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Institutionalising Community Colleges In India : Dr Latha Pillai, Pro-Vice Chancellor, IGNOU

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Community Colleges have been very successful internationally, with atleast 80 big universities of the world running community colleges. Apart from diplomas, these colleges also grant associate degrees as their highest degree, facilitating lateral entry into the regular university system. The Indira Gandhi National Open University, has for the first time, formulated a plan to start such community colleges in India offering its Associate Degree Programme.

Through IGNOU Community Colleges, the effort is to institutionalise the mechanism by offering multiple entry and exit levels with due certification.

Through Community Colleges, the aim is to enhance the pool of skilled labour force, as the largest share of new jobs is likely to come from the unorganised sector, which employees up to 93% of the national work force.

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Dr Latha Pillai, Pro-Vice Chancellor, IGNOU,

talks about the new scheme.

Could you elaborate on the concept of Community Colleges?

Institutions which are run `of the community, by the community, and for the community` offering opportunities to all sections of society particularly the marginalised and disadvantaged is the rationale for the establishment of a Community College. It encourages students who may want to attend a three year degree but are not academically, personally or economically ready to begin study in the formal system. In a Community College students can choose to work towards an Associate Degree (two-year) in hundreds of academic and technical fields which will enable them to transfer to a regular college or university for completion of a degree. Alternatively, students may exit with either a Certificate or a Diploma by completing the required number of credits.

How has the evolution of Community Colleges in India been different from that in the West?

In India many non-governmental organisations and training institutions have been offering skill based programmes relevant to community needs at the Certificate and Diploma levels. Similarly, ITI`s and polytechnics offer skill-oriented programmes. Through IGNOU Community Colleges, the effort is to institutionalise the mechanism by offering multiple entry and exit levels with due certification. In the West, particularly in the US and European countries, Community Colleges have been in existence for more than 50 years and have very large and diverse programme offerings. In the US for example the total enrolment in Community Colleges is estimated to be around 12 million. These two-year colleges, the world over are known as `technical colleges`, `junior colleges`, `fachhochschulea` or folk high schools, `workers colleges` and `short-cycle institutions`.

Could you elaborate on the IGNOU scheme of Associate Degree Program through Community Colleges? What are the objectives and goals that IGNOU has set for itself, while launching such a niche programme?

IGNOU, through its Community Colleges aims to enhance the pool of skilled labour force as the largest share of new jobs is likely to come from the unorganised sector which employ up to 93% of the national work force. Most reports project that only 5% of the Indian labour force in the age group of 20-24 years have obtained vocational skills through formal means. In comparison, industrialised countries have 60%-96%. Community Colleges will help us bridge this large gap.

The scheme of Associate Degree will be flexible in terms of programme delivery, i.e. either exclusively face-to-face or blended learning, full time or part time. The programme will provide for an exit at the Certificate, Diploma and Associate Degree level. All programmes will have compulsory  industry/community linkages for practical and applied components. On completion of the Associate Degree interested students will have the option of moving into the 3rd year of the degree programme.

Any new initiative that IGNOU plans to take up in the future?

IGNOU plans to create a formal mechanism which provides for certification of prior learning so that the skills available with workforce may be assessed, given due recognition and avenues for life long learning are created. IGNOU also plans to enhance its competencies in providing technology-enabled learning and strengthening student support services through proper monitoring and timely response.

What has been the reason for the relatively late entry and recognition of Community Colleges in India?

As mentioned earlier, some institutions have in a limited way been performing the functions of a Community College. The emphasis hitherto has been on `acquiring degrees` and now with the emphasis on skills – both life and work skills – the educational system is responding to this need.

What do you think is the future of Community Colleges in India?

India has the largest share of youth population which need to be channelised into diverse and multi-level occupational areas. The increased emphasis on targeting 2-tier and 3-tier cities for development necessitates tapping the local talent and skill for community specific trades and occupations. A proper blend of theory and practice oriented curriculum will help bring a revolutionary change in job preferences and workforce training. Community Colleges will thus cater to a number of skill based jobs in areas such as agriculture, health, law, computer technologies and nursing.

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