New Delhi : Getting a technical degree via distance education mode would no longer be possible as the Supreme Court on Friday ruled that that technical education could not be provided through correspondence courses.
In a landmark verdict affecting millions of students across India, a Bench of Justice AK Goel and Justice UU Lalit restrained educational institutions from providing courses in subjects such as engineering and computer science through the distance education mode.
It suspended engineering degrees granted between 2001 and 2005 to all graduates through distance learning by JRN Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Rajasthan (JRN); Institute of Advanced Studies in Education, Rajasthan (IASE); Allahabad Agricultural Institute, Allahabad; and Vinayak Mission Research Foundation (VMRF), Tamil Nadu, for want of adherence to statutory guidelines and policies.
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.
It also directed the CBI to carry out a thorough investigation into the conduct of the officials who dealt with the matters and granted permissions against the policy statement. The conduct of institutions which abused their position to advance their commercial interest illegally, would also be probed, it said.
It directed the UGC to take appropriate steps and implement Section 23 of the UGC Act and restrain deemed universities from using the word “university” within a month. The court also highlighted the need for better regularly framework for technical education.
The court asked the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to conduct appropriate written and practical 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.
If a student does not wish to appear in such tests, the court has ordered refund of the money deposited by them towards tuition and other fees. Students can exercise the option by January 15, 2018. Institutes have to refund students’ money by May 31.
The top court issued a series of directions likely to affect hundreds of distance education centres which have been offering technical courses through correspondence and distance learning.
The court asked the UGC to consider if deemed university status enjoyed by JRN, AAI, IASE and VMRF called for withdrawal and conduct a probe by June 30, 2018. If the money is not refunded to the students concerned, that factor shall be taken into account while conducting such exercise.
“We restrain all deemed to be universities to carry on any courses in the 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 Union of India may constitute a three-member committee comprising eminent persons who have held high positions in the fields of education, investigation, administration or law at the 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 maybe 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,” the court said.
The verdict settles the legal position and gives clarity thousands of students who often opt for such courses for a variety of reasons.
The court cancelled the degrees obtained through distance education and ordered recall of any benefits in terms of promotion or other career advancement, except any monetary benefits that can’t be recovered by employers.
Earlier, the Punjab and Haryana and Odisha high courts had expressed divergent views on the contentious issue.
The Bench, which also included Justice UU Lalit, affirmed the verdict of the Punjab and Haryana high court and set aside a verdict by the Odisha High Court, which had allowed technical education via correspondence.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court 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.
Earlier, the Madras High Court had said, a degree awarded in the distance education mode without a candidate passing the Class 12 examination was valid, if it had been obtained after passing the entrance test for admission to the graduation course.
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