EduLegaL Analysis of the UGC [Institutions Deemed to be Universities] Regulations, 2016 : Big Positives, Few Drawbacks, Huge Confusion

UGC2The UGC [Institutions Deemed to be Universities] Regulations, 2016 has replaced the UGC [Institutions Deemed to be Universities] Regulations, 2010 and admittedly there are some positive departures.

Some of the salient features / new features of the New Regulations are:

A) Introduction/ recognition of NIRF: MHRD had launched National Institution Ranking Framework (NIRF), last year and also declared the rankings in April this year though the participation in this framework was not substantive. The Regulations seek to recognise NIRF ranking as an eligibility criteria to be declared as a Deemed University. It prescribes that the proposing institution should be in top 20 in any specific category and in top 100 of overall ranking of NIRF.

B) Section 8 company can also be Deemed University: Section 8 companies are basically body corporates established under the Companies Act, 2013 established for charitable purposes. The new Regulations recognises that the proposed Deemed to be University can be a section 8 company which is a positive departure as earlier only Society or Trust were permitted.

C) Full disclosure regarding fee structure: The Regulation puts obligation on the Deemed University to declare its fees and charges in its prospectus and in its website. It also restricts the Universities from charging exorbitant entrance test fees other than recovering reasonable cost incurred in conducting the entrance test.

D) Compulsory publication of prospectus: It has directed all the Universities to publish its prospectus at least 2 months before commencement of classes, a prospectus detailing all the components of fees, refund rules, intake, eligibility criteria, process of selection, details of teaching faculty, ranking and accreditations, physical and academic facilities and infrastructure, syllabus, etc. The said information is also required to be published on the website.

E) Ban on misleading advertisements: The new Regulations has taken cognizance of the ill practice of publishing misleading claims in advertisements relating to recognition, facilities, infrastructure, performance and issued strict warning and instructed that not deemed to be University shall indulge in publishing such misleading claim.

F) Prescription of Timelines: The New Regulations seek to prescribe timelines for the processes involved in declaration of Deemed to be Universities / Grant of Off Campus Centres, which is a good initiative. However, there is no default consequence prescribed and hence the prescription of such timeline will only remain directory and not mandatory.

G) Introduction of Letter of Intent Scheme: The regulations have introduced the concept of Letter of Intent (LOI), which will prima facie indicate that the Deemed University has vested right to start an Off Campus / establish a Deemed University under De Novo Category, provided it starts the operations within 3 years of the issue of LoI.

H) Restriction on Off-Campus/es: No Deemed University shall be allowed to have an Off-Campus within the first 5 years of its operations. However, beyond that it can established 2 off-campuses in any period of 5 years.

I) Academic Reforms: Institutions, under the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) can have a credit exchange matrix with other UGC recognized institutions for the benefit of their students. It has been mandated that such institutions will review the syllabus every 3 years at least. Industry collaborations and research projects would not need specific approval of the UGC nor would be for new departments in core subjects for which the institution was established.

J) Infrastructure: Some relaxation in the infrastructure requirememts has been made considering that land has been expensive and also is not available easily in abundance. There will be barrier free access for specially abled students in all places. There will also be adequate health care facilities for students, staff and faculty within the campus.

K) Generally speaking otherwise, the provisions of the earlier Regulations have been continued. The other mandatory Regulations like Ragging Regulations, Gender Sensitization, Sexual Harassment Regulations have again been made mandatory through these Regulations.

Sponsoring Society / Government vis-a-vis Deemed University Reforms

Role, Authority and Limitations of Sponsoring Society / Government in a Deemed University has been the major point of struggle between the Deemed Universities and the Government. UGC Regulations of 2010 limited the role of Sponsoring Society to a bare minimum, resulting in litigations in various High Courts, challenging the validity of the UGC Regulations of 2010. Still the proceedings are pending in various High Courts. In fact Karnataka High Court has declared the Regulations to be unconstitutional. Madras High Court has upheld the same, but status-quo has been maintained by the Appellate Court.

The New Regulations has made substantive and positive attempt to reduce this conflict, let us see how:

A) Government Nomination on Board/Council of Deemed University: Earlier, there was a nominee of Central Government to be appointed in consultation with UGC. Similar provision was also for Finance Committee. Under the new Regulations, Government Nomination is restricted only to such Universities, which are controlled and managed by Government or receiving grants more than or equal to 50 % of its expenditure. In all other cases, now UGC will have a nominee.

B) Increased Representation of Sponsoring Society in Deemed University: Under the old Regulations, number of nominees of Sponsoring Society on the Board of Management was limited to maximum of two members. Under the new Regulations, the nomination strength has been increased to four members.

C) President of the Society can be Chancellor of Deemed University: Under the old Regulations, it was mandatorily prohibited that President of the Sponsoring Society or his/her close relatives cannot be Chancellor of the Deemed University. Such restriction has been done away with in the new Regulations, restriction being that the person should be a distinguished academician and the maximum term that he can enjoy is 2 term of 5 years.

D) Provision for Pro-Chancellor: This is an interesting creation in the new Regulations. The Sponsoring Body can also appoint a Pro-Chancellor, who would discharge the function of Chancellor, in his / her absence.

Drawbacks / Regressive Provisions:

Though, honestly admitting it has certainly made few positive departures, but it also has some drawbacks:

A) Restriction on using the word “University”: Though the new Regulations has reformed to some extent this regressive clause, which was also existing in the earlier Regulations, but denying a Deemed University to use “University” as a suffix to its name is certainly regressive. The only consolatory departure being that the expression “deemed to be University” can be used after the name. Not Done !

B) Restriction on conducting Distance Education Programme: It bars Institutions declared as Deemed Universities under or after the Old Regulations to conduct Distance Education programmes. Surprisingly, it says that Institutions, which were conducting such programme can continue to operate. There is no reasonable justification for this disadvantageous distinction. This is arbitrary !

C) Distinction between Government and Private Deemed Universities: One can understand concessions / exemptions in financial incurring when it comes to a Government Deemed University. But at many places unreasonable favour has been given to a Government Deemed University over a Private Deemed University like number / restriction on off-campuses, which are purely academic matters and which should be judged on level grounds.

Confusion and the Chaos

The New Regulations, has also left some confusion and chaos in the Regulatory Regime of Deemed Universities.

A) We all know scores of litigations are pending challenging the Old Regulations on various grounds. In fact considering the diverse geography of challenge and universal applicability of the Regulations, MHRD has preferred Transfer Petition before the Supreme Court. Some of the grounds of challenge has been accepted and remedial provisions included. But some still continue. So what happens to those litigations and the transfer petitions. Will it partially survive or a fresh petition will have to be filed. A Delhi High Court Judgement has also quashed the earlier guidelines. Now the situation is earlier Guidelines are quashed, the Old Regulations are quashed, the New Regulations continues with many of the provisions, which were in the quashed Regulations. So what to follow? I wish Government should have come with clarity on all these issues!

B) There is another huge confusion on applicability of the New Regulations to the old proposals. Though the master provision says that the New Regulations will be applicable, but at the same time it also says that Deemed University should undertaking to that effect and should comply with the Regulations within 2 years. What is a Deemed University denies to file this Undertaking? or takes a stand that many of the provisions are quashed in the earlier Regulations and hence cannot be complied with as it will be illegal. I do not have an answer, the only answer being that there is no clarity !

C) What about the GHOST OF TANDON. They should have clearly denounced Tandon Committee, which involves fate of more than 50 deemed universities today. A clarity would have rest so many issues to rest especially regarding expansion of deemed universities.

Ravi Bhardwaj