The 12th five-year plan is geared up to achieve a 30% GER from the present 15% GER of students in the higher education segment. Attracting larger numbers from the student segment not only demands accessibility but also affordability, flexibility and relaxations in the eligibility criteria. With these workable and viable parameters, distance learning serves as the rider to mass education, and, can considerably expand its scope to bring in more students to continue their education.
Distance learning has grown in shape and size, and at present accounts for 22% of the total GER of students in the higher education segment. Considering the needs of the Indian mass, who want to pursue higher education, while continuing to work, distance education can be the bridge for aspiring students/working professionals to achieve their dreams. The areas, which can bolster the initiatives of distance learning in India, are:
At present, India has 544 universities and 3132 colleges. The mushrooming universities in the country have not delivered easy access to students from remote areas. According to a survey, close to 24% of all enrolments in the higher education system is from the ODL system. To boost this percentage, Distance Learning Universities can focus on opening up information/learning centers in regions with low GER, but a vast student potential. This apart, in view of the internet penetration in the country, the online medium of training and studying can be adopted in regions with prominent internet presence.
Innovative pedagogy for higher employability:
As the competitive job industry looks for skilled work-force, students with industry-relevant knowledge about the subjects they have studied, have a brighter chance to land in the right job. Industry – oriented training through cutting-edge course modules, with a right balance between practical and academic training, make a distance learning course more relevant in the modern-day scenario. For instance, SMU-DE’s online platform EduNxt features many avenues for all-round learning and development of its students and has a vast student base.
Universities such as IGNOU and SMU-DE provide placement services to its students. SMU-DE has a dedicated placement cell, which is networked with the major employment exchanges of the country.
In addition, Job fair initiatives taken up Distance Learning Universities will assure prospective students of the career prospects post a distance learning course.
Introducing new-age courses, economy-based, vocation-sciences
The market-trends determine the growth of different industries and thereby different opportunities. India, being an agricultural economy holds a lot of prospects for professionals who can research on agricultural sciences and give innovative solutions to the Indian farmers. Distance learning courses pertaining to agriculture is more relevant for the larger populace, who would be eager to add value to their family business of farming or otherwise. Similarly vocation sciences training have greater application for the labour force- the semi-urban or the rural section of the society, who can acquire additional skills and earn a better financial status.
Distance education universities such as IGNOU has instituted Schools of vocational education training to promote the study of vocational sciences. In this regard, SMU-DE offers fashion design, and journalism and mass communication courses for students seeking self-employment or job-ready skills at the end of the course; as the vocational sciences subjects centre on hands-on training.
The vernacular medium for education
Primary education in the semi-urban and rural areas is delivered in the vernacular medium. The numbers of students willing to pursue higher education but step back because of the language barrier account for large numbers. Distance Learning courses, if delivered in the vernacular medium, yield the double-advantage: firstly, it can attract more students to continue education and secondly, the ease and comfort of learning in one’s mother tongue gives a better understanding of the subject and thereby delivers better results.
Quality with affordability
Quality stands top for all students. And, when distance education comes on par with the regular stream of learning with timely delivery, excellent interface with its students, up-to-date course materials, more number of students will resort to take to distance learning as their main stream.
Relaxations in eligibility-entry, exit, re-entry
Compared to regular stream of learning, which imposes the 10+2+3 norm, the eligibility criteria for any distance learning course is less stringent. Further relaxations can be brought in for students, who have the merit to pursue higher education but do not satisfy certain criteria, especially those who had to discontinue studies and are keen on studying further.
Education loans and Scholarship schemes
Distance education universities can initiate student loan schemes on subsidised interest rates. This way, the deserving students from the economically weaker sections can continue their education without hassles. Scholarship schemes can work in tandem with loans to make the pursuit of higher education simple and flexible.
Distance education holds the promise of reaching quality education with affordability to students across the country.