Supreme Court: In a major decision in the matter relating to the students enrolled in the Distance learning Engineering Courses of certain Deemed Universities during the Academic Sessions 2001-2005, the bench of UU Lalit and AK Goel, JJ suspended the admissions and directed AICTE to conduct appropriate tests of the students in order to determine whether their degrees should be restored or not. It further added that students will not be given 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clear the test/tests within the stipulated time, their degrees shall stand cancelled and all the advantages shall stand withdrawn.

In the present case, it was contended before the Court that theDeemed Universities in question had set up “off campus centers” and “study centers” in violation of the Regulations framed by the UGC; that very same study center, at times was operating for more than one Deemed to be University; that these study centers completely lacked infrastructure and facilities for courses in Engineering and that the programmes through distance education mode were illegal and without approval.

Holding that the Deemed Universities were not justified in introducing any new courses in Technical Education without the approval of AICTE, the bench gave the following directions apart from the direction of conducting fresh admissions:

  • The entire expenditure for conducting the test/tests shall be recovered from the concerned Deemed Universities by 31.03.2018 and 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. The degrees of such students will stand cancelled.
  • 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.
  • 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. However, the entire amount paid by such students to the concerned Deemed Universities towards tuition fees and other expenditure shall be returned by the concerned Deemed Universities by 31.05.2018.
  • CBI will 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 and into the conduct of institutions who abused their position to advance their commercial interest illegally.
  • UGC will also consider whether the Deemed University status enjoyed by Universities in question calls for any withdrawal and conduct an inquiry in that behalf by 30.06.2018 as indicated above.
  • Deemed Universities will not 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.
  • UGC will take appropriate steps and implement Section 23 of the UGC Act and restrain Deemed Universities from using the word ‘University’ within one month from today.

The Court also asked Union of India to 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, for examining 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 Court said that the Committee may also suggest oversight mechanism to regulate the Deemed Universities.

Asking the Union of India to file an affidavit in this Court of the action taken on or before August 31, 2018, the Court placed  the matter on 11.09.2018. [ORISSA LIFT IRRIGATION CORP. LTD v. RABI SANKAR PATRO, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1281, decided on 03.11.2017]

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