Ruling that deemed universities cannot offer engineering degrees through distance learning, the Supreme Court on Friday suspended such degrees granted by four ‘deemed to be universities’ between 2001 and 2005. The bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit also ordered a CBI inquiry into the conduct of officials who granted ex post facto approvals to these institutes in 2006-07, against the policy of the University Grants Commission (UGC).
The bench also “restrained all deemed universities from carrying out courses in distance education from the 2018-19 academic session 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.”
Stating that the UGC showed “lack of effective oversight and regulatory mechanism for the ‘deemed to be universities’,” the bench said it had “completely failed to remedy the situation… serious question has therefore arisen as to the manning of the UGC itself for its effective working.”
The court asked the UGC to take appropriate steps within one month to restrain ‘deemed to be universities’ from using the word university, and ordered the Centre to constitute a “three-member committee comprising eminent persons who have held high positions in the field of education, investigation, administration or law at national level within one month” to “suggest a roadmap for strengthening and setting up of oversight and regulatory mechanism in the relevant field of higher education and allied issues within six months.” The court said the “committee may also suggest oversight mechanism to regulate the ‘deemed to be universities’.”
The court suspended the degrees granted by JRN Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Institute of Advanced Studies in Education (Rajasthan), Allahabad Agricultural Institute and Vinayak Mission Research Foundation (Tamil Nadu), from 2001 to 2005, saying they “admitted students, conducted courses and granted degrees in the absence of statutory approvals.”
Those who obtained degrees from these institutes will have to take a joint exam conducted by AICTE and UGC, said the bench. They will get two chances to clear the exam. “It goes without saying that any promotion or advancement in career on the basis of such degree shall also stand withdrawn. However, any monetary benefits or advantages in that behalf shall not be recovered from them,” it said.
The bench found that “none of these ‘deemed to be universities’ had taken prior permission from any of the authorities, namely the UGC, AICTE and Distance Education Council (DEC), nor had they even intimated at any juncture the fact that they were conducting such courses in technology/ engineering through distance education mode.”
It said they did not have a “regular engineering college or faculty in technology/ engineering at their own campus when they commenced courses in technology/ engineering by distance education mode through study centres all over the country”.
Stating that “practicals form the backbone” of technical education, the bench said this was not possible in distance learning. The court pointed out that the AICTE has also “always maintained that courses leading to degrees in engineering cannot be undertaken through distance education mode.”
The bench said the case reflected the “extent of commercialisation of education by some of the deemed universities.”