Friday, February 24, 2023

Open Letter to the President of India, Visitor of Delhi University by DU’s SOL students


Smt. Droupadi Murmu

Hon’ble President of India, and


University of Delhi

Date: 24.02.2023

Hon’ble Madam,

We have learned that you are coming to Delhi University at its 99th convocation event going to be held on 25.02.2023. We welcome you to the occasion and take the opportunity to apprise you of the condition of the majority of the students who are studying at DU. Delhi University has a glorious 100-year history, which the DU administration is celebrating in various ways. But, it is sad that even as DU’s centenary is being celebrated, a large majority of students continue to languish in the pathetic informal-mode institution of DU. We wish to bring to your attention the plight of lacs of students who are studying in DU’s informal-mode institution, i.e. School of Open Learning (SOL). This institution has been functioning since 1962, and in the last 2 decades more than double the number of students than that admitted in the regular colleges of DU, are admitted to this institution each year.

However, it is appalling that the students studying in the SOL have been neglected not just by successive administrations of DU, but by the erstwhile Human Resource Development Ministry and the present Education Ministry. The Education Ministry, through the UGC, provides grants to DU which ensures that the students are provided education at subsidized rates. The SOL, on the other hand, is running on a self-finance basis since 1997. All the costs of running SOL are borne by the students, and even the teachers’ salaries are paid through the fees submitted by the students.

The conditions of studying and learning in SOL are pathetic. At present, more than 5 lac students are enrolled in SOL. These students, who come from the poorest of the poor families, are first-generation learners from their respective families. Most of these students are also from government schools and have had to study without any of the facilities such as good teachers, a healthy learning environment, well-stocked libraries, good infrastructure, etc., which are available to the students in expensive private schools. This ensures that these students are not granted admission in the regular-mode of the premier universities in the country such as DU.

It is a bitter irony that those very youth who study till class 12th in government schools are the ones who are never qualified enough to gain admission to government universities. The majority who get admission in the regular mode in the university system such as that of DU are from private schools and affluent backgrounds. What then happens to the students who are denied entry to the premier universities? These students end up being shoved into pathetic informal-mode institutions such as DU's School of Open Learning. Most of the students in DU’s SOL are SC/ST/OBC/Minority category students, a large number of whom are women from very poor backgrounds. These students bear the brunt of the country’s dual education model – from substandard government schools they step into substandard college education in the distance-learning mode. If this isn’t an educational apartheid that seamlessly reproduces itself, then what is it?

The apathetic SOL administration and the pathetic learning environment in SOL shatter the dreams and aspirations of the students. There is no transparency in the functioning of SOL, and neither is there any accountability. The staff at SOL is accustomed to behaving in an uncouth way with the students treating them as criminals. Even the current Officiating Principal of SOL has on occasion beaten up students in his office regarding which the students have filed police complaints against him.

The glaring enormity of the situation in SOL can be gauged by the facts. Only 31 teachers (both permanent and ad-hoc) currently teach in SOL, while the enrolment of students is more than 1.5 lacs each year. These students are provided with a handful of classes (academic counseling sessions) per academic year, for a syllabus designed for 180-day courses. The study materials provided to the students are of dubious quality without any peer review – which is mandatory for academic content. Consequently, the students are made to study with haphazardly prepared bad-quality study materials without any regard for academic rigour and the future of the students. Moreover, while the semester stretches for 4-5 months for students in regular colleges of DU, the students of SOL for the past many years are being provided with only a month or two for study before their exams commence. Even this year, the classes were wrapped up within a month and a half. The situation is so pathetic regarding the study materials that the students are currently being made to wait in lines each day for collecting their study materials which should have been provided to them within a fortnight of taking admission. The situation is especially glaring as the internal assessment has already started, and the semester-end exams are due to commence in 4 days.

It should be noted that the internal assessment examinations of SOL students commenced on 20th February, but the distribution of their study materials started only on 21st February. Even this distribution started under the pressure of the students who had organized a massive rally to the DU Vice-Chancellor’s residence last Sunday. After the rally and gherao of the DU V-C’s residence, SOL was forced to hurriedly prepare a schedule to provide study materials to the students. However, even now complete study materials are not being provided to the students, and they are being told to buy the remaining books from outside.

What is sought to be passed off as internal assessment is a farce. As per the UGC (Open and Distance Learning) Regulations, 2017 there should be continuous evaluation in the form of tests, presentations, assignments, projects, etc. However, in the present session, the SOL administration has conducted the internal assessment in the form of multiple-choice questions. This is not just a farcical attempt on the SOL administration’s part to somehow show that it is conducting an internal assessment for the students, but is a dastardly act aimed at endangering the students’ future. Due to the mismanagement of the SOL administration, many students were unable to take their internal assessment exams. To placate the students who held a protest demonstration against the SOL administration, a non-existent email address was put out for receiving the grievances of the students. Such is the callousness and apathy of the SOL administration towards the students.

We also wish to apprise you that most of the provisions of the 2017 UGC Regulations have been openly flouted by the SOL administration and with full impunity. The classes (academic counseling sessions) mandated by the UGC regulations are not provided to the students. Most students who arrive at the study centres to take classes are turned away. In such a situation, the students do not even know the basic structure of their course, and without enough classes, and complete syllabus, and no/incomplete study materials, the ground is being prepared for the students to fail in the examinations en masse.  

Openly flouting the 2017 UGC Regulations has become a norm at SOL. Whenever there is a change in the syllabus or curriculum; it is implemented in complete disregard for students’ interests. The notable examples are the change of the curriculum from annual-mode to semester-mode right at the end of the admission process in 2019. Though the 2017 UGC Regulations stipulate that such a change should be well before the commencement of the admission process, the SOL pushed ahead with its ill-thought, haphazardly planned, and anti-student agenda. Thus, neither the updated study materials were provided to the students, nor were they allowed to gain even a basic knowledge of their syllabi. The same process has been repeated since. No updated study materials are made available to the students whenever any change occurs in the syllabi or curriculum. The outdated study materials which are made available are of very bad quality with mistranslations, misquotations, incorrect data, and random mistakes abound from cover-to-cover of the books being provided.

The quality of higher education in SOL and other ODL institutes across the country is appalling in itself. Almost every ODL institute in our country lacks adequate infrastructure to support the huge influx of students they receive every year. Students in these institutions have been demanding infrastructure development and a better education environment. But their voice has remained unheard. It seems that the issues of these excluded students are deliberately disregarded because they are ultimately the issues plaguing the sons and daughters of maids, auto-rickshaw drivers, small shopkeepers, and the country’s labouring poor.

We, the sons and daughters of the public, look up to your highest office, and your position as the Visitor of Delhi University to take cognizance of the plight of the students in SOL, and initiate a thorough academic and financial audit of SOL. We also appeal to you to take all other steps to address the problem being faced by the SOL students in a just and comprehensive manner.

We wish you good health.

Himani Sati

On behalf of SOL students

Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)



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