The Regional Centre Srinagar of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) is one of the largest Regional Centres of IGNOU across India in terms of enrollment with 24-years-long history in Srinagar, Regional Director IGNOU Regional Centre, Srinagar (Kashmir and Ladakh region), Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar says in a detailed interview with Greater Kashmir’s Senior Editor, Nazir Ganaie. He also shares his plans, programmes, student grievances, and robust initiatives taken to streamline the academic affairs of the Centre. Excerpts
Greater Kashmir: Tell us about the new initiatives that have been taken to streamline the functioning of IGNOU’s Regional Centre in Srinagar.
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: IGNOU Regional Centre Srinagar is one of the largest Regional Centres of IGNOU in the country as far as enrollment is concerned. It is playing an important role in catering to the higher education needs of a large section of the population of Kashmir and Ladakh regions. Since my taking over as Regional Director of IGNOU, many new initiatives have been taken. First and foremost among those initiatives was starting live Facebook Grievance Redressal camps both from Regional Centre and at the Learner Support Centres. On-campus grievance redressal camps were also organised at the Learner Support Centres on the directions of Regional Centre Srinagar.
Keeping in view the large-scale use of social networking sites, Learner Support Centres were informed by the Regional Centre to start their Facebook pages for timely and effective communication with the learners and now our LSCs have their FB pages.
Coordinator meetings both in the online and offline modes were conducted to activate and involve the Learner Support Centre for delivering effective services.
Open online sessions were started by the Regional Centre Srinagar which is now a regular activity under the Regional Centre Srinagar. The Open Online Session is now being conducted for the Learners on the first and third Friday of every month. Similarly, two more sessions are being conducted on the first and third Monday every month for the Learner Support Centres and Programme Study Centres. Any learner, counselor, part-time staff member, or anyone can connect to us live for an hour-long session and seek any clarification, ask questions, lodge any complaint, and give any suggestions, and feedback through these sessions.
Regional Centre Srinagar has also issued guidelines regarding assignment evaluation, project and dissertation supervision, and internship for streamlining these academic activities and making them more effective. Hopefully, it will have long-term repercussions for adding value to the system.
Regional Centre Srinagar has also inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the medical colleges of Kashmir to facilitate the learners in an internship which is helpful to the students in a real sense.
Besides, several initiatives under Swachta Abhiyan have been taken to keep the campus clean and green.
Greater Kashmir: How has been your journey so far in leading this institution?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: It has been a very incredible journey to lead the institution which is catering to thousands of learners (around 50,000 at present) and hence playing a vital role in the higher education setup of Kashmir and Ladakh region which is allowing me to serve a huge population of both the regions.
I am also getting an opportunity to serve a diverse cross-section of society from young learners to elderly people, businessmen, doctors, government employees, defence personnel, specially-abled people, people facing several geographical challenges, poor people, SC and ST population, women who have stopped education due to various social reasons, and many others.
Greater Kashmir: What is the overall strength of students enrolled at IGNOU’s Srinagar centre?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: The overall strength of the learners enrolled at the IGNOU Regional Centre Srinagar is around 50,000.
Greater Kashmir: How have you been working to set up a bridge between various academic institutions about the hassle-free functioning of IGNOU?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: IGNOU Regional Centre has 45 study centres spread across Kashmir and Ladakh regions. Among the 45 study centres, 32 are fully-fledged study centres, 12 programme study centres, and one special study centre at Central Jail Srinagar. IGNOU Regional Centre has around 200 part-time staff members at these 45 study centres.
Online and offline meetings have been conducted with the coordinators. Committees have been constituted with the part-time staff at the study centres to facilitate the learners in several academic activities and they have been sensitised to provide hassle-free services to the learners. An open online session on the first and third Monday of every month is being conducted for these LSCs and PSCs (a regular activity now) is another initiative to bridge the gap between Regional Centre and Learner Support Centre and to have smooth, timely, and effective communication with the part-time functionaries.
Greater Kashmir: Post-COVID, academic institutions faced a lot of challenges and many courses were declared to be online. How is IGNOU Srinagar coping with this challenge?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: During COVID, ODL and OL was the only mode of teaching even for formal and vocational Higher Educational Institutions. IGNOU being the pioneer in ODL setup, having several IT-based support services already in place for its learners, even before COVID, helped a lot in a smooth journey during this medical emergency. IGNOU offers digital content on the IGNOU e-content app, facilities for tele-education through Gyan Darshan channels, radio broadcasts, and interactive radio counselling through Gyan Vani and FM radio stations and has a good repository of digital learning resources on e-Gyankosh.
The only challenge that IGNOU faced during the COVID was regarding the conduct of practical or technical courses having practical components.
Greater Kashmir: Are there any new courses being added to the long list offered by the IGNOU?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: There are 37 new programmes added to the big basket of ODL programmes during the current academic session of July 2022, taking the overall tally of programmes offered by IGNOU to 274. In addition to it, 18 new online programmes have also been launched during this admission cycle taking the total tally of online programmes offered by IGNOU to 41.
Some of the newly-launched ODL programmes are Master of Arts (Jyotish) (MAJY), Master of Arts (Urdu) (MAUD), Post Graduate Diploma in New Literatures in English (PGDNLEG), Post Graduate Diploma in The Novel (PGDNOV), Post Graduate Diploma in American Literature (PGDAML), Post Graduate Diploma in British Literature (PGDBLT), Post-Graduate Diploma in Book Publishing (PGDBP) OL Master of Commerce (MCOMOL), Diploma in Creative Writing in English (DCEOL), Post Graduate Diploma in Digital Media (PGDIDMOL), and Masters of Arts-Arabic (MAARB).
Greater Kashmir: How many PhD scholars have cleared their degrees from IGNOU’s Srinagar centre?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: PhD programmes offered by the IGNOU are being run by the concerned schools at the main campus of IGNOU in New Delhi. IGNOU Regional Centres only facilitate the conduct of entrance tests for PhD at the regional level.
Greater Kashmir: There are reports that few centres remain out of bounds for the students and there is no communication with the students at all. How are you addressing it?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: From the time I joined IGNOU Regional Centre Srinagar as Regional Director, the first thing I addressed is to activate the Learner Support Centres and PSCs and make them responsible for their work regarding providing effective student support services. All the Learner Support Centres conducted online and on-campus sessions to address students’ grievances. Committees have been constituted at the Learner Support Centre level to deal with the various IGNOU-related services for better student support services. Open online sessions are being conducted regularly by RC Srinagar to fill the gap between students and Learner Support Centres, students, and the regional centre. Still, if there are any concerns of the learners they can contact us directly through the newly-activated communication channels like direct contact numbers, email addresses, live sessions, and grievance redressal camps.
Greater Kashmir: Why should full-time college professors be on the payroll of IGNOU? Don’t you have a mechanism to engage jobless experts?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: IGNOU Regional Centre Srinagar has a huge family of around 3000 counsellors for around 180 programmes offered through it. IGNOU doesn’t differentiate between jobless, job-seeking, or working faculty members. There is a proper procedure to join the IGNOU as an approved counselor, evaluator, and expert which is a common procedure for all. A candidate willing to join the IGNOU family as a counselor, evaluator, and expert should be either eligible for the post of Assistant Professor or should have at least the relevant qualification with experience of at least two years at a higher education level.
Greater Kashmir: What are the parameters for engaging a full-time counsellor?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: For becoming a full-time counsellor, a candidate should be either eligible for the post of Assistant Professor or should have at least the relevant qualification with experience of at least two years at the higher education level.
Anyone who fulfills the eligibility criteria has to submit the online form along with the relevant documents under the study centre where he or she wants to give his or her services, the concerned coordinator of that study centre will cross-check the online application form and the uploaded documents and will then forward the online submitted credentials to Regional Centre Srinagar. Regional Centre Srinagar will again crosscheck the online form and then forward the same from its online portal to the concerned school for approval from them. Any discrepancy in the online form will result in the rejection of the form at any level.
IGNOU has an online dedicated portal for the empanelment of academic counselors for its various programmes and associated courses. It is a completely paperless process that provides flexibility to prospective academic counsellors to submit online empanelment requests anytime anywhere. The web address of the portal is https://eportal.ignou.ac.in/oace/OACEHome.aspx.
For the detailed process for the submission of an online academic counselor application, one can visit the website https://eportal.ignou.ac.in/oace/UploadFile/Academic_Counselor.pdf.
Greater Kashmir: Do you ensure student feedback from all the centres?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: We have opened several channels of communication to ensure proper communication and feedback from all LSCs of Kashmir and Ladakh regions. I have provided a list of contact numbers and email addresses on the website of all the concerned, starting from the Regional Director to the various sections. I have started live open sessions for the learners enrolled in the LSCs and PSCs who can join the session and communicate whatever they want. I have also issued several circulars for encouraging our learners to come forward in case of any grievance or complaint and have even started grievance redressal camps.
Greater Kashmir: Some students complain that the results of project reports and assignments are being delayed unnecessarily. How are you addressing it?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: It is a fact that during COVID, all the professional programmes where there are practical and technical courses, project work and dissertation work, internships, practical and viva voce got delayed. But it is also a fact that all these pending activities have been resumed and I have taken them on mission mode. You can check the website of the Regional Centre Srinagar regarding the schedule of various ongoing lab-based practicals, viva voce, and other lab-based activities. I am hopeful that all the backlogs will be cleared by the end of this year.
Greater Kashmir: Students complain that IGNOU centres have gone to clerks. How is that issue being looked into?
Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: IGNOU centres are being run by part-time functionaries starting from the principal to the helper of the institution. The main part-time functionary at the LSCs is the coordinator of the centre who is usually the senior faculty member of the college. The coordinator and the other part-time functionaries are regularly changed or their tenure is extended depending on their performance. If we receive any complaint regarding any of the part-time functionaries of any LSC or PSC, he or she is immediately replaced.
Greater Kashmir: How are you ensuring students get proper tutorials?
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: After I took over as RD, I resumed online counselling in July 2022 and since then the online counselling is going on. Before starting the online counseling, I wrote to all the LSCs to provide the list of the best counsellors for starting the online counselling, and then we selected the different counsellors for different programmes from the list to conduct the counselling. The counsellors are regularly changed after they complete their module or credits assigned to them. For the latest counselling schedule, one can visit the website of Regional Centre Srinagar. The offline counselling will be resumed once an order for counselling is issued by the IGNOU New Delhi. Till then online counselling will continue.
Greater Kashmir: Despite having a huge chunk of students in the Kashmir region, IGNOU has failed to set up its dedicated campus in Srinagar.
Dr Shahnawaz Ahmad Dar: Indeed, an institution that has a 24-year history in the Kashmir region, an alumni base of around 10 lakh, and a present enrollment of around 50,000 has not yet established a permanent campus in Srinagar. But I would like to share the good news that after I took over as the Regional Director of Regional Centre Srinagar, I took up the matter with the J&K government and they were keen enough to see the permanent campus of the IGNOU in Kashmir. On the direction of Divisional Commissioner P K Pole, land has been identified for the IGNOU campus and we are completing the formalities for its transfer to IGNOU. Hopefully, in the next few years, you will see a full-fledged campus of IGNOU in Kashmir.