In a major setback to thousands of students who pursued engineering studies through correspondence courses offered by deemed universities in the last 16 years, the Supreme Court declared on Friday that the degrees were invalid, putting them at risk of losing jobs obtained on the basis of the certificates.
A bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit noted that the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) did not approve distance learning programmes in engineering studies and the approval granted by the Distance Education Council (DEC) for such courses was illegal.
The SC decision exposes the extent to which the regulatory system was compromised as the courses were being run for more than a decade and a half without attracting serious scrutiny.
The apex court directed the Centre to create an oversight mechanism to regulate deemed universities, saying that UGC completely failed to curb the commercialisation of education. It asked the government to review the deemed university status of various institutions.
The court adjudicated a bunch of petitions on the validity of correspondence courses of four deemed universities — JRN Rajasthan Vidyapeeth, Institute of Advanced Studies in Education in Rajasthan, Allahabad Agricultural Institute and Vinayaka Mission’s Research Foundation in Tamil Nadu — which have been providing engineering education through correspondence since 2001 despite AICTE disapproval.
The apex court restrained all deemed universities from offering correspondence courses without the approval of the AICTE and directed a CBI probe against officials who permitted the universities to run the programmes from 2001.
The court passed the order after UGC’s counsel and ASG Maninder Singh and AICTE advocate Anil Soni informed the court that distance learning courses in engineering were not permitted.
Holding the degree issued by universities invalid, the court, however, opened a small window for students who took admission between 2001 and 2005 to revive their degree by undergoing a fresh examination by AICTE. It said they should be given another chance as they pursued the course under the impression that the course is valid in the light of DEC’s approval.
But the court had no sympathy for the students of the post-2005 batches as they were aware that the courses lacked sanction.
“AICTE shall devise the modalities to conduct an appropriate test. Students (from 2001-05 batches) be given not more than two chances to clear the test and if they do not successfully clear the test within the stipulated time, their degrees shall stand cancelled,” the bench said suspending their degrees.
“In respect of students admitted after the academic sessions of 2001-2005, the degrees in engineering awarded by the concerned deemed to be universities through distance education mode shall stand recalled and be treated as cancelled. Any benefit which a candidate has secured as a result of such degrees in engineering in the nature of promotion or advancement in career shall also stand recalled.
However, if any monetary benefit was derived by such candidates, that … will not be recovered by the concerned departments or employers,” it said and directed the universities to refund the money to students.