Monday, May 23, 2011

No need for duplicating conventional education system: IGNOU Chief

Prof. V. N. Rajasekharan Pillai's depth of engagement with Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), of which he has been the Vice-Chancellor since October 2006, is manifest in the focused manner and interest with which he details the growth of the university and his role in the context.

“IGNOU is a different university and there is no need for duplicating a conventional education system here. The need is to provide maximum flexibility in terms of educational opportunities. It is also the university's responsibility to discern the kind of knowledge and skills necessary for society and disseminate them,” he says.

Speaking at length about IGNOU's responsibilities as an open university, Prof. Pillai adds: “Majority of our learners are working, hence work-integrated learning is a major responsibility. Also, only five per cent of the workforce has some sort of certification. These are all working persons and they have minimum knowledge and skills in their area. However, they have no certification and this is affecting them. The workplace should have a mechanism to assess their work, provide additional skills and knowledge and help to provide certification. There is need to focus on the unorganised sector.”

“As an open varsity the system also has to be more flexible. A great deal of educational infrastructure and intellectual capabilities are available in industry, corporate houses, the social sector and the rural development sector outside the formal university framework. As an open varsity we need to network with these set-ups as well,” he adds.

Previous positions such as V-C of Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, National Assessment and Accreditation Council Executive Director, University Grants Commission Vice-Chairman and Acting Chairman have endowed him with vast administrative experience. He has also been teaching since the past 40 years and has over 200 original research publications in refereed national and international journals to his credit.

Mulling over the administrative challenges encountered in the process of heading a university, Prof. Pillai says: “In the last four years, the university has expanded not only its reach but also achieved major consolidation. New Schools and Chairs have been established and we can now declare examination results in just 45 days. ”

“Another significant milestone has been the digitising of our learning material, which is available on the Internet. This comprises all our learning material which was in various forms. Called ‘eGyanKosh,' anyone can access this.” He says there were initial apprehensions about making this treasure trove of information available free of cost in the public domain. “However, post the launching of ‘eGyanKosh,' our enrolment has actually increased.”

Prof. Pillai also expressed satisfaction regarding the research and teaching assistantship scheme which the university has started. “Research was not happening in a big way. Moreover, we are in need of bright and fresh post-graduates who work as full time researchers and also teach. Our rules for granting Ph.D. degrees are fairly strict too.”

“We have also introduced, for the first time, a programme in sign language for the hearing impaired. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is considering IGNOU for establishing the first sign language institute in India.” The introduction of enterprise resource planning in the Administrative and Financial Departments of the varsity is also seen as a feather in IGNOU's cap.

Speaking earnestly on the issue of community college, he noted: “Community college is a very bold intervention. Several colleges have tied up with us for the community college initiative.” Community college, the V-C points out, can be attended by people from any age group at individual convenience.

The university keeps in touch with the pulse of the students through its annual ‘student satisfaction survey'. “For each of our courses and various initiatives, the student satisfaction survey provides a good measure of student opinion. Based on the survey responses, we adapt the courses accordingly.”

Prof. Pillai's tenure as IGNOU V-C will come to a close in October 2011. “I will consider other assignments which come my way,” he says. A voracious reader, Prof. Pillai reveals that he is fond of reading Malayalam poetry.

Source: The Hindu, May 23, 2011

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