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Supreme Court Restrains Engineering Degrees in Distance Education Mode

Supreme Court on Friday 3 November 2017 restrained educational institutions from providing courses in subjects like engineering and computer science in the distance education mode; and set aside a verdict by the Odisha High Court, which allowed technical education by correspondence. The apex court at the same time affirmed the findings of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that had in 2015 ruled that a degree in ‘Computer Science’ obtained through distance education can’t be considered on a par with a regular degree awarded by a university to students attending campus classes. The Supreme Court stated that technical education cannot be given through the process of correspondence courses. The Apex Court lamented the commercialization of education and highlighted the need for strengthening and setting up of oversight and regulatory mechanism for distance education degrees, especially those relating to technical education court and allied issues within six months.

A bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit has suspended the engineering degrees of hundreds of students who pursued education through correspondence course from year 2001 to 2005 from four deemed Universities: JRN Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Institute of Advanced Studies in Education in Rajasthan, Allahabad Agricultural Institute and Vinayaka Mission Research Foundation in Tamil Nadu. The court, however, allowed students of 2001-05 batch to get their degree by appearing in the examination to be conducted by AICTE but it cancelled the degrees of students of subsequent batches as the deemed university had not got approval from authorities for the course.

The degrees would remain suspended till the students pass an examination under the joint supervision of AICTE-UGC, it ordered, adding that “every single advantage” on the basis of the degree would also stand suspended till then. The court ordered recall of any benefits in terms of promotion or other career advancement, except any monetary benefits that can’t be recovered by employers.

The court asked the All-India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) to conduct appropriate test/tests for the students and expenses towards conducting the tests would be recovered from the universities concerned. Students would get only two chances to clear the examination, failing which their degrees will stand recalled and cancelled. Students be given not more than two chances to clear test/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. The entire expenditure for conducting the test/tests shall be recovered from the concerned Deemed to be Universities by 31.03.2018. If the students clear the test/tests within the stipulated time, all the advantages/benefits shall be restored to them and their degrees will stand revived fully.

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.

The Supreme Court bench also stated, “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. 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 31.5.2018.”

The top court issued a series of other directions likely to affect hundreds of distance education centres which have been offering technical courses through correspondence and distance learning.

The Court further added, “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”.

The Court also directed UGC to take appropriate steps and implement Section 23 of the UGC Act and restrain Deemed to be Universities from using the word ‘University’ within one month from 3 November, 2018

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