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Beware! 9 regulations that put students in a soup

Last updated on: October 10, 2011 18:15 IST

Beware! 9 regulations that put students in a soup

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B Mahesh Sarma

From MBBS to biotechnology, across academic and professional programmes, the regulators have consistently been betraying the trust students place in them. Read on to find out how.

From the number of students that an institution can admit to the number of rooms that it must have, education regulators specify every aspect of the education process.

Take the regulatory process of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), for instance. It has over 67 different parameters incorporating standards that an institution must meet in order to be approved. But barring the insistence on the number of contact hours, AICTE has hardly any measure to ensure a good learning experience for the student. No discussion on transparency in the admission process, none on quality of teaching, no way for the student to objectively assess his or her experience and seek remedy for being treated unfairly or getting cheated.

The student has always felt cheated. Nearly 67 percent of the queries that Careers360 receives are about bad experiences of the students, which, in turn, is the result of bad regulatory regimes. A lack of application of mind in designing regulations, indifference to the impact of haphazard rulings on students, pious but useless sentiments about student welfare, and a colonial mindset of controls, all has resulted in a regulatory quagmire that is difficult to escape from.
 
The pity is that most of these problems can easily be solved, if only the State looks at education through the eyes of the student. Careers360.com identifies nine instances where the regulatory mess has inflicted unwarranted pain on students.

Click NEXT to read anout each of these 9 problems


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Student problem 1: Fate of 44 deemed universities

Sanction and withdrawal without a thought for the consequences seems to be order of the day. Careers360 tackles a reader's query on the subject.

Core players and where they stand

Ministry of HRD: The Ministry had been instrumental in declaring the 44 deemed universities as not on par and merits closure.

UGC: This is the agency that inspects institutions and recommends to the Ministry that the institutes deserve to be provided the status of a deemed university.

Supreme Court: The apex court is currently hearing a bunch of petitions and has stayed the Ministry's notification which had intended to withdraw the DU status to 44 of the 137 players.

Status quo

No matter how valid the reason be for withdrawal of deemed university (DU) status the question still remains: is it fair to the thousands of students whose career it would affect badly?

If UGC can make a one-time exemption for Distance Learning BTech students, if it can permit one-building, two-faculty units as central universities, we must be prepared to slightly lower our standards when it comes to some DUs. What is good for the goose must be good for the gander!

The last we heard, the HRD Ministry had set up a review committee to evaluate the submission by these 44 institutes. Ideally the State must swallow its pride and rescind the notification, prescribe minimum standards, give the institutes (both public and private) reasonable time to implement them and then stop admissions forthwith for those who still do not meet the criterion.

In the process the student's future is safeguarded. If that means, for a few years we might end up having slightly less trained engineers and architects we need to live with it. But should we sacrifice the future of thousands of students because of the whims of a few?


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Student problem 2: Is my distance learning course valid?

Can public universities located in one state set up study centres/off-campus centres in other states? Careers360 tackles a reader's query on the subject.

Core players and where they stand

Supreme Court: In its famous Prof Yashpal Versus GOI & others, the court very clearly banned off-shore centres, study centres and off-campus centres by universities, which are governed by State Acts.

UGC: Citing the above judgment UGC has been issuing circulars periodically which very clearly deny permission for such centres by State-level universities as well as deemed universities.

DEC: After a series of flip–flops, DEC now says there can be no territorial limits for distance learning, but distinctly bans franchising and subcontracting of these centres.

Status quo

The issue here is one of genuine distance learning institutes vis-a-vis some 'authorised' study centres that begin to offer their own full-time/regular programmes without regulatory oversight. In a normal study centre, a student gets library and laboratory support, administrative help and at times it may even offer academic inputs.

The programme, however, remains distinctly self-learning driven and accordingly cost effective. In the 'hybrid' model, the education institutes are given fancy names like 'on-site partner' or 'approved institute,' which help them masquerade as regular institutes. So the students are fooled into believing that they are studying under a regular, full-time programme and are charged for the course accordingly.

The issue here is not a debate over territorial jurisdiction. The concern is the effortless mixing of different modes of education by the institutions. While study centres are for distance education, off-campus and off-shore centres are meant for full-time programmes. They serve different needs and hence should not be clubbed together. As in the case of Saif, students are led to believe that they are doing a full-time programme, which they are not. They do get a degree finally, which is legal and valid, but again, it will only be a DL degree.


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Student problem 3: BTech/ BE in distance mode, valid?

There are open violations even when UGC, AICTE and DEC disapprove BTech degree by Distance Learning. Careers360 tackles a reader's query on the subject.

Core players and where they stand

Ministry of HRD: Very clearly came up with a notification advising DEC not to permit Engineering degrees through correspondence.

AICTE: Has a clear-cut policy of not permitting BTech by correspondence (view their notification below).

DEC: Does not permit such programmes.

Status quo

It's a saga of remissness displayed by both the regulating bodies -- UGC and AICTE.
 
The first wave of distance learning (DL) degrees in engineering came when some Deemed Universities like JRN Vidyapeeth started BTech by correspondence and began setting up study centres across the country.
 
On August 9, 2005, the UGC came up with a circular that explicitly forbade distance learning BTech programmes.
 
When the decision was challenged by JRN Vidyapeeth and others, the UGC allowed, quite inexplicably, a one-time exemption to these institutions and permitted BTech degrees by correspondence between 2001 and 2005.

The institutes continued to admit students until both UGC and DEC woke up in 2009 and began notifying the correspondence degrees as invalid. JRN Vidyapeeth again went to the court which stayed DEC's actions in this matter.

Four questions arise:

If technical degrees cannot be offered in distance learning mode, how is the government justified in permitting engineering degrees like AMIE and AMIETE?

How can the AICTE come up with notifications regulating universities which are supposed to be outside its purview?

If DEC is against distance learning programmes in engineering, how is IGNOU justified in offering B.Tech?

As a result of the actions and inaction of the regulators, the situation remains muddled and open to litigation. The students have therefore been left out in the cold.


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Student problem 4: Are tie-ups with foreign universities valid?

Many institutes now offer a range of programmes by tying up with foreign partners. Are they valid?

Core players and where they stand

AICTE: A PGDM offered by an institution approved by AICTE is equivalent to MBA for the purposes of employment. Unless AICTE has approved the tie-up even the foreign MBA is invalid for any Government job purpose.
 
AIU: Citing the above judgment UGC has been issuing circulars periodically which very clearly deny permission for such centres by State-level universities as well as Deemed Universities.

Status quo

The players in this case are, in fact, more. Each regulatory agency, whether it is Medical Council or Pharmacy Council has its own norms as far as foreign degrees are concerned.

But most universities would agree to accept AIU certification, if available. Until India becomes a member of internationally-known associations like the Washington Accord, which provides reciprocal equivalence to degrees, the validity of each foreign degree is suspect in the country!
 
So for a student, a foreign degree may not make you eligible for a government job or to pursue higher studies unless it is from an approved or a recognised university.
 
In Suri's case, both PGDM and MBA are valid. But not so for many others, since AIU is not active in obtaining reciprocal equivalences and there is no exchange of information among individual regulators.


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Student problem 5: Are joint degrees with foreign universities credible?

With foreign institutions setting up local campuses, the clamour for tie-ups is on the rise. Is there value?

Core players and where they stand

Ministry of HRD: Has proposed a new law to regulate foreign educational institutions. But as of now it has no legal base.
 
AICTE: Mandated to ensure quality of technical education, it has suo moto initiated a scheme to approve such joint offerings and local campuses of foreign institutions. 

Status quo: Most of the reputed institutions do not go through the AICTE approval route, since they feel the regulatory regime is stifling. The most notable example is the certification offered by ISB. AICTE terms even this as an unapproved programme.

The programme cited in the above problem is valid and approved by AICTE. But unless a level playing field is created many good institutions will continue to be termed as unapproved, and a host of unscrupulous players would use the same as an argument to offer substandard programmes.

Will the regulator introspect as to why such events happen?


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Student problem 6: One university, multiple campuses -- valid?

An obscure rule by UGC might suddenly hit institutions and the students. A Careers360 reader shares his predicament.

Core players and where they stand

UGC: UGC has categorically stated that neither State universities (public and private) nor deemed universities can have additional campuses during the first five years of their existence and even after five years they can only do so with its prior approval.
 
State governments: Most State governments suggest a territorial jurisdiction for each university, but have permitted establishment of centres and campuses, both within and outside the States.

Status quo

This is one of the many norms that students may not be aware of, but can hit them hard if a bureaucrat decides to implement it by declaring all the additional campuses of a university as null and void. That UGC itself does not take this notification seriously is established by the fact that its own inspection teams clearly make a mention about establishment of additional campuses in certain universities and observes it as illegal. Nevertheless the team recommends sanction of UGC approval.
 
When universities like Harvard can come and set up campuses in India, it makes no sense to prevent an Andhra University from setting up a campus in Jammu and Kashmir. But as long as the notification exists, the sword of Damocles of de-recognition stares at the hapless students who inadvertently pursue their dream courses in any one of the multiple campuses.


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Student problem 7: All pharmacy degrees are not valid

Stuck in a time warp Pharmacy Council says only some degrees are valid. Is it right?

Core players and where they stand

Pharmacy Council: The Council's stand is clear. It only approves BPharm, DPharma and PharmaD programmes. No other programme is valid.
 
Universities: Individual universities hide behind the UGC Act which empowers them to award any academic degree and hence argue that all their degrees are valid.

Status quo

This is a classic case of a profession not keeping up with academia. The profession is not interested in investing time and energy in evaluating whether the alternative or new programmes that are on offer in a host of institutions provide the students with competencies essential to practice the profession or teach the same.
 
The case is not limited to NIPER. Many deemed universities too offer Master's programme, which are not approved by PCI. But despite their courses having tremendous market value, despite the students finding plum positions in various pharma companies the profession fails to take note and take steps to approve them as professional courses.
 
For no fault of the student, he or she is now saddled with a degree from a premier academic institutions, but cannot aspire to become an academic or a professional? What can be more cruel?


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Student problem 8: PGDM courses have too many regulations

AICTE's regulations on PGDM programmes will in all probability kill good institutes, letting bad ones thrive

Core players and where they stand

AICTE: Is adamant that the policy is right and has to be implemented. According to officials the challenge in the court is only a temporary setback.
 
Institutes: Have been crying hoarse and have approached the court for relief, individually and collectively.

Supreme Court: Has provided interim relief for a year and is currently hearing the case.

Status quo

This notification is a perfect example for the saying, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Nobody can quarrel with the AICTE, when it says admissions has to be transparent, fees must be reasonable, and students must be provided quality content. But the norms they have suggested will not achieve any of them. If admissions are done by State governments, then parochialism is likely to creep in, and the national character of most of the good schools would go down the drain.

Ensuring financial transparency would go a long way rather than just fixing fees. Mandating contact hours and specifying competencies would force institutes to think in terms of raising the bar. The ends must be specified and the means to achieve them must be left tot the students.
 
What this myopic policy has achieved is 'needless confusion' and sleepless nights for students and, of course, an unexpected windfall for lawyers across the country. But that, we presume, is not AICTE's intention.


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Student problem 9: BCom grads can't pursue BEd?

National Council for Teacher's Education (NCTE), the apex body for quality standards, faces resistance from the States in implementation

Core players and where they stand

NCTE: The norms are very clear. 50% minimum percentage in graduation, all streams are permitted for BEd and Distance learning BEd open only to in-service teachers with two years of work experience.

State goverments: Have varied norms for both eligibility and streams.

High courts: At least five different High Courts are adjudicating on each of these parameters.

Status quo

The arrival of National Council for Teacher's Education (NCTE) is supposed to have heralded an era of high quality teachers education. But the policy regime appears not to change at all.

Even with respect to the recent Teachers Eligibility Test, the initial notification did not include Commerce graduates, despite Commerce being one of the core subjects taught in schools. Even Jamia from where two Chairmen of NCTE came, does not allow commerce students to appear for BEd.

The anomaly between local universities and NCTE standards is a cause for concern. It is a pity that many colleges consider teachers training in Commerce as a non-essential feature. The minimum percentage too must be made uniform. In a nation where diverse sections of the population have been treated differently with respect to minimum eligibility what must be taken care is that equality of opportunity is available to all.

When will the States accept the national standard, despite the Supreme Court affirming the right of the Parliament to make laws for the whole nation, especially when it comes to issues like education that are on the Concurrent list of the Constitution?


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