On 23.06.2017, UGC notified the UGC [Open and Distance Learning] Regulations, which was notified after 4 years of publication of the ODL Draft Regulations in 2013. Within 6 days it had to issue a clarification that notwithstanding the prohibition contained the ODL Regulations, Universities which were given recognition for the year 2017-18, shall continue to admit students. Thereafter, taking cognizance of the technical difficulty in operationalising the Regulations for the year 2017-18, UGC decided to suspend these Regulations for the academic year 2017-18 and make it operational only from 2018-19.
Regressively, the Regulations dealt a big blow to the Standalone Institutions. Regulation 19 of the UGC Regulations prescribed that they cannot admit students beyond the academic year 2016-17, which meant they were asked to shut down.
However, some of the standalone Institutions challenged the legality and validity of the Regulation 19 of the UGC [Open and Distance Learning] Regulations, 2017 interalia seeking interim relief that they should be allowed to continue admitting students for the academic year 2017-18. It was prayed to the Court that it should direct Government of India and UGC to consider constituting, Distance Educational Council of India, which was recommended by the Madhav Menon Committee.
The High Court after hearing the Petitioners, allowed the Interim Relief of the Standalone Institutions and permitted them to admit students for the academic year 2017-18. The Respondent Government of India and UGC during the hearing also informed the Court that they are considering to amend the UGC [Open and Distance Learning] Regulations, 2017.
In terms of submissions made before the High Court, UGC has notified the University Grants Commission (Open and Distance Learning) (First Amendment) Regulations, 2017, thereby amending the Regulation 19 to give effect to the order of the Hon’ble High Court, to say:
“ ….. Certificates or Diplomas or Post Graduate Diplomas awarded by the Standalone Institutions which also have been approved by the Commission based on the policies of the then Distance Education Council of the Indira Gandhi National Open University for running Open and Distance Learning programmes till the academic year 2016-17 shall remain valid programmes in the field of Open and Distance Learning mode of education till the academic session 2017-18 and thereafter they shall be free to get converted their Standalone Institution status to University or Deemed to be University for the purpose of these Open and Distance Learning regulations, failing which, the Commission shall not accord any approval to the Open and Distance Learning programmes of Standalone Institutions.”
However, the breathing life for another academic year 2017-18 has come with the same rider as earlier, that the Standalone Institutions shall get converted to University failing which, the Commission shall not accord any approval to the Open and Distance Learning programmes of Standalone Institutions.
The High Court shall hear the matter further on 18.12.2017.
The Regulations are also contrary to the “Right of Equality” enshrined in Article 14 of the Constitution, as neither there is any rationale nor there is any intelligible differentia in discriminating between a Central / State / Private University, a Deemed to be University, on one side and a Standalone Institution, on another side imparting education through Distance mode. Further, the decision of barring Standalone Institutions from imparting education through Distance mode has no nexus with the object sought to be achieved by the ODL Regulations 2017, in fact it frustrates the object.
Standalone Institutions like in Distance Education have historically been part of different educational streams in our country like Management, Nursing, Pharmacy and are managed by different statutory authorities created under different statutes and, therefore, there is no reason why “Standalone Institutions” cannot be allowed to participate in the ODL system, like others.University Grants Commission (Open and Distance Learning) (First Amendment) Regulations, 2017