Edu: What made IGNOU come up with the Community Colleges programme?
V.N. Rajasehkaran Pillai: IGNOU was quite aware of the recommendation of the committee constituted by University Grants Commission to study community colleges and its recommendations. In fact I was heading the UGC prior to my present appointment. Though some academics viewed the concept as lower levels of knowledge, and felt that it was not a part of higher education, I felt this level of knowledge was crucial for including those who desired higher education, but could not access it because of various reasons. This system can help India bridge the gross enrollment gap. When we started last year formally on July 4, we had around 100 colleges. Currently we have around 400 colleges, including the 47 army community colleges. It took us almost two years to institutionalise the associate degree programme. We started with the Indian army and granted the first associate degree a few days ago.
Q: Tell us more about the community college programme for the army.
A: The army has excellent facilities in terms of infrastructure. The jawans in the army are not very well educated when they join at the age of 18. During their years of service, they not only undergo regular physical training, but are also taught systematically and regularly by an army education wing, consisting of qualified people. They are trained in communication, IT, computers, accountancy, and even engineering skills. However, when they retire at the age of 40, most of them end up getting only security related jobs. IGNOU has planned a course for them that will enable them to get certificates, diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees. This will ensure that they are well qualified to pick up other jobs according to their interest. Around 50,000 jawans register in these community colleges annually. The army shall produce 15,000 graduates every year, and the convocation for the first batch IGNOU passing out of the Army Community College was held this May. This project is also called GYANDEEP.
Q: Which are the other communities that have benefitted?
A: We are collaborating with many other civil society organizations. For instance our Community College for Coastal Communities (CCCC) has been started for the fishing communities. Specialised knowledge can really help this community earn more but most of them cannot even dream of attending fishery colleges and universities.
In order to resolve this, one of our first CCCC was launched in partnership with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Poompuhar, which was struck by the Tsunami and had the highest death toll in Tamil Nadu. This community is being taught how to survey and catch fish, how to predict weather conditions, and use technology.
We did not even spend much, since we did not invest in anything except for packaging the curriculum and training in a way that the students undergo some systematic learning and the process of examination. The facility was funded by the TATA Group, and MSSRF is taking care of the other aspects.