COIMBATORE: There is healthy news on the technical and management education front ahead of the new academic year 2014-15. The Supreme Court, on May 9, put an end to a year-long academic chaos by restoring the powers to regulate technical and management education offered by “technical colleges” to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), reversing its judgment of April 25, 2013.
Academicians including the heads of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the AICTE have hailed the verdict. They say it would end the confusion and uncertainty created by last year’s judgment of the apex court stripping the AICTE of its powers to approve engineering and management degree programmes offered by colleges affiliated to various universities.
A four-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India RM Lodha passing orders on a Special Leave Petition (Civil) petition filed by the Orissa Technical Colleges Association held: “It is directed that prior approval of AICTE is compulsory and mandatory for conduct of a technical course including the MBA/Management course by an existing affiliated technical college and also new technical college which will require affiliation by a university for conduct of technical courses/programmes for the academic year 2014-15.”
The order was issued as a clarification to an interim order passed on April 17 this year by a bench comprising Justices Lodha and Kurian Joseph. The two-judge bench had said: “AICTE shall now proceed in accordance with the approval process handbook for the 2014-15 academic year in so far as members of the petitioner association and all colleges and institutions situated similarly to the members of the petitioners’ association (are concerned).”
Acting on the latest verdict, the AICTE has notified its approval process for 2014-15, opening the doors to those wanting to set up new technical colleges, increase or reduce students’ intake in existing colleges/courses, establish new courses or wind up existing academic programmes.
Last year, a bench comprising Justices B S Chauhan and V Gopala Gowda, while hearing an appeal against a judgment of the Madras High Court, had dramatically concluded that colleges affiliated to universities need not obtain the AICTE’s approval for offering technical courses. Secondly, the court ruled that MBA/MCA will not come under the definition of “technical education” and therefore cannot be governed by the AICTE.
Citing a landmark judgment in the Bharathidasan University case and taking into consideration the ambiguity in the AICTE Act, the judges categorically pointed out: “It is also relevant to refer to the exclusion of university from the definition of ‘technical institution’ as defined under Section 2(h) of the AICTE Act. The Institution means an institution not being university, the applicability of bringing the university as defined under clause 2(f) of UGC Act includes the institution deemed to be a university under Section 3 of the said Act and therefore the affiliated colleges are excluded from the purview of technical institution definition of the AICTE Act.”
Noting that as per the definition of ‘technical education’ under Section 2(g) of the AICTE Act, the MBA course is not a technical course, the bench had held that “approval from the AICTE is not required for obtaining permission and running MBA courses by the appellant colleges.”
Following this verdict, the powers to regulate technical education were vested with the UGC, which had also drafted regulations for the same. In fact, the UGC chose not to approve any new engineering colleges in the country for the academic year 2014-15.
Former Anna University Vice Chancellor Prof E Balagurusamy says the Supreme Court has rightly reversed its verdict and restored the regulatory powers of the AICTE. “The April 2013 judgment was borne out of a misinterpretation of the wordings in the provisions of the AICTE Act. The court cannot take away the powers of a statutory body like the AICTE set up by enactment of legislation by Parliament and give them to the UGC,” he argues.
According to him, the UGC did not have the manpower or system to inspect all colleges in the country and accord approval for technical courses. “The Union Government should have gone in appeal against the judgment or at least promulgated an ordinance restoring the powers of the AICTE, but it failed to do so. The Supreme Court has rightly rectified its erroneous verdict,” he says. One of the reasons why the Union Government failed to act was because Human Resource Development Minister Pallam Raju was preoccupied with the Telangana agitation in his home State of Andhra Pradesh and he had stopped attending office for over six months, he adds.
UGC Chairman Ved Prakash is happy with the turn of events. “I think the Supreme Court is right. Professional courses run anywhere have to be under the purview of the council, which has been set up to regulate them,” he told edex.
“It is good that we are back to the old system. The April 2013 order caused confusion. May be in the long term we can look at a different policy of granting single accreditation for management courses,” says M J Xavier, former Director, Indian Institute of Management (IIM Ranchi). “It is alright to treat MBA as part of technical education, as management and technology are interrelated. It is not as if MBA is rocket science,” he opines. Otherwise, there will be too many regulatory bodies for each branch of education, which is not healthy, he says.
However, time is running out for the regulatory agency as the order has come late. The AICTE has the mammoth task of scrutinising thousands of applications from across the country and granting approval for courses in time for admissions.
“The Supreme Court has given time to the AICTE till June 10 for issuance of the handbook for approval process, failing which will amount to contempt of court,” says senior advocate K Radhakrishnan.
Shadman Ali, counsel for Orissa Technical Colleges Association, explains: “We approached the court seeking clarity on the admission process for the current academic year. We informed the court how its earlier order of issuing the admission approval process handbook within a stipulated period was not complied with.”
Nonetheless, AICTE Chairman S S Mantha is confident of completing the process within deadline. “We will conduct physical inspections only for the new colleges/courses. Approval for existing colleges/courses will be done on the basis of self-disclosure by the respective institutions,” he told edex.
(With inputs from Kanu Sarda, New Delhi)