Open and Distance Learning Education – Access to Higher Education in Developing Countries

A common challenge for developing countries or economies is the inadequate access to Higher education needed for human capital development. For instance in Nigeria university sub-sector over 1.1 million candidates with about 75% of them having the minimum academic requirements, sit for the nationally organized Universities Matriculation examination annually, whereas the existing universities in Nigeria can only absorb about 220,000 new entrants. You can imagine the shortfall and the backlog of candidates that will be thrown into the education market without opportunities of furthering their career until the following year.

In fact this education crisis prompted the government to bridge this yawning gap between demand and supply, the Nigerian government has over the years, taken a number of steps, the most significant being between 1999 and 2007. The government, realizing that she could not satisfy the educational requirements of the nation, invited the Private Sector to participate in the provision of university education. Consequently, between 1999 and 2007, thirty-four private universities were licensed by government with 15 of them established in 2005 alone. The number of private universities has increased to 41 in 2009.

With these measures, the disequilibrium between demand and supply in tertiary education persists, as the private universities put together account for just 5 % of total student enrollment in the Nigerian University System with the 27 Federal universities accounting for about 70% of total student enrollment. Concerted efforts has been put together between 2008 till the time of writing this article to engaged cross-border education in collaboration with open and distance learning. The university commission then identified six dual mode universities and on single mode university for this project.

This approach was tackled with a series of workshops on electronic teaching that focuses on using the electronic media and devices with the internet to teach large classes. This pioneers lecturers selected from these universities will now train their colleagues how to lecture online. This project when successful is to prepare these six distance learning institutions to be able to enroll 50,000 students each and the single mode to be able to enroll 100,000 students.

The training focus majorly on some selected mode of delivering education contents which employ asynchronous and synchronous technologies as medium in reaching the students. Most technologies use in these online course/project falls under these categories.

Synchronous technologies with the use of Skpe and a messaging tool

  • Web-based VoIP
  • Telephone
  • Videoconferencing
  • Web conferencing

Asynchronous technologies

  • E-mail
  • Message boards/forums
  • Print materials
  • Videocassette/DVD

The workshop/course deployment employs computer and internet tools for contents access with delivery and may be daubed as a “blended” approach, with content available electronically and remotely. The participant were taught how to redesign their course to suit the distance learner and the online student. A study guide template and an online course design template for various fields of studies were introduced for the participants to adapted to suit the uniqueness of their student’s learning peculiarities.

India’s Education Sector – Back to School

India’s US$40b education market is experiencing a surge in investment. Capital, both local and international, and innovative legal structures are changing the face of this once-staid sector

The liberalization of India’s industrial policy in 1991 was the catalyst for a wave of investment in IT and infrastructure projects. Rapid economic growth followed, sparking a surge in demand for skilled and educated workers. This, combined with the failure of the public system to provide high quality education and the growing willingness of the burgeoning middle class to spend money on schooling, has transformed India’s education sector into an attractive and fast-emerging opportunity for foreign investment.

Despite being fraught with regulatory restrictions, private investors are flocking to play a part in the “education revolution”. A recent report by CLSA (Asia-Pacific Markets) estimated that the private education market is worth around US$40 billion. The K-12 segment alone, which includes students from kindergarten to the age of 17, is thought to be worth more than US$20 billion. The market for private colleges (engineering, medical, business, etc.) is valued at US$7 billion while tutoring accounts for a further US$5 billion.

Other areas such as test preparation, pre-schooling and vocational training are worth US$1-2 billion each. Textbooks and stationery, educational CD-ROMs, multimedia content, child skill enhancement, e-learning, teacher training and finishing schools for the IT and the BPO sectors are some of the other significant sectors for foreign investment in education.

Opportunity beckons

The Indian government allocated about US$8.6 billion to education for the current financial year. But considering the significant divide between the minority of students who graduate with a good education and the vast majority who struggle to receive basic elementary schooling, or are deprived of it altogether, private participation is seen as the only way of narrowing the gap. Indeed, it is estimated that the scope for private participation is almost five times the amount spent on education by the government.

CLSA estimates that the total size of India’s private education market could reach US$70 billion by 2012, with an 11% increase in the volume and penetration of education and training being offered.
The K-12 segment is the most attractive for private investors. Delhi Public School operates approximately 107 schools, DAV has around 667, Amity University runs several more and Educomp Solutions plans to open 150 K-12 institutions over the next four years. Coaching and tutoring K-12 students outside school is also big business with around 40% of urban children in grades 9-12 using external tuition facilities.

Opening the doors

Private initiatives in the education sector started in the mid-90s with public-private partnerships set up to provide information and communications technology (ICT) in schools. Under this scheme, various state governments outsourced the supply, installation and maintenance of IT hardware and software, as well as teacher training and IT education, in government or government-aided schools. The central government has been funding this initiative, which follows the build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) model, under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and ICT Schools programmes. Private companies such as Educomp Solutions, Everonn Systems, and NIIT were among the first to enter the ICT market, which is expected to be worth around US$1 billion by 2012.

Recently, the central government invited private participation in over 1,000 of its industrial training institutes and offered academic and financial autonomy to private players. Companies such as Tata, Larsen & Toubro, Educomp and Wipro have shown keen interest in participating in this initiative.

Regulatory roadblocks

Education in India is regulated at both central and state government levels. As a result, regulations often differ from state to state. K-12 education is governed by the respective State School Education Act and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Rules and Regulations concerning affiliation and/or the rules of any other affiliating body. Under current regulations, only not-for-profit trusts and societies registered under Societies Registration Act, 1860, and companies registered under section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956, qualify to be affiliated with the CBSE and to operate private schools.

While the K-12 segment accounts for the lion’s share of India’s educational market, weaving through the complex regulatory roadmap to qualify for affiliation poses serious difficulties for investors. The CBSE requires privately-funded schools to be non-proprietary entities without any vested control held by an individual or members of a family. In addition, a school seeking affiliation is expected to have a managing committee controlled by a trust, which should approve budgets, tuition fees and annual charges. Any income accrued cannot be transferred to the trust or school management committee and voluntary donations for gaining school admission are not permitted.
Schools and higher education institutions set up by the trust are entitled to exemptions from income tax, subject to compliance with section 11 of the Income Tax Act, 1961. In order to qualify for tax exemptions, the trust needs to ensure that its predominant activity is to serve the charitable purpose of promoting education as opposed to the pursuit of profit.

Alternative paths

Alternative routes do exist for investors seeking to avoid the web of regulatory barriers that constrain their involvement. Sectors such as pre-schools, private coaching and tutoring, teacher training, the development and provision of multimedia content, educational software development, skill enhancement, IT training and e-learning are prime sectors in which investors can allocate their funds. These areas are attractive because while they relate closely to the profitable K-12 segment, they are largely unregulated. As such, they make attractive propositions for private investors interested in taking advantage of the burgeoning demand for quality education. Companies such as Educomp Solutions, Career Launcher, NIIT, Aptech, and Magic Software, are market leaders in these fields. Educomp recently acquired a large number of educational institutes and service providers across India. It has also formed joint ventures with leading higher education groups, including Raffles Education Singapore, for the establishment of higher education institutions and universities in India and China. Furthermore, it has entered into a multi-million dollar collaboration with Ansal Properties and Infrastructure to set up educational institutions and schools across the country and closed an US$8.5 million deal to acquire Eurokids International, a private provider of pre-school educational services in India. Gaja Capital India, an education-centric fund, has completed the funding of three education services companies in India. NIIT and Aptech, meanwhile, are engaged in the IT training business.

Core Projects and Technology is also focusing heavily on India and is likely to bid to takeover, upgrade and run public schools for specified periods on a public-private partnership basis.

Higher hurdles

While state governments are largely responsible for providing K-12 education in India, the central government is accountable for major policy decisions relating to higher education. It provides grants to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and establishes central universities in the country. The UGC coordinates, determines and maintains standards and the release of grants. Upon the UGC’s recommendation, the central government declares the status of an educational institution, which once authorized, is entitled to award degrees.

State governments are responsible for the establishment of state universities and colleges and has the power to approve the establishment of private universities through State Acts. All private universities are expected to conform to the UGC guidelines to ensure that certain minimum standards are maintained.

Amity University in Uttar Pradesh is one of the private universities to open its doors. It was approved by the Uttar Pradesh state legislature on 12 January 2005 under section 2(f) of the University Grants Commission Act.

Not-for-profit and anti-commercialization concepts dominate higher education fee structures. To prevent commercialization and profit-making, institutions are prohibited from claiming returns on investments. This, however, does not pose a hurdle for universities interested in mobilizing resources to replace and upgrade their assets and services. A fixation of fees is required in accordance with the guidelines prescribed by the UGC and other concerned statutory bodies. For this purpose, the UGC may request the relevant information from the private university concerned, as prescribed in the UGC (Returns of Information by Universities) Rules, 1979.

In line with the policy on Fee Fixation in Private Unaided Educational Institutions Imparting Higher and Technical Education, two types of fees are required: tuition fees and development fees. Tuition fees are intended to recover the actual cost of imparting education without becoming a source of profit for the owner of the institution. While earning returns on investment would not be permissible, development fees may provide an element of partial capital cost recovery to the management, serving as a resource for upkeep and replacement.

Legal precedents

In order to be awarded university status by the UGC, institutions must comply with the objectives set forth in the Model Constitution of the Memorandum of Association/Rules, and ensure that no portion of the income accrued is transferred as profit to previous or existing members of the institution. Payments to individuals or service providers in return for any service rendered to the institute are, however, not regulated.

In this context recent court judgments on private universities are relevant. The Supreme Court, in Unnikrishnan JP v State of Andhra Pradesh, introduced a scheme regulating the admission and levy of fees in private unaided educational institutions, particularly those offering professional education. The ruling was later notified in the fee policy.

Subsequently, in the case of Prof Yashpal and Anr v State of Chattisgarh and Ors in 2005, the Supreme Court assailed the Chattisgarh government’s legislation and amendments which had been abused by many private universities. It was contended that the state government, simply by issuing notifications in the Gazette, had been establishing universities in an indiscriminate and mechanical manner without taking into account the availability of any infrastructure, teaching facilities or financial resources. Further, it was found that the legislation (Chhattisgarh Niji Kshetra Vishwavidyalaya (Sthapana Aur Viniyaman) Adhiniyam, 2002) had been enacted in a manner which had completely abolished any kind of UGC control over private universities.

The Supreme Court concluded that parliament was responsible for ensuring the maintenance and uniformity of higher education institutions in order to uphold the UGC’s authority. Following the judgment, only those private universities that satisfied the UGC’s norms were able to continue operating in Chattisgarh.

Professional institutions

Professional and technical education in India is regulated by professional councils such as the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Established under the AICTE Act, 1987, AICTE gives recognition to courses, promotes professional institutions, provides grants to undergraduate programmes, and ensures the coordinated and integrated development of technical education and the maintenance of standards. The AICTE has recently exerted pressure on unrecognized private technical and management institutes to seek its approval or face closure.

A single bench decision of the Delhi High Court in Chartered Financial Analysis Institute and Anr v AICTE illustrates the far-reaching implications this kind of pressure can have on all institutions operating independently of the AICTE. The court found that the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, a US-based organization, was engaged in imparting technical education and that its charter, though not described as a degree or diploma, was nevertheless descriptive of the candidate attaining an academic standard, entitling him to pursue further courses, and achieve better prospects of employment in the investment banking profession. The AICTE argued that the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute fell within the ambit of its regulation and was therefore obliged to submit to the jurisdiction of the regulatory body. The Delhi High Court upheld the AICTE’s view that the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute did qualify as an institution imparting technical education..

This judgment may have emboldened the AICTE to proceed against a number of other establishments that are on its list of unapproved institutions. It holds particular significance since despite not granting degrees and diplomas, the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute was still deemed by the court to be covered under the description of a “technical institute”.

Enthusiasm grows for foreign participation

While regulators such as the AICTE continue to exercise influence in the Indian education system, the sector is expected to witness a surge in foreign investment and perhaps a reduction in the number of regulatory roadblocks as a result of the central government’s enthusiasm for overseas investors. Foreign direct investment in higher education could help reduce government expenditure and there is a general consensus that education as a whole should be opened for domestic and foreign private participation.

The entry of foreign educational institutions into India will be covered by the new Foreign Education Providers (Regulation for Entry and Operation) Bill. The bill seeks to regulate the entry and operation of foreign education providers, as well as limit the commercialization of higher education. Foreign education providers would be given the status of “deemed universities” allowing them to grant admissions and award degrees, diplomas or certificates.

Operationally, the bill proposes to bring foreign education providers under the administrative umbrella of the UGC, which would eventually regulate the admissions process and fee structures. Since these foreign institutions will have to be incorporated under central or state laws, they will also be subject to the government’s policies of reservations. The bill is pending approval from the Indian Parliament but it is unclear if it will be taken by the present government for a vote prior to the general elections in 2009.

Innovative structures unlock profitability

The regulatory restraints on running profitable businesses in the K-12 and higher education sectors have driven Indian lawyers to devise innovative structures that enable private investors to earn returns on their investments. These typically involve the establishment of separate companies to provide a range of services (operations, technology, catering, security, transport, etc.) to the educational institution. The service companies enter into long term contracts with the trust operating the institution. Payments made by the trust to the service companies must be comparative and proportionate to the services rendered by such companies. Furthermore, in order to qualify for tax exemptions, the expenses paid by the trust to the service companies must not exceed what may reasonably be paid for such services under arm’s length relationships.
Despite the regulatory constraints, the Indian education sector is on a path of exponential growth. A growing number of private companies are undertaking creatively structured projects in the education business and the level of investor confidence is demonstrated by the recent spate of M&A activity that has taken place.

With more domestic players emerging, the education sector is likely to witness consolidation, but at the same time, increasing foreign participation will drive competition and raise standards. Liberalization will continue to intensify as the government struggles to remedy its poor public education system and provide quality institutions to educate India’s masses.

New Policy On Distance Learning In Higher Education Sector

In pursuance to the announcement of 100 days agenda of HRD of ministry by Hon’ble Human Resources development Minister, a New Policy on Distance Learning In Higher Education Sector was drafted.

BACKGROUND

1. In terms of Entry 66 of List 1 of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, Parliament is competent to make laws for the coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education for research, and scientific and technical institutions. Parliament has enacted laws for discharging this responsibility through: the University Grants Commission (UGC) for general Higher Education, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for Technical Education; and other Statutory bodies for other disciplines. As regards higher education, through the distance mode, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) Act, 1985 was enacted with the following two prime objectives, among others: (a) To provide opportunities for higher education to a large segment of population, especially disadvantaged groups living in remote and rural areas, adults, housewives and working people; and (b) to encourage Open University and Distance Education Systems in the educational pattern of the country and to coordinate and determine the standards in such systems.

2. The history of distance learning or education through distance mode in India, goes way back when the universities started offering education through distance mode in the name of Correspondence Courses through their Directorate/School of Correspondence Education. In those days, the courses in humanities and/or in commerce were offered through correspondence and taken by those, who, owing to various reasons, including limited number of seats in regular courses, employability, problems of access to the institutions of higher learning etc., could not get themselves enrolled in the conventional `face-to-face’ mode `in-class’ programmes.

3. In the recent past, the demand for higher education has increased enormously throughout the country because of awareness about the significance of higher education, whereas the system of higher education could not accommodate this ever increasing demand.

4. Under the circumstances, a number of institutions including deemed universities, private universities, public (Government) universities and even other institutions, which are not empowered to award degrees, have started cashing on the situation by offering distance education programmes in a large number of disciplines, ranging from humanities to engineering and management etc., and at different levels (certificate to under-graduate and post-graduate degrees). There is always a danger that some of these institutions may become `degree mills’ offering sub- standard/poor quality education, consequently eroding the credibility of degrees and other qualifications awarded through the distance mode. This calls for a far higher degree of coordination among the concerned statutory authorities, primarily, UGC, AICTE and IGNOU and its authority – the Distance Education Council (DEC).

5. Government of India had clarified its position in respect of recognition of degrees, earned through the distance mode, for employment under it vide Gazette Notification No. 44 dated 1.3.1995.

6. Despite the risks referred to in para 4 above, the significance of distance education in providing quality education and training cannot be ignored. Distance Mode of education has an important role for:

(i)providing opportunity of learning to those, who do not have direct access to face to face teaching, working persons, house-wives etc.
(ii)providing opportunity to working professionals to update their knowledge, enabling them to switchover to new disciplines and professions and enhancing their qualifications for career advancement.
(iii)exploiting the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the teaching and learning process; and
(iv)achieving the target of 15% of GER by the end of 11th Plan and 20% by the end of 12th five year Plan.

7. In order to discharge the Constitutional responsibility of determination and maintenance of the standards in Higher Education, by ensuring coordination among various statutory regulatory authorities as also to ensure the promotion of open and distance education system in the country to meet the aspirations of all cross-sections of people for higher education, the following policy in respect of distance learning is laid down:

(a) In order to ensure proper coordination in regulation of standards of higher education in different disciplines through various modes [i.e. face to face and distance] as also to ensure credibility of degrees/diploma and certificates awarded by Indian Universities and other Education Institutes, an apex body, namely, National Commission for Higher Education and Research shall be established in line with the recommendations of Prof. Yash Pal Committee/National Knowledge Commission. A Standing Committee on Open and Distance

Education of the said Commission, shall undertake the job of coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of education through the distance mode. Pending establishment of this body:

(i) Only those programmes, which do not involve extensive practical course work, shall be permissible through the distance mode.

(ii) Universities / institutions shall frame ordinances / regulations / rules, as the case may be, spelling out the outline of the programmes to be offered through the distance mode indicating the number of required credits, list of courses with assigned credits, reading references in addition to self learning material, hours of study, contact classes at study centres, assignments, examination and evaluation process, grading etc.

(iii) DEC of IGNOU shall only assess the competence of university/institute in respect of conducting distance education programmes by a team of experts, whose report shall be placed before the Council of DEC for consideration.

(iv) The approval shall be given only after consideration by Council of DEC and not by Chairperson, DEC. For the purpose, minimum number of mandatory meetings of DEC may be prescribed.

(v) AICTE would be directed under section 20 (1) of AICTE Act 1987 to ensure accreditation of the programmes in Computer Sciences, Information Technology and Management purposed to be offered by an institute/university through the distance mode, by National Board of Accreditation (NBA).

(vi) UGC and AICTE would be directed under section 20 (1) of their respective Acts to frame detailed regulations prescribing standards for various programmes/courses, offered through the distance mode under their mandate,

(vii) No university/institute, except the universities established by or under an Act of Parliament/State Legislature before 1985, shall offer any programme through the distance mode, henceforth, without approval from DEC and accreditation by NBA. However, the universities/institutions already offering programmes in Humanities, Commerce/Business/Social Sciences/Computer Sciences and Information Technology and Management, may be allowed to continue, subject to the condition to obtain fresh approval from DEC and accreditation from NBA within one year, failing which they shall have to discontinue the programme and the entire onus with respect to the academic career and financial losses of the students enrolled with them, shall be on such institutions/universities.

(viii) In light of observation of Apex Court, ex-post-facto approval granted by any authority for distance education shall not be honoured and granted henceforth. However, the universities established by or under an Act of education programmes in the streams of Humanities/Commerce/Social Sciences before the year 1991 shall be excluded from this policy.

(ix) The students who have been awarded degrees through distance mode by the universities without taking prior approval of DEC and other statutory bodies, shall be given one chance, provided they fulfil the requirement of minimum standards as prescribed by the UGC, AICTE or any other relevant Statutory Authority through Regulation, to appear in examinations in such papers as decided by the university designated to conduct the examination. If these students qualify in this examination, the university concerned shall issue a certificate. The degree along with the said qualifying certificate may be recognised for the purpose of employment/promotion under Central Government.

(x) A clarification shall be issued with reference to Gazette Notification No. 44 dated 1.3.1995 that it shall not be applicable on to the degrees/diplomas awarded by the universities established by or under an Act of Parliament or State Legislature before 1985, in the streams of Humanities/Commerce and Social Sciences.

(xi) The policy initiatives spelt out in succeeding paragraphs shall be equally applicable to institutions offering distance education/intending to offer distance education.

(b) All universities and institutions offering programmes through the distance mode shall need to have prior recognition/approval for offering such programmes and accreditation from designated competent authority, mandatorily in respect of the programmes offered by them. The violators of this shall be liable for appropriate penalty as prescribed by law. The universities/institutions offering education through distance mode and found involved in cheating of students/people by giving wrong/false information or wilfully suppressing the information shall also be dealt with strictly under the penal provisions of law.

(c) The universities / institutes shall have their own study centres for face to face counselling and removal of difficulties as also to seek other academic and administrative assistance. Franchising of distance education by any university, institutions whether public or private shall not be allowed.

(d ) The universities /institutions shall only offer such programmes through distance mode which are on offer on their campuses through conventional mode. In case of open universities, they shall necessarily have the required departments and faculties prior to offering relevant programmes through distance mode.

(e) It would be mandatory for all universities and education institutions offering distance education to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in delivery of their programmes, management of the student and university affairs through a web portal or any other such platform. The said platform shall invariably, display in public domain, the information about the statutory and other approvals along with other necessary information about the programmes on offer through distance mode, their accreditation and students enrolled, year- wise, etc. This may be linked to a national database, as and when created, to facilitate the stakeholders to take a view on the recognition of the degrees for the purpose of academic pursuit or employment with/under them.

(f) All universities/education institutions shall make optimal use of e-learning contents for delivery/offering their programmes through distance mode. They shall also be encouraged/required to adopt e-surveillance technology for conduct of clean, fair and transparent examinations.

(g) The focus of distance education shall be to provide opportunity of education to people at educationally disadvantaged situations such as living in remote and rural areas, adults with no or limited access to education of their choice etc.

(h) In order to promote flexible and need based learning, choice-based credit system shall be promoted and all ODE institutions shall be encouraged to adopt this system and evolve a mechanism for acceptance and transfer of credits of the courses successfully completed by students in face-to-face or distance mode. For the purpose, establishment of a credit bank may be considered. Similarly, conventional universities, offering face to face mode programmes shall be encouraged to accept the credits earned by the students through distance mode. A switch over from annual to semester system shall be essential.

(i) Convergence of the face-to-face mode teaching departments of conventional universities with their distance education directorates/correspondence course wings as also with open universities/institutions offering distance education, shall be impressed upon to bridge the gap in distance and conventional face-to-face mode of education.

(j) Reputed Foreign education providers well established, recognized and accredited by competent authority in their country and willing to offer their education programmes in India shall be allowed, subject to the fulfillment of the legal requirement of the country.

(k) A National Information and Communication Technology infrastructure for networking of ODE institutions shall be created under National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology.

(l) Efforts would be made to create favourable environment for research in Open and Distance Education (ODE) system by setting up infrastructure like e- libraries, digital data-base, online journals, holding regular workshops, seminars etc.

(m) Training and orientation programmes for educators and administrators in ODE system with focus on use of ICT and self-learning practice, shall be encouraged.

(n) ODE institutions shall be encouraged to take care the educational needs of learners with disabilities and senior citizens.

(o) An official notification clarifying the issue of recognition of academic qualification, earned through distance mode, for the purpose of employment, shall be issued.

(p) A mechanism shall be set up for evaluation of degrees of foreign universities for the purpose of academic pursuit as well as for employment under the Central Government. This may include the assessment of the credentials of the university concerned as also to test the competence of the degree holder, if needed.