The Delhi University’s School of Open Learning (SOL) continues to teach an “outdated” syllabus and conducts examinations on an “annual mode” instead of the semester mode applicable to the rest of the university. The “outdated” syllabus was archived by the university’s Academic Council (AC) in 2011. Due to this disparity, the DU is teaching two different syllabi for the same subjects, but granting degrees that are equivalent. This has affected students who could earlier migrate to and from SOL into regular colleges.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Dr Tapan Prasad Biswal, Deputy Director, South Study Centre, SOL, said, “We have been asking for parity for a long time now. When the Academic Council decided that the syllabus should be renewed and exams should be held on a semester system, it was automatically applicable for all the colleges that come under the DU umbrella to adopt it. While the rest of the university did, SOL didn’t.”
At present, the colleges in DU follow a Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) syllabus and the exams are conducted on a semester system. When The Sunday Guardian asked Professor Yogesh Tyagi, DU Vice-Chancellor, if he knew about the existing disparity in SOL, he said, “I don’t know about this and I am not well aware about the subject either.”
H.C. Pokhrial, Executive Director of SOL, could be reached only after repeated attempts, but he said: “You can write that I refused to comment. It doesn’t matter to me.”
DIFFERENT SYLLABUS, ONE DEGREE
A Delhi High Court order on 19 November 2010 had clearly instructed the director of SOL to implement a semester system and directed teachers to start teaching the new syllabus. Dr Biswal said, “The reason why SOL did not adopt a semester system immediately in 2011 was legitimate. The registered number of students in SOL is larger than in any regular DU college. Therefore, it is not an easy task to hold exams twice a year for such a huge number of students. Initially, it was decided that a year’s time would be enough to make the changes required to bring SOL’s study material at par with the updated university syllabus. For reasons unknown, no changes were introduced to the SOL syllabus or examination system next year (2012) onwards either.”
Before the semester system was introduced, the syllabus throughout the university was uniform for all the subjects. However, since SOL imparted “distance education” (DE), the syllabus was taught differently by way of tailor-made “study material” for students as there were no regular classes. There are still no regular classes and SOL still works through study materials suitable for “distance education” students, but these study materials are no longer at par with the university’s CBCS syllabus.
Devendra Kakkar, senior faculty member, SOL, said, “In 2012, Dinesh Singh became DU’s new Vice-Chancellor (VC). He introduced the Four-year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP). Though the entire university adopted the FYUP, SOL didn’t. The SOL has always been put on the backburner by the university VCs. Last year, the Jaswinder Singh Committee had made recommendations on how the issue of disparity could be resolved. Though the SOL, the university and the UGC agreed to the recommendations, no action was taken.”
CONSEQUENCES OF DISPARITY
The biggest disadvantage is that now students cannot migrate from SOL to any regular DU college and vice-versa since the syllabi are not the same. “Students migrated to and from SOL all the time. Earlier, a student who had to start earning due to social challenges could easily shift from a regular college to SOL. Students who could not score good marks in high school to make it to the top DU colleges were also able to migrate to a regular college if they performed well in the first year. However, all these opportunities went out of the window the moment the disparity crept in,” Kakkar said.
Dr Biswal said, “To give a rough estimate, a few thousand students used to migrate annually. It used to be a two-way traffic and a blessed facility for students. Our students in SOL ended up becoming the scapegoats. The current students can no longer find books in the market as per the old syllabus since the whole university is following a different syllabus. Confusion prevails among the teaching staff as well since the new faculty is not in tune with the old syllabus. While the whole university is moving forward, SOL lags behind.”
Another severe shortcoming is the SOL’s badly implemented annual examination process. Since the strength of students appearing for examinations annually is high, the SOL has to hold exams in government schools. These examination centres are prone to cheating. According to the university, in 2014, some 4,500 cheats were rounded up from over 250 examination centres. The DU’s distance learning arm in 2015 had blacklisted centres where smuggling chits or study material was not uncommon. Kakkar said: “There are limited colleges in DU that allow SOL to use their college infrastructure for holding examinations or personal contact programme (PCP) classes. There are 20-30 PCP classes held per paper every year for all the students for which we have to pay exorbitantly high price to colleges in order to use their infrastructure. Same goes for hiring government schools for holding examinations. There is a vast university infrastructure that lies under-utilised.”
Interestingly, ASSOCHAM has presented the SOL with its “ASSOCHAM India Educational, National Excellence awards 2016” for being the “best university in open, distance and online learning”.
WHAT IS UGC DOING?
Following a Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) order in 2012, the regulatory authority of distance education in the country was transferred from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) to UGC and the Distance Education Board (DEB)-UGC.
At present, like all other institutions imparting distance education, the SOL, too, requires annual recognition from the DEB to start its admissions. There are a set of parameters that all DE institutions must fulfil in order to continue getting recognition from the DEB. Among these parameters is the need to have a syllabus at par with the main university. In case of SOL, since the syllabus is not at par with its main university (DU), the UGC grants a “conditional approval” every year.
An English faculty member of SOL said, “The admission process is delayed almost every year because we cannot start admitting students unless we receive the UGC-DEB continuation of recognition. Students are always at the receiving end of administrative shortcomings. If the annual assessment has to be done, the UGC can start it in advance to finish the process in due time before the admissions.”
J. Khuntia, spokesperson of the SOL Teachers’ Association (SOLTA), said, “The DEB was established only to make the UGC’s presence felt. The annual assessment process to get continuation of recognition with the UGC by DE institutions is nothing but a move towards recognition politics. The SOL is one of the oldest government institutions. It can’t be changed overnight. The SOL is dependent on DEB for recognition, but what has the UGC done for SOL? Most of the faculty in SOL is employed on temporary basis and there is a shortage of teachers. The UGC doesn’t give any grants to the SOL. The fees collected from the students are the only money that SOL spends for operations. How fair is that?”
A staff council meeting of SOL teachers held in 2013 had observed, “The SOL doesn’t receive any money from the university or from the UGC. However, the university examination branch collects examination fees of Rs 610-Rs 1,010 per student, which translates to about Rs 32 crore per annum, and an university development fee (UDF) of Rs 22 crore and enrolment fee of around Rs 4 crore per annum. The university collects a total of about Rs 60 crore from the SOL, but hardly provides any services.”
Emails sent to Dr Renu Batra, Joint Secretary, UGC-DEB, remained unanswered till the time of going to press. Dr Biswal said, “It is true that implementing a semester system in the SOL is a tough task. But if holding exams twice a year for a large number of students isn’t feasible, at least the syllabus can be brought at par with DU’s current syllabus and exams can still take place once a year.”
Prof Kakkar said, “We wrote several times to former VC Dinesh Singh suggesting annual mode of exams with syllabus parity in SOL, but he never seemed considerate enough to address the issue.”