The State Open Universities (SOUs)

The State Open Universities (SOUs)

The State Open Universities (SOUs) in India constitutes a mixed bag of good, bad and indifferent. They have however, managed to register huge enrolment figures but a lot more is to be done to improve the quality of education imparted to the learners through the Distance Education (DE) mode.

This is especially patent in the areas like print and broadcast lessons, and student support services. A few SOUs, however, performed fairly well in respect of courses offered and social reach, namely equity and access.

According to a study relating to SOUs in India, Open and Distance Learning (ODL) must now face the challenge of providing opportunities to increasing numbers of aspirants to higher education overcoming several obstacles such as lack of political support and budgetary constraints.

Almost all the 13 SOUs in India claim that they provide a better quality alternative to the programmes and courses offered by the correspondence courses run by conventional universities. Here also, a certain amount of divergence is seen between the Open Universities.

Political support has been of varying degrees from state to state. Where this factor was dominant the SOU concerned could develop fast. Again this is linked to institutional leadership and where the Vice Chancellor as the executive head proved his or her commitment there was no lack of political backing.

This aspect naturally impinges on the funding process as well. A bloated bureaucracy and red tapism impede the functioning of some SOUs.

Taken as a whole, Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU) in Maharashtra and Netaji Subash Open University (NSOU) in West Bengal have performed well over the years.

Among the SOUs set up prior to 2000, those in Andhra Pradesh (Dr BR Ambedkar Open University, BRAOU), Maharastra (YCMOU), Madhya Pradesh (MP Bhoj Open University)and West Bengal(NSOU) have registered large enrolments.

However, in the case of BRAOU, only the initial momentum gained during the earlier years seems to be carrying it forward. Among the SOUs established after 2000, Tamil Nadu Open University (TNOU) has been active in areas like Livelihood Education benefiting the poor and rural communities.

Considering the other SOUs, those in Rajasthan (Vardhaman Mahaveer Open University or VMOU, Gujrat (Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University or BAOU, Karnataka (Karnataka State Open University or KSOU and Uttar Pradesh (UP Rajarshi Tandon Open University or UPRTOR) have not grown along expected lines.

The reasons are lack of sustained political support and institutional leadership. KSOU frankly admits that the political system is not treating Open and Distance Learning as a priority area. Nalanda Open University in Bihar is making progress since 2003. The other three SOUs, in Chattisgarh, Uttarkhand and Assam are too recent for any appraisal.

The report points that the SOUs in India are still experimenting with different models in this realm without coming to grips with the fundamental issue of creating a mechanism for measuring learning outcomes. Also there is a total ignorance of the Open University System in many segments of society in India.

This must be viewed against the background of millions of aspirants to higher education existing in the country with out much chance of getting into the formal stream.

It is a staggering scenario when one looks at the number of students and the variant of course offerings. The DE picture consists of 126 dual-mode universities having institutes of correspondence education, 13 State Open Universities and one National Open University, IGNOU.

All these together cater to the needs of five million students who have taken up 4000 different courses among them.

The Correspondence Course Institutes (CCIs) attached to the conventional universities have not been good examples of efficient, smug with the filling in of the coffers.

In the case of SOUs, the production of quality courseware and lessons (in print and electronic mode including audio, video, broadcast channels like radio and TV) is hampered by the paucity of competent personnel.

Almost all the Vice Chancellors of SOUs feel that the faculty strength is inadequate to fulfill the objectives of the Open Universities. IGNOU has been trying to help the SOUs to a certain extent.

Significantly enough, the role of the Distance Education Council (DEC) has come in for much criticism from the State Open Universities. The DEC is the apex body for the Open and Distance Learning system in India and is responsible for the promotion, coordination and maintenance of standards in this segment.

The DEC has been extending financial support to the DE institutions in the country for a host of activities such as improving the infrastructure, promoting academic quality staff development and training etc.

However, the dominant feeling among SOUs is that the DEC must be made an autonomous body without being tied to the apron strings of IGNOU. In this way there will be no role conflict and at the same time, a more balanced development of the ODL system in the country can be assured.

The Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012) envisages a doubling of student strength in ODL from the present 20 per cent of the total higher education pie.

The bias against the graduated from SOUs and other DE institutions entertained earlier by many employers seem to be on the wane. This transformation is good for the ODL institution whose main features include flexibility in respect of subjects offering and pace of studying, a boon to the learners.

The report points out that there must be clear indications from the Ministry of Human Resources about financial and administrative support of the SOUs, those already existing and those to be set up in the coming years.

Also the recruitment and training of the faculty for the Open University stream of higher education must be give greater attention and care