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AICTE's Myopic Perspective
|By : Ramesh , Rajouri, India 1.2.2012 Phone:9419203942 Mail Now|
All Indian Council for Technical Education in India (AICTE), the governing cum regulating body to provide technical cum professional education in India, in its recently issued corrigendum has made subscription of online Journals by institutions falling under its ambit mandatory,. The decision appears to hastily taken up, as such most unfortunate. I am impelled to share that it seems the governing body has not actually done good homework before forcing such a decision. As per the details available in corrigendum notice of governing body on average a college of engineering and technology is required to subscribe online journals minimum worth Rs 10/- lakh per annum, so is the case about colleges offering courses in management, computer sciences and others falling under its ambit. Needless to remind that on the pattern of UGC-Infonet consortium, AICTE launched INDEST consortium (Indian National Digital Library in Engineering, Science and Technology) for subscription of online journals by institutes offering aforementioned courses. UGC-Infonet not just survived but also equally thrived but at the same time consortiums like INDEST proved ineffective, which as a reason has compelled authorities to impose decision of mandatory subscription of online journals. I have apprehensions that authorities without looking into failure of its consortium have unnecessarily jumped into rule of thumb, vis-à-vis mandatory subscription.
Consortiums like UGC-Infonet and INDEST came into being for the reason that institutions started discontinuing subscription of scholarly journals for the want of “Serial Crisis”. Serial Crisis refers to a situation where there is exponential growth and unprecedented increase in subscription costs of these journals, mostly resulting due to increase in number of journals and the declining Library budgets. To overcome the weaning budget problem, participating institutions pool their resources by paying nominal charges towards the subscription of journals, as most of the charges are born by governing body vis-à-vis funding agency. In the light of this fact, the decision of AICTE towards mandatory subscription of journals by institutions seems unfortunate.
I fear authorities at the helm of affairs have not fully understood the concept of online journals or its subscriptions. It reminds me of the days when computer was introduced only to supplement the human work and not to substitute human being, which as on date has grown integral part of our day-to-day activity. Similarly, the concept of online journals is viable there where the users are more and the print copies are less, where the demand of clientele cannot be met by routing journals. This system of subscription is ideally suitable for such institutions where student strength runs nearly 30 to 40 thousand and if such institutions spend this much amount of money on subscription, is justified. What perturbs me the most is, what is the point in having such subscription in institutions having student strength between 40 to 200, where print version of journal is sufficient to cater their information requirements? To me this appears a clear-cut case of will full wastage of money, which ultimately the subscribing institutions are going to charge from students?
What concerns me the most is, it seems to be hand in glove between the publishers and the authorities of this governing body. Even the governing body has gone one step ahead by reflecting the prices involved in subscription of each database, by doing so the council has somewhat blocked the way for institutions in entering into any kind of bargain with service providers. Publishers always keep on seeking out new ways and means to earn business but ultimately where from this business is going to come, undoubtedly from the common man’s pocket, who dreams to educate his child by pressing in his all hard earned money.
The major flaws of this mandatory subscription system have been reproduced below for easy grasping of common man and the people who pretend to be techno savvy without actually having in-depth knowledge and objective approach towards the subject.
No Perpetual Access: - The biggest disadvantage in the subscription of online journals, seen by information professionals is unavailability of perpetual access. Normally when a print version of the document is purchased or subscribed in the form of book or a journal, it becomes the property of institution. Library professionals preserve the documents with great care and love for years so that posterity may be able to reap benefits from the same documents. If a library purchases books or journals worth Rs. 10 lakh or so during a particular period, the same purchase becomes its property, while as when taken the case of online subscription of books or journals, the case is not so. The moment library discontinues its subscription for online journals in subsequent year the documents purchased during the previous year will be no more available to institution for consultation. So to overcome this kind of problem authorities need to ensure that access to those documents subscribed by an institution during a particular period should be made available to it for use on perpetual basis, or even a time period can be set which can range from 30 to 40 years or so. This kind of practice will ensure making good use of money invested in procuring documents by an institution; similarly, students will be able to have access to a good no of documents by paying very nominal charges. This kind of practice also involves danger where by institutions cannot do bargaining with different service providers, the moment same is done or in case of soared relations even the concept of perpetual access my get bogged down. Practice of perpetual access will ensure fair and judicious use of money invested and utility of journals subscribed.
No Choose and Pick Facility: - Most of the databases of journals and books offered by service providers contain huge number of journals and books and most of the time it has been seen that a good no of journals or books in these databases are irrelevant to the courses they are being subscribed for. As on date, the service providers do not offer any such facility where by institutions may be offered Choose and Pick facility. Keeping in view the fact it becomes imperative that to avoid this kind of undesirable subscriptions, service providers are bound to offer choose and pick service to customers. It is the basic right of every institution or organization to subscribe journals of its choice, keeping in view the teaching and research programmes of institution.
No Subscription Limits :- in the fitness of things it would be more appropriate that governing body like AICTE should fix a limit in subscription of journals for each courses offered by an institutions falling under its purview. Governing body should clearly mention about the minimum number of online journals, which an institution should subscribe in both national and international category. Apart from this, if an institution is already subscribing good number of print journals or magazines they should be subtracted from the minimum number of subscriptions mandatory during the year.
Undefined subscription charges: - Normally it has been observed that various publishers or service providers offer these kind of services in the form of database package. A package database contains N-number of journals or magazines and the charges are fixed for whole pack irrespective of looking into it, as whether the entire package is of use to customer or not. It is always advisable that Package database charges system should be replaced by individual price list of journals or magazines and the charges should be levied as per the number of subscriptions made by an institution.
No Enrolment Criteria: - There is no denial in fact that, the student strength vis-à-vis enrolment capacity varies considerably from institutions to institution. Institutions like Delhi University has student strength of more than 30 thousand both within and outside campus in its fully owned colleges, and there are some other institutions which are totally self sponsored with meager intake capacity of not more than 100 or so students. Subscription of online journals is normally advisable for those institutions where print version of subscription is not sufficient to cater the information requirements of students. On the contrary, by routing of journals among small no of students, their information requirement can be easily catered. When taken the case of both the type of institutions the amount of payment required to be made for subscription of online journals is same for both. Keeping in view fact the ultimately the expenditure is to be met from the pocket of students, especially the ones pursuing their studies from self-financed institutions. This harsh fact invites attentions towards advocating the policy, whereby fee towards subscription of online journals should be charged as per the intake capacity of each institution.
Lacking Cost effectiveness and Utility: - Normally the notion among academia is that online journals are cost effective when taken the case in comparison to print, but the fact remains in the end it is print which proves more cost-effective than e-documents. The only reason, which supports towards the subscription of e-documents, is that subscription of single copy caters the need of many at the same time. It has been also observed that electronic gadgets required to avail this kind of service most of the time prove failure on one or the other pretext. The supporting gadgets required to avail the facility at times may prove insufficient, mostly remain out of order, electricity problems, Networking Issues, overloaded servers etc. all these and many more reasons hamper the purpose of subscribing e-documents which as result affects the utility of such kind of subscriptions. Besides, after going through hectic schedule of day’s class work etc students hardly find time for going through journal, and those interested may find it difficult to keep awake through nights to browse e-documents. The worst part of the story is most of the institutions normally shut down servers after the day’s work, so under these conditions we can emphatically say this kind of practice is no way cost-effective and at places has minimal utility, which is not so when taken the case of print journals.
I am not aimed to work against subscription of e-documents, but what I am more concerned is the people who are forcing this kind of decision have not actually looked at the pros and cons of it. Since I myself being a devote users of both electronic and print medium so I am not pulling in any kind of debate as which medium is better. Harsh truth also remains, most of us still love to read print version of newspaper with breakfast despite having access to its electronic version. Apart from this until last year, governing body had prescribed subscription of journals both national and international in each department on the ratio basis, mostly in the ration of 6:2 respectively, without considering student strength. Imposition of mandatory subscription of online journals all of sudden by these institutions I fear is total wastage of money with minimal utility.
In the fitness of things, it would be more appropriate that keeping in view all the aforementioned suggestion a more suitable option can be worked out, which in no way should prove as burden to anybody, especially to students to whom we are actually aimed to serve in much better and broader way.
(Assistant Librarian, BGSB University, Rajouri, J & K)