“Students who have registered for our distance programme in the past have sometimes received their study material after the exams. During my term I do not want this to happen ever; this is my top priority,” says Prof. M. Aslam, who was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University only this past week.

Ever since Prof. Aslam held the same post temporarily from October 2011 to July 2012, he has been familiarising himself with all the challenges that the university faced. Now, after his permanent posting, he has identified that the numerous changes made by the university in the recent past, pose the biggest challenge.

“Coming to terms with the rapid expansion of the university in the past five years poses the biggest challenge. Around 600 MoUs have been signed and a whole lot of new technologies and courses have been introduced,” he adds.

Reaching out to more students especially those in low-literacy areas, upgrading all the university’s regional centres by introducing state-of-the-art technology and strengthening the university’s presence in areas like Ladakh, Orissa, and Jammu and Kashmir are only some of Prof. Aslam’s plans.

Currently, the university has around 3 million students enrolled in 477 programmes with 67 regional centres all across the country. The students have about 54,230 academic counsellors who interact with them on a part-time basis.

Prof. Aslam, whose area of specialisation is Sociology, identifies the students as “clients” and explains that IGNOU’s “clients” are different from other universities.

“We cater to different learners. One is the traditional teenage, school pass-out, who is supported by their families or the State. Next is the teenager who is forced into the labour market for want of support and is in need of education. The third is the working adult who wants education or training for further career growth but on his own terms. Most people who opt for distance education want to study further while remaining economically productive throughout… and IGNOU’s main task is to make the delivery of such education as simple and efficient as possible.”

Reducing the drop-out rate, improving the quality of the courses and enhancing their credibility are the other things on Prof. Aslam’s priority list.

“To achieve all these ends, we intend to make our student support services more effective and equip all study centres and regional centres with adequate infrastructure. This will ensure prompt data transmission and retrieval, information sharing and redress of learner difficulties.”

The university also has a strong presence internationally, with around 54,000 students across 43 countries. The system operates through tie-ups with other organisations with its biggest presence in Africa.

“I want to expand to the Middle-East and the SAARC countries. We have already made some progress with this regard in Nepal.”