The Supreme Court which was deciding a case involving the entitlement of the Deemed Universities to start courses through distance education in subjects leading to award of degrees in Engineering, has dealt a severe blow, to Deemed Universities, and restrained them from using the word “University”.
The Supreme while declaring that without the Guidelines having been issued in that behalf by AICTE expressly permitting degree courses in Engineering through distance education mode, the Deemed to be Universities were not justified in introducing such courses has passed a series of directions, and one of them is that restrain Deemed to be Universities from using the word ‘University’.
During the hearing, of the above-mentioned matter regarding entitlement of Deemed University to start Distance Education Courses, it was argued by Mr. Maninder Singh, learned Additional Solicitor General appearing for UGC that inclusive definition of “University” in UGC Act was in a completely different and limited context and the idea was essentially to recognize Deemed to be University for the purposes of funding and that such Deemed to be University is not a University for all purposes. He also placed reliance on Section 23 to submit that a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act alone is entitled to have the word “University” associated with its name which again signified the distinction between a University established or incorporated under a legislation as against a Deemed to be University.
Section 23 of the UGC Act, 1956 reads as below:
No institution, whether a corporate body or not, other than a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act shall be entitled to have the word “University” associated with its name in any manner whatsoever:
Provided that nothing in this section shall, for a period of two years from the commencement of this Act, apply to an institution which, immediately before such commencement, had the word “University” associated with its name.
The Hon’ble Court on analysis of Section 3 of UGC Act, 1956 was of the view that UGC Act,1956 empowers conferring Deemed to be University status on an Institution which has achieved excellence in its chosen field so that its development in the concerned field and its attempts to attain excellence and conduct research. The Court also felt that it is precisely for this reason that there is a distinction between a regular University established under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act and an Institution Deemed to be University is maintained in the UGC Act.
On the issue of usage of the University by the Deemed University, the Court took a strong view that a Deemed to be University can certainly award degrees but cannot use the word “University” by virtue of Section 23 of the UGC Act and even after conferral of “Deemed University” status it still continues to be “an Institution Deemed to be University”. Surprisingly the Court also felt that if the Deemed University is equated with a University it would lead to incoherent and incongruous results, in its area of operation or the field of its activity would be completely unlimited and unregulated.
The Court drawing distinction between a Deemed University and a Regular University, observed that conceptually there is some difference between the status of a University established under a State law and that of a Deemed to be University. Normally, a University is established with an idea that particular areas or districts of the State need to be catered to. Such University is expected to satisfy the needs or aspirations of people in the area for education and correspondingly empowered to initiate new courses, keeping in tune with the needs of time. The expectations from a Deemed to be University are of a different dimension. What is expected is excellence, research and advancement in its chosen field for which such status was accorded. There is no embargo on such Deemed to be University in entering new areas of education or introducing new courses but in that case, it can’t demand or receive complete relaxation from regulatory regime. It must satisfy all those requirements which a normal institution is required to.
The Court therefore finally held that using the word “University” by institutions which are conferred the status of Deemed to be Universities is opposed to the spirit of Section 23 of the UGC Act and it also directed UGC to take appropriate steps to stop such practice and implement Section 23 of the UGC Act and restrain Deemed to be Universities from using the word ‘University’ within one month.
This debate around Deemed Universities using the word “University” has been quite long. Initially, they were permitted to use “Institution Deemed to be University” as suffix, later, vide communication dated September 13, 2006 the UGC permitted all deemed universities in the country to use the term university’ instead of deemed university.
However, a PIL / Writ Petition came to be filed in Delhi High Court questioning the practice of Deemed Universities using the word “University”. UGC appeared in the matter and informed the Delhi High Court that it had decided to withdraw the permission for deemed universities to use the word “University”.
After the disposal of the matter before the Delhi High Court, UGC directed all the Deemed Universities to withdraw the word “University” from their name, which challenged by Vellore Institute of Technology, SRM and Sathyabhama University in Madras High Court and Manipal University in Karnataka High Court. In both the matters, Interim Order was granted in favour of the Deemed Universities. In fact in Karnataka High Court, final judgement has also been passed in favour of Manipal University.
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I respectfully disagree with the Judgement of the Supreme Court. Perhaps, the Supreme Court was not apprised of the merger provision in Section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956 which provides that once a Deemed University is declared, then all the provision of UGC Act, 1956 shall apply on such Deemed University. So, if a 2[f] University can use the word University, a Section 3 University [Deemed University] can also use the word “University”.
Moreover, Section 23 of the UGC Act, 1956 which has been cited to pass the restraining direction, itself permits the Universities, which are so established by / under a Central or State Act, to use the word “University”. A Deemed University is established “under” Section of UGC Act, 1956, which is a Central Act.
I wish the Supreme Court while this direction, should have detailed and discussed these provisions of UGC Act, 1956. I am also surprised to note that the Supreme Court feels that the Deemed Universities are unregulated, which is not the case, in fact they are the most regulated rather controlled segment.
I do not think, the Deemed Universities by any provision of the UGC Act, 1956 is not entitled to use the “University”, however, we have to abide the Judgement unless re-visited.
Ravi Bhardwaj | firstname.lastname@example.org