AICTE’s Newtonian downfall - The New Indian Express

AICTE’s Newtonian downfall

Published: 01st May 2013 07:19 AM

Last Updated: 01st May 2013 07:19 AM

MBA and MCA outside the purview of AICTE.” “SC snubs AICTE.” “AICTE approval not necessary for MBA/MCA.”  The stentorian chorus of the entire print media on a recent Supreme Court order virtually celebrated the release of management education from the control of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The media however failed to see the hidden academic time bomb in the detailed order that has far-reaching consequences.

On April 25, the Supreme Court disposed of a batch of civil appeals with regard to the power of AICTE  to grant approval to MBA & MCA programmes offered by affiliated colleges and triggered an academic tsunami of sorts. The Supreme Court transferred the approval powers of AICTE to universities through the UGC. Though it is good news for those who were critical of AICTE’s mindless McDonaldisation of engineering and management education, the swing of the pendulum to the other extreme is not only legally tenable but also has cataclysmic academic repercussions. Let us see why?

The appellants before the Supreme Court were arts and science colleges affiliated to the Bharathidasan University offering MBA/MCA courses. They questioned the power of AICTE to grant approval to their MCA programmes holding that it does not fall under technical education and that the new regulations of AICTE lacked the power as they were not placed before the Houses of Parliament.  The Supreme Court framed five questions of law, the important one being the question of “whether colleges affiliated to a university are obligated to take separate permission/approval from the AICTE to run classes in technical courses in which the affiliated university of the colleges is not required to obtain any permission/approval under the AICTE Act itself?”

The Supreme Court in Bharathidasan University vs AICTE (2001 (8) SCC 676) held that universities are not technical institutions as defined by Section 2(h) of the AICTE Act and hence need not obtain approval from AICTE to start technical courses. The University Grants Commission (UGC) under section 22 of the UGC Act of 1956 confers the power to award degrees to Central, State and Deemed Universities and to institutions of national importance created by legislation. Unless the statutes require, these institutions need not obtain prior approval for starting any course.

However, affiliated colleges do not enjoy this status as they are not academically mature to handle such high levels of academic autonomy nor is the university affiliating system robust enough to ensure quality through strict compliance.  It is in this perspective that the recent Supreme Court order has shocked academics.

The argument put forth by legal eagles on behalf of the appellant colleges was that Section 13 of the UGC Act vests the power to inspect to ascertain the financial needs of a university and its standards of teaching, examination and research. Quoting provisions from Sections 12, 13 and 25 of the UGC Act along with various rules and regulations of UGC and juxtaposing with Parshvanath Charitable Trust case (2002 (8) SCC 481), they reduced the role of AICTE to that of an advisory and recommendatory nature without any administrative control over colleges affiliated to universities which fall within the definition of Section 2 (f) of the UGC Act. Reliance was also made on the Kothari Commission (1964-66) and National Policy of Education (1986) to the effect that AICTE cannot have any kind of control over university education, and cannot control or regulate the functioning of colleges affiliated to universities which are governed by provisions of respective universities Act and UGC rules and regulations. In short, the legal luminaries accorded princely status to affiliated colleges through backdoor and used legal loopholes to circumvent the need for academic standards.

Let us see what the Supreme Court felt after listening to the AICTE’s counsel who vehemently shielded AICTE from the legal ammuno fired by the appellants’.

Para 39 of the Supreme Court order shakes the foundational architecture of AICTE’s power to grant approval. The Supreme Court records “A careful reading of sub-sections (2)(c), (3), (4) and (5) of Section 12A of the UGC Act makes it abundantly clear about colleges which are required to be affiliated to run the courses for which sanction/approval will be accorded by the university or under the control and supervision of such universities. Therefore, affiliated colleges to the university/universities are part of them and the exclusion of university in the definition of technical institution as defined in Section 2(h) of the AICTE Act must be extended to the affiliated colleges to the university also. Otherwise, the object and purpose of the UGC Act enacted by the Parliament will be defeated.” Adding more salt to AICTE’s injury the Supreme Court further held that “the role of the AICTE Act is only advisory in nature and is confined to submitting report or giving suggestions to the UGC for the purpose of implementing its suggestions to maintain good standards in technical education in terms of definition under Section 2(h) of the AICTE Act and to see that there shall be uniform education standard throughout the country to be maintained which is the laudable object of the AICTE Act for which it is enacted by the Parliament.”

The effect of such a sweeping Supreme Court order is not as simple as it was originally captured by various newspapers. Any of the over 30,000 affiliated colleges can start new courses or programmes that come under the purview of AICTE without seeking its approval. All that the affiliated college must ensure is that it has the approval of the affiliating university and follow or at least appear to follow the norms and standards prescribed by AICTE.  Such an academic explosion is unthinkable considering that despite being under AICTE’s control, the state of engineering education is pathetic. There is certainly no doubt that the Supreme Court has enlarged an MBA/MCA approval issue to decide on the power and role of AICTE. AICTE deserves a jolt for its antiquated policy making, but the Supreme Court order throws the baby along with the bath tub and cannot hold the field for long. We need a Herculean effort to arrest AICTE’s Newtonian downfall. Will MHRD rise to the occasion? It has to in the interest of Indian engineering education.

S.Vaidhyasubramaniam is Dean, Planning & Development,SASTRA University

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