority – Distance Education Council of India for Open and Distance Education System in the country.

Earlier, Distance Education Council, was created under statute 28 of Indira Gandhi National Open University Act, 1985, which engaged granting recognition and laying down standards for Distance and Open Education in the Country. Later, Distance Education Council was dissolved and all the functions of Distance Education Council was transferred to University Grants Commission.

The University Grants Commission, thereafter notified draft rules for laying down standards for conducting distance and open education courses in the Country. UGC approved those Regulations and forwarded the same to MHRD about a year ago. Since then there was a status quo in the matter and there was no legislative framework governing Distance and Open Education system in the Country.

Now, MHRD has published a Draft Bill, under the name of The Distance Education Council of India Bill, 2014, which provides for the establishment of The Distance Education Council of India for the promotion and coordination of the Distance Education System in the field of higher education and for the determination and regulation of standards.

In our country, this has been tradition, under the umbrella of UGC, there exists various councils for different streams of education. Like for Technical Education, we have All India Council for Technical Education, for Legal Education, we have Bar Council of India, for education in Pharmacy, we have Pharmacy Council of India. The proposed Distance Education Council of India, though long awaited is step in continuation of the tradition.

Section 3 of the proposed Bill provides for creation of Distance Education Council of India. This Council shall be a 18 Member Council having representation from Government, IGNOU, various statutory councils like AICTE, BCI, INC etc., and other experts in different fields.

Section 15 of the Bill, deals with Powers and Functions of the Council. The primary function of the Council is promotion, coordination and determination of standards of the distance education system relating to higher education. The proposed Council will lay down norms, guidelines and standards for offering various programmes of higher education through distance education system and prescribe physical and infrastructural facilities, staffing pattern and staff qualifications required for such programmes. It will also grant recognition to programmes of higher education offered through distance education system within the country and/or outside.

For the first time, online programmes are also sought to be regulated and the Council will have the power to lay down norms, guidelines and standards for regulating and monitoring online programmes. It will also regulate the collaboration between foreign education providers and Indian higher education institutions.

The proposed Council will also have the power to regulate free structure of an Institute and it will develop guidelines for charging fees by higher education institutions imparting distance education so that fee is commensurate and not exorbitant to recover the cost of development of the programme.

The Council also has powers u/s 18 to withdraw recognition if a higher education institution having recognition to offer distance education programme has contravened any of the provision of this Act.

The proposed bill takes a strong leap for protection of students and provides for stern measures, if any Institution offers or gives admission to students through misleading or wrongful information, which can be refund of fees, confiscation of illegal gain and penalty of Rs. 50 Lakhs.

EduLegaL View:

Distance Education has really suffered in the country for want of a proper legislative framework. We can also say that this absence has also led to immense erosion in quality of the delivery. With a vision of ever increasing GER, we have to promote distance education system.

But all these have been going on for last so many years. Let this step reach its destination, at the earliest.