The Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), since its establishment in 1985, has contributed significantly to the development of higher education in the country through the distance mode. The University follows a learner-centric approach and has successfully adopted a policy of openness and flexibility in terms of relaxed entry qualifications, period required for completion of a programme and place of study.
The University at present offers 125 programmes of study through 1000 courses to a cumulative student strength of about 14,33,490. These programmes are offered in widely diverse areas and at different levels covering Doctorate degree, Master’s and Bachelor’s degree, Postgraduate and Undergraduate diplomas and certificates. The education is disseminated in conventional as well as emerging inter-disciplinary areas such as Consumer Protection, Disaster Management, Environment, Human Rights, Tourism, Women Empowerment and Child Development, Participatory Forest Management, Participatory Planning, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Teacher Education, Food and Nutrition, Continuing Medical and Health Education, HIV/AIDs, Laboratory Techniques, and On-line Learning. One of the notable contributions has been to achieve greater access to programmes which were hitherto exclusively limited to face-to-face classroom transactions. These include Physical and Natural Sciences, Nursing, Health, Engineering and Technology, Computers, Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) and Library and Information Sciences.
The University develops its academic programmes through nine Schools of Study, viz. Schools of Computer & Information Sciences, Continuing Education, Education Engineering and Technology, Health Sciences, Humanities, Management Studies, Sciences, and Social Sciences. Dedicated faculty in Schools of Studies/Centres/ Divisions/Institutes, trained in distance education methodology, is responsible for planning, designing, developing and delivering academic programmes. IGNOU involves a large number of senior teachers and experts from premier institutions in the country as content experts for its course material development and delivery.
The University has established a network of 58 Regional Centres (RCs), 6 Sub-Regional Centres and 1400 Study Centres (SCs) all over the country to provide easy access and effective support services to the learners. These include Programme Study Centres (PSCs) as well as Special Study Centres for SC/STs, minorities, differently-abled, jail inmates, and personnel of different wings of defence and para-military services. The University has begun to focus on the educationally backward regions. Educational and training initiatives in the North-East (NE) states and Sikkim are currently under way. These initiatives have led to the creation of basic infrastructure using the latest developments in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for the Region.
The University has extended its outreach beyond the borders of the country. The University entered into bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation and alliances with several countries, especially in Asia and Africa: United Arab Emirates (Dubai, Al Ain, Sharjah, Fujairah), Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Liberia. The IGNOU intends to establish collaboration and partnership with government agencies and other open universities through international organisations like UNESCO, Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth of Learning (COL), and World Health Organisation (WHO). To promote international understanding, the University has a scheme of fellowships for academics and other staff working in the open universities of Asia under the Inter-University Staff Exchange Scheme. The University hosts, supports and participates in national and international conferences to give impetus to research and academic activities of the faculty and staff.
The University has developed capabilities for training in distance education methodologies. It has successfully organised training workshops for staff and faculty from within IGNOU as well as State Open Universities (SOUs), Correspondence Course Institutes (CCIs), administrative staff of government agencies, and overseas faculty. These have been conducted through joint coordination of Schools of Studies, Staff Training and Research Institute of Distance Education (STRIDE), Distance Education Council (DEC), and national and international sponsoring agencies.
The academic programmes of the University have multiple-media support. The University has facilities for audio, video, radio, television, interactive radio and video counselling as well as tele-conferencing. IGNOU has also been identified as the nodal agency for running a 24 hour educational TV channel - Gyan Darshan - in collaboration with other institutions of higher learning. Gyan Vani is emerging as a massive radio cooperative network of several FM radio station exclusively devoted to education. This would lead to greater cooperation amongst Indian universities. All Regional and Study Centres of IGNOU have been provided with the necessary equipment to facilitate easy access to multiple-media support.
Apart from teaching, research and training, extension education is an important component of academic activities of IGNOU. Extension education provides much needed linkages between the community and the University. Various literacy programmes focusing on community awareness, education and training in need-based and relevant areas have been successfully undertaken by the University as a part of its strategy of social intervention and community capacity building.
The University has the unique distinction of combining the conventional role of a University with that of an apex body in the promotion, coordination and maintenance of standards in distance education through continuous assessment and accreditation of the Open Distance Learning (ODL) institutions. The University established the Distance Education Council in 1991 as a statutory authority to ensure high quality education through open and distance learning systems. It has developed an ethos of sharing professional capabilities and resources with the peers.
An analysis of current strengths and weaknesses, together with the opportunities available and the challenges confronting the University, is undertaken to formulate its mission statement.
Strengths of the System
It is now well accepted that the ODL system has reached a stage where highly professional inputs are required for the design, development and delivery of education. The very effective intervention of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) has made it even more effective, technical and dynamic. Such a system can be handled only by experts. As a premier open and distance learning institution, IGNOU has developed in-house expertise to design, develop and deliver multi-media self-instructional materials. The other major strengths include:
· Centre of Excellence for disseminating knowledge through the distance mode.
· Leadership in technology-enabled education.
· Internationally acclaimed quality instructional materials in diverse need-based areas.
· Extensive, efficient and functionally effective network for diversified student support and collaborative learning.
· National capability for delivery through educational TV channel - Gyan Darshan and Gyan Vani - the network of FM radio stations.
· Increased acceptance by national and international agencies.
· Phenomenal growth of students due to credibility and cost-effectiveness of the system.
· Internationally recognised training capabilities in diversified areas of education, HRD and extension.
Weaknesses of the System
· Reliance on conventional communication links.
· Weak Wide Area Network with Regional Centres and Study Centres.
· Scope for better database management.
· Access not beyond district level.
· Insufficient component of interactive multiple-media in courseware.
· Lack of tracer studies on learners and quality research studies on the system.
· Inadequate mechanism for continuous professional development of faculty and staff due to phenomenal growth of the system.
· Lack of initiative to promote collaborative inter-university alliances/consortium.
In the emerging scenario, the ODL is probably the only sustainable system for enhancing seamless access to education in the country. The University has continuously strived for improving the credibility and quality of the system. The opportunities stem from:
· Ever increasing demand for higher education and upgradation of life-coping skills.
· Need for continuous training of a huge workforce in the developing countries with large populations, projects and plans.
· Enhancing access to education to the employed (with low qualifications), drop-outs, adult learners.
· Global alliances of ODL systems to provide and share rich learning experiences through collaborative educational programmes.
· Convergence between the open and conventional university systems (and other educational and training organisations) to enhance sustainable access.
· Scope for imparting education using emerging technologies.
· Focussing on disadvantaged groups and less developed regions.
Threats and Challenges to the System
· Attracting best talent and retaining them.
· Sustain quality education under resource constraints and pressure of large numbers.
· Continued efforts required to upgrade standards in the context of global competition.
· Increased focus on learner-centric learning, particularly for those from remote and rural areas.
· Developing mechanisms and capabilities to compete internationally to advance frontiers of knowledge to emerge as the leader of ODL system.
· Continuing professional development of faculty and staff, especially for technology-enabled education and training.
The institutional values that shall guide the university in the fulfillmentwww.ignou.ac.in of its mission will be:
· Learner-centric education.
· Empowering the disadvantaged and the unreached.
· Professional integrity.
· Functional autonomy, and informed decision-making.
· Total Quality Management (TQM) for excellence.
· Networking, collaboration and resource-sharing.
· Continuous self-assessment and self-improvement for systemic growth.