More women than men sign up for Mumbai university’s distance learning courses


Of 76,495 students enrolled at the institute, 45,559 or 60% are women. But many of them leave their courses mid-way.

The University of Mumbai’s (MU’s) Institute of Distance and Open Learning (IDOL) is an exception among higher education institutes as it has more women than men on its rolls.

Of 76,495 students enrolled at the institute, 45,559 or 60% are women. In the past eight years, the percentage of female students has steadily been increasing from 52% in 2008-09.

The female students outnumber men by a wide margin in most of the post-graduation courses offered at IDOL, including MA (Education), MSc (Mathematics), MCom and MA. They are in majority even in MSc (Information Technology) and MSc (Computer Science) — the technical courses otherwise dominated by male students.

On the other hand, the enrolment figures in undergraduate courses mirror the trend: there are more men in Commerce and Science and more women in Humanities.

However, the picture is not all rosy. Many women leave their courses mid-way, citing responsibilities at home. Often women find it difficult to pursue regular education after they get married and instead opt for distance learning, says Ambuja Salgaonkar, director of IDOL. But she also lauds the women for daring to enrol themselves at the institute.

According to experts, the rise in the enrolment shows that the distance learning has become a viable alternative for women juggling between their work and responsibilities at home, especially after their graduation.

Many girls from smaller towns such as Palghar and Ratnagiri and even distant suburbs of Mumbai opt for distance learning as these places have few degree colleges and inadequate transport facilities.

“Many parents don’t let their daughters travel long distance to college,” laments Salgaonkar.

The distance learning institute, which started as Directorate of Correspondence Courses at MU in 1972-72, attracts students from all age groups, including a handful of senior citizens. Most of the students at IDOL have daytime jobs and are looking to add another qualification to their resume.

Ex-principal brings education to village students’ doorsteps

Bankot, a coastal village in Ratnagiri district in the Konkan, has two high schools and a junior college. It, however, doesn’t have a degree college.

The nearest colleges are 30km away, situated in the taluka’s headquarter, Mandangad, and Ambadawe village.

Boys from Bankot who want to pursue higher education must undertake an hour-long journey in a state transport (ST) bus.

Most girls in the village drop out after Class 12 as their parents do not allow them to travel.

When Shagufta Parkar, a city-based retired school principal from Bankot, found out about this, she took it upon herself to help the girls pursue higher education in the village itself.

“It was disheartening to see them drop out despite performing well in school and junior college. So when the villagers asked me to do something, I decided to open a study centre in Bankot,” she said.

The ‘study centre’, started two years ago, is a small room equipped with computers, high-speed internet and audio-visual aids.

Parkar convinced a few girls, and their parents, to enrol at the University of Mumbai’s (MU’s) Institute of Distance and Open Learning (IDOL), which offers around 15 undergraduate and post-graduate correspondence courses.

She tied-up with Kunjbihari S Goyal Online Academy for Learning and Development (GOLD), a city-based institute to provide video lectures, which are also live-streamed at the centre. Every week or so, she invites guest lecturers from the city to clarify the students’ doubts.

Currently, there are 18 girls enrolled at Parkar’s study centre, some of whom have already cleared their first year of graduation. They pay a monthly fee of Rs1,000. The centre is funded by Mullah Ahmed Parkar Trust of Burhan Yusuf Parkar, a philanthropist from Bankot.

Shagufta said the experiment has been a success.

Girls who attend the lectures regularly perform well in the examinations. Their parents are happy with the outcome, she added.

She now plans to expand her reach to other parts of Konkan. “I will soon start a centre for Marathi-medium students. We will also put up hoardings in nearby villages to publicise our centre,” she said.

But, can distance learning replace regular education? Parker believes it can, provided students get the facilities offered at her centre.

Ambuja Salgaonkar, director of IDOL, agrees. “Distance learning programmes, in their current form, cannot replace regular education. But, if these programmes are coupled with other learning aids such as video lectures, regular practicals and simulation programmes, they will be on par with regular courses,” she said.

By Musab Qazi