Thursday, 13 October 2011

Under scanner, but IGNOU VC at US summit

NEW DELHI: The Indian delegation to the maiden Indo-US Higher Education Summit, which began in Washington on Wednesday, consists of a vice-chancellor who is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Ironically, the HRD ministry had given its not to the agency to probe allegations against VN Rajsekharan Pillai, VC of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), 10 days ahead of the summit. Ministry's spokesperson confirmed from Washington that Pillai is part of the Indian delegation. Pillai's term as IGNOU VC expires on October 20. HRD minister Kapil Sibal is leading the delegation.

The ministry's permission to investigate charges against Pillai was given about a year after the CBI's plea. The first request was made in November 2010, followed by a reminder in September this year.

The CBI has charged Pillai with non-compliance of norms. In 2009, Sikkim-Manipal University(SMU) had applied for recognition of its 55 courses under the distance education programme. A joint expert committee of UGC-AICTE and Distance Education Council (DEC) visited SMU campus and found that the quality of course material did not meet the minimum required standard. Earlier in 2007, UGC-AICTE-DEC had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly approve and monitor institutions offering technical course via the distance mode. The MoU stated that approval to any institution was to be jointly given by all three parties concerned.

In case of SMU, it was decided that the recommendation would be given after visiting Manipal University's directorate of distance education. The visit report by IGNOU pro-vice chancellor made the following recommendations: SMU's faculty needs orientation on credits, course content in some cases is inadequate, MBA through distance mode should be of more than two years and course material needs a revamp. On the basis of this report and the earlier expert committee report, SMU was told not to grant admissions till it complies with these recommendations.

Later, SMU gave an undertaking that it has decided to comply with all the suggestions. Pillai gave recognition to SMU for a year subject to compliance. A month later, the director of DEC submitted a note to Pillai, stating that SMU had complied with all the norms. Pillai, as chairperson of DEC, did not submit the compliance report before the joint action committee (JAC) of UGC-AICTE-DEC as mandated, but unilaterally gave a three-year extension to SMU.

Pillai also faces charge for giving a three-year extension to Punjab Technical University without placing the compliance report before UGC-AICTE-DEC's JAC.

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