In a landmark Judgement, Delhi High Court has ruled that Deemed Universities though established by a Notification u/s 3 of the UGC Act, 1956 is to be treated at par with other Universities which are established statutes of Central / State Government.
The High Court has also held that UGC Act, 1956 does not bar a deemed university from commencing any new course / programme of study or from establishing any new department i.e. other than the one in which a deemed university is already imparting education at the time of being notified as a deemed university, to confer degrees specified in Notifications under Section 22(3).
The High Court was hearing a challenge by a Deemed University to communication by UGC that it had never granted any permission / approval to the University to start certain Departments and that as per the UGC norms a deemed university can on its own start only those courses which are allied to courses already approved by the UGC and that for all those courses which are not allied to the courses already approved with prior approval of UGC is required. UGC had also directed the University not to admit students.
It was argued by the University that there is no provision in the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 which requires an institution, once conferred the status of deemed University, to seek prior approval of the UGC for starting a course / programme. It was also argued that neither the 1992 Guidelines nor the 2000 Guidelines formulated by the UGC for declaring an institution as deemed university also included any provision / condition requiring deemed university to obtain prior approval to start Programmes / Courses / Departments.
UGC contended that 2000 Guidelines required deemed universities to submit proposals for starting various academic courses. Similarly 2004 Guidelines “for establishing of new departments within the Campus, setting up of Off-Campus Center(s) / Institution(s) / Off- shore Campus and starting Distance Education Programmes by the Deemed Universities” also provided inter alia that the deemed universities intending to open a new department in its campus or an Off-Campus Centre / Institution shall approach the UGC at least six months prior to opening of such center and that the deemed universities desirous of introducing a new Course / Programme in a professional subject shall comply with all the requirements of the Statutory Professional Councils and obtain their approval before approaching UGC.
It was emphatically submitted that UGC is empowered by Section 12(j) of the Act to perform such other functions as may be prescribed or as may be deemed necessary for advancing the cause of higher education in India or as may be incidental or conducive to the discharge of its functions and in exercise of which powers, had issued the Guidelines aforesaid. UGC also said that it is entitled to treat deemed Universities as a separate and distinct class and to require them to seek prior approval before starting new Courses/Departments, because deemed Universities are fundamentally different from Universities; while a University is established under a Central or a State Act and does not require recommendations of the UGC, a deemed University is not so established and requires recommendation of the University to function as a University.
The Hon’ble Court rejected the contention of UGC, that Section 22 prohibits deemed Universities from setting up a new department or commencing a new course or programme and held that once an institution of higher education has been declared as a deemed University, it can confer the degrees specified in the notifications issued in exercise of power under Section 22(3) and the said Section cannot be read as restricting the right of a deemed University to confer degrees only in those courses/programmes in which it was imparting education in at the time of being declared a University.
The Court also categorically observed that UGC Act, 1956 does not contain any distinction between a university established or incorporated by a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act and a deemed university. Rather, Section 3 of the Act, as aforesaid, expressly provides that an institution of high education once declared and notified as a deemed university shall be treated as if a university as defined in Section 2(f) of the Act.
Having settled this position of law, the Court proceeded to examine, whether the Act empowers the UGC to impose any such condition on deemed Universities, as was done vide Guidelines of 2000 and 2004?
The Court though generally while interpreting powers and functions of UGC of determination of standards in Universities observed that it certainly includes within its sweep a provision requiring Universities / deemed Universities to obtain approval or prior approval for commencing a new course/programme or for establishing a new department.
The Court on reading of Section 12 of the Act held that UGC could not have in exercise of powers under Section 12 issued a direction / Guideline prohibiting deemed Universities from establishing new department or commencing new programme / course, as Section 12 anything done under Section 12 is to be done in consultation with Universities. The Court noted that it is not the case of UGC that the directives / Guidelines on which it relies to contend that it had prohibited deemed Universities from commencing new course / programme or from establishing new department were issued in consultation with deemed Universities.
The Court thus held that said Guidelines / directives thus cannot be held to be in accordance with Section 12 and thus are of no avail and UGC could not have insisted requiring the deemed Universities to obtain its prior approval before commencing a new course on basis of Guidelines.
The Court though held that it can be done on basis of Regulations, which UGC has framed in year 2010. However, the Court also held that 2010 Regulations have not been given retrospective effect the same could not have prejudiced the new departments established or new courses/programmes commenced by the deemed University and in establishing/commencing which the deemed University spent considerable effort and money and/or the students admitted thereto or had been conferred degrees thereunder.
The Court eventually felt that subject University is entitled to the declaration that the new departments established by it and the new courses commenced by it (to confer degrees specified in Notifications under Section 22(3) of the UGC Act) prior to coming into force on 21st May, 2010 of the 2010 Regulations are valid. However any course commenced by the petitioner University after the coming into force on 21st May, 2010 of the 2010 Regulations and without obtaining the prior approval of the UGC shall be invalid.
I wish the Petitioners and the Respondents, would have equally pointed out to the Court that Regulations of 2010 is also under litigation and its constitutional validity has been challenged. We would have been entitled by some adjudicatory observations in this case as well.
This Judgement is going to have huge bearing in the cases, wherein UGC has recently issued Notice to 10 Deemed Universities asking them to shut thier off-campuses. This Judgement basically nullifies the notice.