SC cancels engineering degrees given by deemed universities through correspondence course

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New Delhi: In a strongly worded judgment, the Supreme Court of India has berated
the University Grants Commission (UGC) for failing to regulate 'Deemed to be Universities'. A Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit, in its judgment, has also restrained Deemed to be Universities from carrying on any courses in distance education mode from the Academic Session 2018- 2019 onwards unless specific permissions are granted by the concerned statutory/regulatory authorities for the same.

The Court was hearing a batch of appeals against the decisions of Orissa High Court and Punjab & Haryana High Court. By way of background, degrees in Engineering obtained by serving diploma holders through Open Distance Learning mode offered by certain Deemed to be Universities through 'off campus Study Centres' were found valid by the High Court of Orissa whereas the decision rendered by the High Court of Punjab & Haryana was to the contrary.

This led to appeals in the Supreme Court which were heard together. The Court after hearing all the concerned parties came to the conclusion that the permission to conduct distances education courses were granted without any authority. The colleges in question started their distance education courses without taking any
approval from UGC and/or AICTE and when there was no approved engineering college or faculty at their main campus. The Court, therefore pulled up the officials who were responsible for allowing such course and ordered a CBI probe.

'The factual narration mentioned hereinabove makes certain things distinctly clear. The affidavit of Mr. Ved Prakash discloses how permissions were granted to introduce courses in the present cases without any authority. On one hand, the authorities were proclaiming their policy statements and on the other, despite there being complaints, they went about granting permissions. Their conduct and approach is difficult to explain on any rational basis and leaves much to be desired. We are, prima facie of the view that the conduct of the concerned officials needs to be looked into and investigated whether the exercise of power by them was completely genuine or colourable. We do not express any final opinion in that behalf but direct the CBI to carry out thorough investigation into the matter and to take appropriate steps after culmination thereof.'

Lamenting at the 'extent of commercialization of education' by such Deemed to be
Universities, the Court also had some strong words for the UGC which according to it, completely failed' in regulating such Deemed to be Universities.

'The present case shows the extent of commercialization of education by some of the Deemed Universities. The commercialization of education seriously affects creditability of standards in education, eroding power and essence of knowledge and seriously affecting excellence and merit. The present case further displays lack of effective oversight and regulatory mechanism for the Deemed to be Universities. The UGC had completely failed to remedy the situation. Serious question has therefore arisen as to the manning of the UGC itself for its effective working. We have already found that facilities at Study Centres were never checked nor any inspections were carried out which has led us to direct suspension of degrees for the students enrolled during academic sessions 2001-2005 and annulment of degrees of students admitted after academic sessions of 2001- 2005. We have also found that there was complete and flagrant violation of norms and policies laid down by the authorities by the Deemed to be Universities.'

The Court, therefore proceeded to issue a slew of directions:

(1) 1994 AICTE Regulations, do apply to Deemed to be Universities and the Deemed to be Universities in the present matter were not justified in introducing any new courses in Technical Education without the approval of AICTE.

(2) Insofar as candidates enrolled during the Academic Sessions 2001-2005, in the present case the ex post facto approvals granted by UGC and their concerned authorities are set aside.

(3) Consequent to aforesaid direction No.II, all the degrees in Engineering awarded
by concerned Deemed to be Universities stand suspended.

(4) The AICTE shall devise the modalities to conduct an appropriate test/tests as indicated in Para 47 above. The option be given to the concerned students whose degrees stand suspended by 15.01.2018 to appear at the test/tests to be conducted in accordance with the directions in Para 47 above. Students be given not more than two chances to cleartest/tests and if they do not successfully clear the test/tests within the stipulated time,their degrees shall stand cancelled and all the advantages shall stand withdrawn as stated in Paras 46 and 47 above. The entire expenditure for conducting the test/tests shall be recovered from the concerned Deemed to be Universities by 31.03.2018.

(5) Those students who do not wish to exercise the option, shall be refunded entire money deposited by them towards tuition fee and other charges within one month of the exercise of such option. Needless to say their degrees shall stand cancelled and all advantages/benefits shall stand withdrawn as mentioned in Para 47.

(6) If the students clear the test/tests within the stipulated time, allthe advantages/
benefits shall be restored to them and their degrees will stand revived fully.

(7) As regards students who were admitted after the Academic Sessions 2001- 2005, their degrees in Engineering awarded by the concerned Deemed to be Universities through distance education mode stand recalled and be treated as cancelled. All benefits secured by such candidates shall stand withdrawn as indicated in Para 48 above. However, the entire amount paid by such students to the concerned Deemed to be Universities towards tuition fees and other expenditure shall be returned by the concerned Deemed to be Universities by 31.05.2018, as indicated in Para 48.

(8) By 31.05.2018 all the concerned Deemed to be Universities shall refund the sums indicated above in VII and an appropriate affidavit to that extent shall be filed with UGC within a week thereafter.

(9) We direct the CBI to carry out thorough investigation into the conduct of the
concerned officials who dealt with the matters and went about the granting
permissions against the policy statement, as indicated in Para 49 above and into
the conduct of institutions who abused their position to advance their commercial interest illegally. Appropriate steps can thereafter be taken after culmination of such
investigation.

(10) The UGC shall also consider whether the Deemed to be University status enjoyed by JRN, AAI, IASE and VMRF calls for any withdrawal and conduct an inquiry in that behalf by 30.06.2018 as indicated above. If the moneys, as directed above are not refunded to the concerned students that factor shall be taken into account while conducting such exercise.

(11) We restrain all Deemed to be Universities to carry on any courses in distance
education mode from the Academic Session 2018-2019 onwards unless and until it is permissible to conduct such courses in distance education mode and specific permissions are granted by the concerned statutory/regulatory authorities in respect of each of those courses and unless the off-campus Centres/Study Centres are individually inspected and found adequate by the concerned Statutory Authorities. The approvals have to be course specific.

(12)The UGC is further directed to take appropriate steps and implement Section 23
of the UGC Act and restrain Deemed to be 117 Universities from using the word 'University' within one month from today.

(13)The Union of India may constitute a three members Committee comprising of eminent persons who have held high positions in the field of education, investigation, administration or law at national level within one month. The Committee may examine the issues indicated above and suggest a road map for strengthening and setting up of oversight and regulatory mechanism in the relevant field of higher education and allied issues within six months. The Committee may also suggest oversight mechanism to regulate the Deemed to be Universities. The Union of India may examine the said report and take such action as may be considered appropriate within one month thereafter and file an affidavit in this Court of the action taken on or before August 31, 2018. The matter shall be placed for consideration of this aspect on 11.09.2018.

Senior Advocate Aryama Sundaram served as Amicus Curiae in the matter.

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