A word about Indira Gandhi National Open University
Before we throw some light on the origin of IGNOU Regional Centre at Srinagar, a word about Open and Distance Learning and IGNOU will be in place. The Open Distance Learning (ODL) system was introduced in India to undo the legacy of restrictive education by extending its reach socially as well as geographically—access with equity and socio-economically relevant curricula were the cherished goals. This urge found expression in the words of the then Prime Minister, who inaugurated IGNOU on 19th November, 1985. He said, “Our endeavour is that in India, the poorest, the most backward children receive the best possible education, and in this direction today, we are here to take a step forward. This Open University will extend educational opportunities to all the corners of the country.”
IGNOU started its academic journey by offering two programmes in 1987: Diploma in Management, and Diploma in Distance Education, with a strength of 4,528 students. Today IGNOU has a cumulative student strength of 3.3 million students with more than 270 certificate, diploma, degree and doctoral programmes on offer. These programmes reach the students through a network of 67 Regional Centres (including 11 RRCs), 20 overseas institutions, and about 2,077 study/ learner support Centres. IGNOU has 54,966 academic counsellors mostly from conventional institutions of higher learning on part-time basis to take counselling session and interact with the students on academic issues. IGNOU Regional Centre, Srinagar, is one of these 67 Regional Centres.
Regional Centre, Srinagar: A Retrospect
Retrospectively, when one traces the origin of Regional Centre, Srinagar, we find that IGNOU established a Regional Centre in Karnal, Haryana, in the year 1991 with 9 Study Centres, having its purview over the States of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, and Haryana. One of these 9 Study Centres was established in Srinagar to cater to J&K State. Later on due to militancy it was considered desirable to shift this study centre to Jammu.
The Secretary, Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Govt of India, visited J&K State in July 1996 to review the educational scene. One of the recommendations made in the report based on the review envisaged that IGNOU and National Open School should assist the State Education Department in exploring the possibility of using distance education mode to provide access to the education to the people of the State.
In the meantime, the Board of Management of IGNOU in its 51st Meeting held on June 19, 1997, approved setting up one Regional centre one each in the states of Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab. Accordingly, Regional Centre, Jammu was established in 1998.
Keeping in view the inconvenience caused to the students from the valley and Ladakh by not having any Regional or Study Centre based in Srinagar, I pleaded with IGNOU authorities that as a special case, it may consider having one more Regional Centre in J&K State located in Srinagar. Initially my proposal did not receive any serious consideration, on the pretext that the situation in the valley was not conducive. But I continued my struggle. It gave me lot of strength when I came to know that the MHRD, Govt of India, has set up a task group on Education under the Chairmanship of Shri P.R. Dasgupta to identify the educational requirements of the State of J&K. The Committee in its report recommended that “in view of the normalization of overall situation in the valley and in order to provide people living in remote geographical terrains of the valley access to higher education through Open learning system, the IGNOU may consider opening of a Regional Centre in Srinagar.”
Prof M.B. Menon, the then Chairman National Open School, also supported my contention in whatever way he could. It was the time when Prof. A.W. Khan from COL joined as Vice Chancellor, IGNOU. I briefed him about my efforts and recommendation of Shri P.R. Dasgupta report. He was convinced and decided to constitute a team headed by the Vice Chancellor himself to visit the valley to explore possibility of establishing Regional Centre at Srinagar. The team consisting of Prof. A.W Khan, Vice Chancellor, Prof Janardhan Jha, Pro Vice Chancellor, Dr Ramegowda, Director (RSD), and Prof. M. Aslam, Director (SOCE) visited Srinagar in June 1998.
Need for separate Regional Centre in Srinagar
The team had a meeting with the Education Minister, who assured all support for establishing IGNOU Regional Centre in Srinagar. The team during its four-day visit to Srinagar had very fruitful discussions with the Vice Chancellor of University of Kashmir and senior officials of the State Government. The team realised that in view of the peculiar geographical conditions and inaccessibility particularly during the winter, the people of Kashmir valley were not able to take advantage of distance education programmes offered through its Regional and Study Centres located in Jammu. In view of this it was felt that IGNOU may establish a separate Regional Centre exclusively for Kashmir Region in the state.
Positive Role of the University of Kashmir
It was noted by the committee that the University of Kashmir was willing to provide all necessary facilities for temporarily locating Regional Centre till such time its own accommodation, including possibly allotment of land, etc, is decided. Since the admissions for various IGNOU programmes for 1998 had been announced, it was decided that University of Kashmir will publicise the IGNOU programmes through mass media and other channels and also nominate one of its faculty members as a Nodal Officer and provide other supporting staff to handle receipt of IGNOU admission forms. The Nodal Officer at the end of admission process reported receipt of over 1,700 applications for admission to various IGNOU programmes.
Approval of Board of Management
In the meantime, a proposal for establishment of Regional Centre at Srinagar during 1998-99 was placed before the 61st Meeting of the Board of Management held on November 16, 1998. The BOM under item 14(b) approved the establishment of IGNOU Regional Centre for the Kashmir valley at Srinagar during the financial year 1998-99 and also approved necessary provisions in the plan budget to provide for appointment of staff and necessary infrastructure facilities and services.
Regional Centre set up in February 1999
The Regional Centre Srinagar was finally set up in February 1999.The Centre was established with jurisdiction over Kashmir Division including Leh and Kargil. It started functioning from just one room of the Department of Commerce of Kashmir University, with the help of a Nodal Officer, one part-time clerk, with just four Study Centres, 14 programmes and an enrolment of around 1,000 students. Subsequently, it was shifted to a rented building in Rajbagh and necessary staff was kept in place.
Today, it serves the educational aspirations of lakhs of students from Kashmir valley through a network of 49 Study Centres. It has been able to enrol 47,833 students (Fresh 30,895 + RR 16,938) during January and July 2021 admission cycles. The Regional Centre offers about 190 certificate, diploma, degree and doctoral programmes with the help of 1,413 online academic counsellors drawn from conventional institutions of higher learning and professional organisations. There were only 484 academic counsellors earlier for face-to-face counselling before counselling sessions were offered online.
An enrolment of 47,833 in a year is an impressive figure, but does it serve the purpose? The analysis of data made available reveal as under:
1. A large number of students (24,613) have enrolled for Master’s Degree programmes followed by 21,829 for Bachelor’s Degree programmes. The certificate, Diploma and PG Diploma have attracted a cumulative enrolment of 1,390 only.
2. The most popular programmes in terms enrolment are Bachelors Degree Programme (17.35%); Master of Sociology (13.2%); Master of Political Science (6%); Master of Arts in English (6%) and Master of History (5.35%)
The enrolment analysis reveals that in terms of numbers the Regional Centre is comfortably placed. Whether this high enrolment has made any impact on the employment scenario and in addressing educational backwardness of Kashmir and Ladakh remains to be seen. Some of the IGNOU programmes which have high employment potential do not seem to have attracted attention of the potential students. These among others include MBA, BCA, MCA, MSW and MARD, etc. There also may be some areas which have remained unexplored particularly related to technical and vocational education. Keeping in view specific human resource requirements of the region, the three main areas which qualify for attention through open and distance learning mode are Tourism, Horticulture & Handicrafts. These are best suited to be introduced through distance and open learning mode. But it calls for establishing linkages with private and public sector undertakings and industries to make a distance education respond to the market economy of the UT. Teacher training and capacity building of elected members of Panchayats are other two major areas for meaningful intervention through distance mode.
The Regional Centre may have to play a pro-active role in making these educational interventions meaningful and successful. The Regional Centre needs to constantly pursue student profiles closely and also facilitate students in seeking placement.
Prof Aslam is Former Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU, New Delhi. He is a Member of the Collegium of Eminent Social Scientists constituted by the ICSSR; Fellow EDI of the World Bank; Distinguished Fellow, AGRASRI, Tirupati, A.P.; and Patron, Hope Foundation, Vadodara, Gujarat. He has been conferred with 7 national and International awards including “Commonwealth Of Learning President’s Award of Excellence.” He has authored 8 books and dozens of papers and book chapters. He can be reached at [email protected]