Supreme Court

Supreme Court (SC) Requests Information on Distant Learning Programs in Response to a UGC Petition

A letter issued by UGC required all state universities to stop all forms of off-campus/ study centres/ affiliated colleges or centres operating through franchises beyond their territorial limits.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday enquired about distance learning courses offered by state universities beyond their territorial limits after a petition filed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) objected to the validity of the degrees offered to students who enrolled in such courses after 2015.

With the fate of several students relying on it, the Madras high court on January 20 passed an order where it upheld the UGC circular issued in August 2015 that directed Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu and other private universities offering distance learning courses not to enrol students beyond the territorial limits of the state.

The universities separately challenged this curriculum in the high court where interim orders were passed from time to time, protecting the admissions. But in the final order of January 20, the HC ruled in favour of the UGC but protected those students who had already enrolled in distance learning courses under interim orders passed from time to time.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for UGC along with advocate Apoorv Kurup, said that once the UGC circular has been upheld, the admissions could not be declared valid as the interim orders would be subject to the final outcome of the petitions filed by individual universities.

The bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia agreed to examine the matter and issued notices to Annamalai University. Indira Gandhi National Open University, the Tamil Nadu government and several other private universities offering open distance learning across the country.

The court, while issuing notice, wished to know which course these students had enrolled in. Mehta informed the SC that professional degree courses such as engineering cannot be taught through distance learning.

“Having actually upheld the powers of the petitioner (UGC) to make regulations that restrict the universities from operating distance learning programmes beyond the boundaries of their respective state, the high court could not have validated the degrees awarded to the students concerned on the ground that the students have interim orders in their favour,” the UGC stated in its petition.

The HC in its order held, “We hasten to add that this shall not affect the students who have already undergone the courses pursuant to the interim orders of this Court.. the students who have been enrolled in programmes under the protection of interim orders of this Court will stand protected and their degrees will be valid.”

The UGC claimed that its 2015 circular was based on a judgement of the Supreme Court in a 2005 case titled ‘Professor Yashpal vs the State of Chhattisgarh ‘ where the court held that the territorial jurisdiction of state universities is limited to their territorial boundaries.

The letter issued by UGC required all state universities to stop all forms of off-campus/study centres/ affiliated colleges or centres operating through franchises beyond their territorial limits.

The UGC claimed that the HC erred in upholding the enrollments and the degrees of students who have completed their courses since the universities had wrongfully admitted students without being granted recognition for the course offered in the distance learning mode.

(Source: Hindustan Times)

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