NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today restrained all deemed universities across the country from continuing any distance learning courses from the 2018-19 without prior approval of the regulatory authorities and ordered a CBI probe into granting of retrospective approvals to four of them.
The top court also directed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to restrain such institutions from using the word 'University' within one month from today, observing that commercialisation of education "seriously affects credibility of standards in education, eroding power and essence of knowledge and seriously affecting excellence and merit".
A bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit directed a CBI inquiry against the conduct of UGC officials who had granted ex-post facto approvals to the four deemed universities against the policy and into the conduct of these institutions which had abused their position to advance their commercial interests.
"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," the bench said.
It said that unless off-campus centres or study centres were individually inspected and found adequate by the statutory authorities, no course-specific approvals should be granted for distance learning courses.
The apex court directed that degrees of students who have pursued engineering in academic session 2001-05 from four deemed universities -- JRN Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Institute of Advanced Studies in Education (IASE), Rajasthan, Allahabad Agricultural Institute (AAI) and Vinayaka Mission's Research Foundation, Tamil Nadu, will remain suspended.
It set aside the ex-facto approvals granted by the UGC to these four deemed universities, terming them as "incorrect" and "illegal", and saying that such institutions were not justified in introducing any new course in technical education without the approval of AICTE.
The top court directed the AICTE to hold tests for the students whose degrees would stand suspended by January 15, 2018 and said these students should not be given more than two chances to clear the examination.
If the students do not successfully clear the examination within the stipulated time, their degrees will stand cancelled and every single advantage on the basis of that degree shall also stand withdrawn, it said.
"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," Justice Lalit, who penned down 118-page verdict for the bench, said.
The bench clarified that if the students clear the tests within the stipulated time, all the advantages shall be restored to them and their degrees will stand revived.
"Those students who do not wish to exercise the option, shall be refunded the 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 benefits shall stand withdrawn," it said.
The court recalled the engineering degrees awarded to students who were admitted after the academic session 2001-05 in these four deemed universities in distance education mode.
It also withdrew the benefits accrued on the basis of such degrees but directed that the entire amount paid by such students to the concerned deemed universities towards tution fees and other expenditure shall be returned by May 31, 2018.
The top court directed the Centre to constitute a threemember committee comprising eminent persons who have held high positions in the field of education, investigation, administration or law at the national level within one month.
It said the Committee may examine the issues and 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.
It said the panel may also suggest an oversight mechanism to regulate deemed universities and the Centre could examine its report and take appropriate action within a month and file an affidavit on the action taken by August 31, 2018.
The bench said the present case, in which the four universities were granted ex-post facto approval without any proper inspection of necessary infrastructure and faculties, showed "the extent of commercialisation of education" by some of the deemed universities.
"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," it said.
The verdict came on a batch of appeals challenging the orders of the High Courts of Orissa and Punjab and Haryana by which the former held the degrees in engineering obtained by serving diploma holders through distance learning mode offered by certain deemed universities to be valid, whereas the latter termed such degrees to be invalid.