Curtains down on Viplav Sharma Case in SC, Decade of suffering for Deemed Universities ends, what next?

SC2A case, pending for last 1 decade has finally come to an end in Supreme Court on 26.08.2016. The PIL has been disposed off simplicitor noting the acceptance of assessment done by NAAC and criticizing the manner in which grading of the Deemed Universities was done by a Tandon Committee, by ignoring the Statutory Authorities and on basis of power-point presentation and not physical inspection.

During the intervening period, Deemed Universities were being treated as sub-standard institutions unworthy of academic and geographical expansion on basis of findings of Tandon Committee and infact some odd 40 of them were “doomed”, as they were de-recognised by the Central Government on the basis of findings of the Supreme Court.

In the year 2006, one Viplav Sharma filed a Petition [PIL] in Supreme Court raising some issues relating to Deemed Universities. During the course of proceeding, MHRD constituted a committee headed by Prof. Tandon to review the functioning of the Deemed Universities. The Committee on basis of power point presentation in a room, without conducting physical inspection graded Deemed Universities in A, B and C Categories. According to the Tandon Committee while “A”, satisfied the satisfied the criteria of Deemed Universities, “B” Category were granted 3 years to take corrective measures and “C” Category Universities were sought to be de-recognised. The then Central Government accepted the report of Tandon Committee. All the “C” Category Deemed University challenging the findings and approached Supreme Court, which ordered maintaining “STATUS QUO” in the matter.

The findings of Tandon Committee also prompted MHRD / UGC to notify the UGC [Institutions Deemed to be Universities] Regulations, 2010, which was also challenged by several Deemed Universities in different High Court in the country. By Judgement dated 22.05.2014, the Regulations were quashed and were declared to be invalid and unconstitutional.

UGC Deemed University Regulations, 2010 declared illegal by Hon’ble Karnataka High Court

Summary of the Judgement of the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court on UGC Deemed Universities Regulations, 2010

Later, Supreme Court, though without commenting on legality of the Tandon Committee, expressed opinion that it is UGC which is mandated body to review Universities and asked UGC to inspect all the Deemed Universities and submit report.

For some reason, best known to UGC, it also followed the same process and methodology of Tandon Committee to assess the Deemed Universities. On being pointed out, SC reprimanded the UGC and asked them to assess Deemed Universities after conducting physical inspection.

SC disapproves UGC process of inspection by photographs and video-camera

UGC conducted inspection and found 7 of them to be still deficient, to which it granted a year to improve and remaining were cleared subject to approval by MHRD.

In the meantime, Supreme Court taking cognizance of the fact that NAAC, is a statutory autonomous body constituted under UGC Act, 1956 to undertake the functioning of assessment and accreditation, directed NAAC to assess the “C” Category Deemed Universities. NAAC after conducting inspection submitted its report. Surprisingly and contrastingly, many of those who were doomed by Tandon Committee got flying ranks from NAAC.

Decide on universities’ accreditation: SC to NAAC

Failed by Tandon Committee, passed by NAAC

During the proceedings on 19.04.2016, Supreme while accepting the NAAC Assessment, expressed its strong desire to dispose the PIL, with the observation that, “….. in all possibility, we would have closed the matter and a decade old public interest litigation which has, as submitted at the Bar, yielded certain results would have come to an end …..” . However, then Petitioner raised the contention that the Deemed Universities cannot use the expression “University”, in its name, as they are not Universities within the meaning of Section 2[f] and Section 23 of the UGC Act, 1956. The Supreme Court keeping this issue open categorically observed that for all other purpose the Petition will not be heard on any other issue.

After come hearing which happened on 12.07.2016, 27.07.2016 and 29.07.2016, in the hearing dated 12.08.2016, the Petitioner expressed its desire to withdraw the Petition in light of order dated 19.04.2016. Finally in the hearing on 26.08.2016, the Supreme Court observing that, issue of using expression “University” by Deemed University was not an issue in the PIL , disposed the Petition. However, it did allow the Petitioner to take appropriate recourse available under the law regarding the issue of using of expression “University” by Deemed Universities.

So, finally curtain was drawn on the decade old Petition, which questioned the very existence of the Deemed Universities.

EduLegaL View:

EduLegaLIt was necessary that faith in power and mandate of statutory authorities should be restored. Tandon Committee had eroded this faith, which was further compounded by the inaction and reliance of MHRD on its findings. Finally and again Indian Judiciary has ended the continued agony and pain of a decade for Deemed Universities.

Issue, is what next, MHRD should disown Tandon Committee and its findings and should come clear on its policy relating to Deemed Universities. Right to establish and administer educational institution is a fundamental right, and it cannot be restricted by executive fiats, in nature of Tandon Committee. The field can only be governed and regulated by a just and fair law.

This conclusively proves that the “drawing room” method of out-sourced assessment by Tandon Committee was completely flawed. Eventually, the law of the country prevailed and Institutions have been given justice after long tiring struggle of 10 years. In true words, meaning, mandate and manifestation of law and supremacy of a statutory academic regulators has been restored.

Ravi Bhardwaj

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Prospectus / Admission Brochure has force of law : HC

Prospectus1In a landmark Judgement, Punjab and Haryana High Court has held that a prospectus issued by the Institute has force of law and is binding on the student. In fact it also restricted the Writ Jurisdictions of High Court to say that even under Article 226 of Constitution of India, the High Court should strictly consider the terms of the prospectus and should not modify the same.

The petitioner was seeking quashing of order passed by the Punjab State Consumer Commission, Chandigarh vide which the appeal of the petitioner has been dismissed while upholding order by the Ludhiana District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, which concluded that  in view of Regulation 9(iii) of Prospectus issued by the Respondent-University, the petitioner was not entitled for the refund of fee of ` 10,000/-.

The Petitioner on being denied the relief of Refund of fee filed a complaint before the Forum filed on the ground of deficiency of service under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986. The said complaint was dismissed by the Forum on the ground that the petitioner had voluntarily decided not to join the college and there was no evidence that the seat had been filled up. The amount stood forfeited and therefore in view of the specific clause in the Prospectus, the complainant was not entitled for the refund of fee. The Petitioner carried forward his challenge to State Commission, where his Appeal was dismissed on similar grounds.

While disposing the Petition the High Court also justified the reliance upon Clause 9 (iii) of the Regulations saying that  the said clause is only meant to dissuade the students to seek admission in more than one institution thereby wasting seats depriving other students from admission.

The High Court also considered earlier judgement wherein while discussing the  scope and binding force of the provisions contained in the prospectus, the Courts have taken view that the prospectus issued for admission to a course, has the force of law and it was not open to alteration. It also relied on another Judgement which laid down a candidate will have to be taken to be bound by the information supplied in the admission form and cannot be allowed to take a stand that suits him at a given time. The High Court agreed with view that eligibility for admission to a Course has to be seen according to the prospectus issued before the Entrance Examination and that the admission has to be made on the basis of instructions given in the prospectus, having the force of law.

The High Court held that respondents cannot be held liable for any deficiency in service and the petitioner was not entitled for refund in terms of the above Clause of Prospectus. The High Court also pointed out that it has time and again been held that admission brochure or the prospectus has a force of law which is to be strictly followed.

Additionally, the High Court also pointed out that writ petition would not be maintainable in view of alternative remedy which was available to the petitioner under the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 where under Section 19, the appeal would lie to the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

The High Court proceeded to dismiss the Petition by saying that it is settled law that the provisions contained in the information brochure have the force of law and have to be strictly complied with. No modification can be made by the Court in exercise of powers under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.

EduLegaL View

Education Law and Policy

No doubt it is a good judgement and it is important that in a student-institute relationship, something has to be treated as sacrosanct and binding on both and undoubtedly, Prospectus is the most sacrosanct document.

However, there are many Institutions, which publish unfavourable terms in the prospectus in fine print, specially relating to refund of fees, jurisdiction, which are not specifically consented to by a student at the time of admission. Also, while taking admission, a student has legal disability to question such clause, so does it mean that an unreasonable clause, just because it is in prospectus, become undisputed truth.

I wish the High Court could have dealt with all such other issues, while laying down relating to prospectus.

Ravi Bhardwaj

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Portal for implementation of National Scheme of Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education launched

Dr. D. Purandeswari, Minister of State for Human Resource Development launched a web portal for implementation of the (NSIGSE).

The Centrally Sponsored Scheme ‘National Scheme of Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education” was launched in May 2008 with the objective to establish an enabling environment to reduce the drop-outs and to promote the enrolment of girl child belonging mainly to SC/ST communities in secondary schools. As per the scheme, a sum of Rs. 3,000 is deposited in the name of eligible girls as fixed deposit, who are entitled to withdraw it along with interest threon reaching 18 years of age and after passing out in 10th class examination.

The scheme covers (i) all girls belonging to SC/ST communities , who pass class VIII and (ii) all girls who pass VII examination from Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (irrespective of whether they belong to SC/ST) and enroll in class IX in Government, Government –aided and local Body schools. 100% funds are provided by the Central Government for the Scheme. Canara bank is the implementing agency for the scheme.

Sanctions covering 843026 girls from 26 states/UTs have so far been issued since launch of the scheme in May 2008 involving an expenditure of Rs. 252.90 crore. Approximately 105000 beneficiary girls have become eligible to receive the maturity amount and are being paid the incentive amount subject to fulfilling the conditions.

The Canara Bank has developed a web based portal to implement the scheme. The portal will facilitate on line submission of data of the beneficiaries and on line disbursement of the amount on the day of the maturity into their accounts directly after certification by the State Nodal Officer on line that the beneficiary is 18 years old and passed class X examination.

With the operationalization of the web portal, the proposals under the scheme will be submitted by the State Governments on line. This will eliminate the possibility of feeding incorrect data and bank account numbers which was the major cause for delay in the processing of the proposals and ensure error free entry of data and timely release of funds. The on-line system will also ensure total transparency and quicker disbursement of benefits to the beneficiary girls and on time submission of proposals by the State Governments.

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Government of India launches Virtual Labs Project

Government of India, as part of National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT), has launched Virtual Labs.

These Virtual Labs will be very useful for Students who do not have access to good lab-facilities, and whose inquisitiveness will be triggered, possibly motivating them to take up higher-studies, Researchers in different institutes who can collaborate / share equipment and engineering colleges, who can benefit from the content and related teaching resources.

VIRTUAL LABS:
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A] is part of a comprehensive undertaking to provide easily accessible and high quality education throughout India.

B] primary focus is to provide university students with the ability to perform their required laboratory experiments using a standard computer, and an Internet connection.

C] allow students to practice and better learn the science and engineering behind the experiments that they are required to perform.

D] allows the sharing of costly equipment across the country so that students will be able to perform experiments that they would not otherwise be able to access.

Nearly 300 department heads, faculty, and staff representing 152 institutions have been trained across India and over 20 Nodal Centres have been created.

The Pilot Phase in April 2009. During this phase, approximately twenty labs were developed. The Main Phase began in April 2010. So far, over 80 Virtual Labs have been developed.

THE PROCESS
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Two types of virtual labs have been developed. In the Simulation Based Virtual Labs, experiments are modeled using mathematical equations. The simulations are carried out remotely at a high-end server, and the results are communicated to the student over the internet. Simulation based Virtual Labs are scalable and can cater to a large number of simultaneous users.

Using the Remote Triggered Virtual Labs the actual experiments are triggered remotely. The output of the experiment (being conducted remotely) is communicated back to the student over the internet. This class of Virtual Labs gives the student the output of real-time experiments. Typically, time-slots are booked before conducting such experiments.

A Collaborative Platform for Development of Virtual Labs has been created that assists the faculty with authoring and maintaining Virtual Labs. The platform hosts over 825 experiments developed by many of the partner institutions. The Platform provides the server side architecture for ensuring that virtual labs run securely, can effectively serve thousands of students simultaneously, and reserve time slots for experiments that require scheduling. The Platform also provides tools to help teachers monitor their students’ progress and make changes to the instructional material.

THE PROGRESS AND RESPONSE
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Currently 85 Virtual Labs have been developed comprising of 769 experiments. Trainings and workshops have been held all over India to disseminate knowledge of these Virtual Labs. Future efforts will involve development of virtual labs in different subjects and wide dissemination of this knowledge.

Student interest has also been enthusiastic. The site (vlab.co.in) has had 233,570 site visits and 1,034,443 page visits in just the last 6 months. There are over 4500 registered users from 134 countries and handles around 100GB of traffic per month with visitors from India, United States, Malaysia, Philippines, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Germany, Pakistan and so on.

With the launch of Virtual Labs Indian students will have easy access to an encyclopedia of science and engineering knowledge presented in a way that is engaging, immersive, and enjoyable. Virtual Labs will allow students to explore, discover, and learn wherever they are and at their convenience.

All Virtual Labs can be accessed through a common website: www.vlab.co.in

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State Education Ministers’ Conference

A Conference of State & UT Education Ministers’ was held in New Delhi.

A] Reforms in Entrance Examination for Engineering Students
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A presentation on the reforms proposed in the entrance examinations for admission to engineering institutions was made. States felt that there is a need to limit the multiplicity of entrance examinations thereby reducing stress on students and parents. It was clarified to States that the reform would not, in any way, affect reservations followed by States and the Centre. It was informed that the academic component of the Main and Advanced examinations would be handled by IITs whereas the management and conduct of the examination would be done by CBSE in collaboration with State Boards. It was clarified that the examinations would be conducted in English and Hindi and where States intend to use the same examination for admission to State engineering institutions, the examination could be conducted in the regional language of the State too.

After detailed deliberations, the proposal for a common national examination with effect from 2013 with weightage to State Board results, normalized on the basis of percentiles formula, was endorsed “in principle” by States. The States of Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Puducherry and West Bengal sought more time to study the proposal in detail. The States may decide on adopting the same pattern for admission to State-level engineering institutions with appropriate weightages as States may think fit. It was decided that the details for the common examination process would be finalized in the next two months in consultation with States.

B] Vocational Education and NVEQF
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Presentations were made by the Ministry of HRD and AICTE on the National Vocational Education Qualifications Framework (NVEQF) and concept on Community Colleges. While welcoming the development of NVEQF, the State Education Ministers felt that NVEQF will be an important landmark in improving the skills and employability of the youth of this country.

The report of State Education Ministers headed by the Hon’ble Education Minister of Bihar on NVEQF was unanimously accepted. After deliberations, NVEQF and the concept on community colleges was unanimously endorsed by States. The need to have a dialogue at the State level with School Boards, Boards of Technical Education and universities to provide a seamless pathway for vocational students was stressed. It was decided to start 100 Community Colleges on a pilot basis in 2012-13 and then scale up gradually. The States were requested to identify local skill requirements linked to local needs which could form the basis of opening community colleges and forward proposals to the Central Government. It was decided to constitute a Committee of State Education Ministers headed by Smt Archana Chitnis, Hon’ble Minister of School Education of Madhya Pradesh, to finalise the scheme of community colleges.

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National Vocational Education Qualification Framework Launched by MHRD

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has launched the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF) to be implemented in polytechnics, Engineering Colleges and other colleges in the University systems from 2012-13.

The programmes are sector specific and the sectors like IT, Media, Entertainment, Telecommunications, Mobile Communications, Automobile, Construction, Retail, Food Processing, Tourism, Hotels, Jewellery Design and Fashion Design and many other have been identified for implementation. The launch was done by Shri Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Human Resource Development.

The Scheme envisages Seven certificate levels with each certificate level with approximately 1000 hours each certificate, with each 1000 hours being made of certain number of hours for vocational competency based skill modules and the rest for general learning simultaneously integrated and providing a Diploma for vocational education after the certificate level five or leading to a Degree for vocational education after level seven in the university system, subject to their statutory approval, is highlight of the scheme.

A student can choose to avail of competency based skill learning along with general education in this scheme without losing the possibility of changing course and moving at any certificate level into a formal system of education and vice versa. This would ultimately provide a full multi-entry exist system between vocational education, general education and the job market.

AICTE would seek to provide the requisite statutory approvals to any institutions wishing to conduct these programmes from the Academic Year 2012 throughout the country. The institutions can choose a maximum of 500 students per institute in any five sectors, 100 students per sector.

This is expected to cater to at least 5 million students for vocational degree and diploma every year, which can provide self-employment or being meaningfully employed if even 1/3 of the institutions are approved to conduct these programmes.

NVEQF is a great initiative by MHRD that needs to be propagated and followed throughout the country that has a potential to increase the GER from 15 to double this value by the end of 2020, simultaneously providing meaningful employment.

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Uniform Accounting System for Educational Institutions

All educational institutes under the central government and those that get grants or approvals from central education regulators will be directed by the government to publish a balance sheet every year, starting 2013, to bring in more transparency to the sector. The educational institutes will follow a uniform accounting norm and disclose income and expenditure in a standard format similar to that of companies.

The standards and guidelines have been prepared by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), which has been accepted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

To evolve consensus, recommendations would be put before the Central Advisory Board of Education, a panel comprising experts, academicians and state education ministers. The ministry would be organizing consultations with higher educational institutions and schools on the recommendations of ICAI Committee.

The accounting standards would be made applicable to all Central educational institutions, universities under the regulatory ambit of UGC or receiving grants from UGC, technical institutions under regulatory ambit of AICTE, teacher education institutions under the regulatory ambit of NCTE and schools affiliated to CBSE.

ICAI has recommended that fund-based accounting may be introduced for earmarked/designated funds, all educational institutions should follow a common format for presentation of its general purpose financial statements to ensure proper accountability, financial discipline, end-use of funds and to meet the needs of stakeholders.

These recommendations would make accounting in educational standards more transparent and accountable. It is suggested that accounting standards should enable the society, student and citizen to define transparently the revenue earned through various sources – tuition fees and other charges, income from consultancy or from intellectual property owned by the institution (for higher educational institutions).

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