The All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) regulations which prescribe grant of approval to colleges via online mode are silent on how to compensate students who enrol in such colleges and later find that they do not have adequate infrastructure or meet the criteria mandated by AICTE, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.
The Court noted that though AICTE has reserved the power to take penal action against colleges for false online declarations, such penal action does not serve any purpose for the students who get admitted to colleges that have necessary infrastructure only on paper and not on site.
“The Regulations of the AICTE are silent as to how the students will get compensated when penal action is taken against colleges which host false information online in their applications to AICTE,” the Court observed.
The three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde and Justice AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian also held that it is open to universities to prescribe enhanced norms beyond what has been laid down by the AICTE. However, they cannot dilute the standards and norms prescribed by AICTE.
The observations were made in a case relating to denial of recognition to a new course proposed by a private engineering college, Jai Bharat College of Management and Engineering Technology.
The new course “Artificial Intelligence and Data Science” was proposed to be introduced this academic year. The AICTE had approved the same on June 13, but the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University, under which the college fell, denied the approval. The APJ Abdul Kalam University was a statutory creation established by the Kerala government in 2015 to regulate technical education in the State.
The university’s decision to deny permission for the new course was also based on a Kerala government order of June 2019, which prescribed additional criteria for starting new engineering courses.
The college challenged the government order and the decision of the university before the Kerala High Court. A single judge granted partial relief to the college while a Division Bench granted full relief holding that a University cannot go beyond the AICTE regulations.
The led to the APJ Abdul Kalam University moving the Supreme Court in appeal.
The Supreme Court, placing reliance on a slew of its earlier judgments, ruled that while it is not open to the Universities to dilute the norms and standards prescribed by AICTE, it is always available to the Universities to define enhanced criteria.
“This Court held in Bharathidasan University and Another vs. All India Council for Technical Education and Others, that AICTE is not a superpower with a devastating role undermining the status, authority and autonomous functioning of the Universities in areas and spheres assigned to them,” the order said.
The Court also felt compelled to make observations about AICTE’s shortcomings after the AICTE filed an affidavit supporting the college.
“Quiet, unfortunately, the AICTE has filed a counter-affidavit before this Court supporting the case of the first Respondent College and branding the fixation of different norms and conditions by the University as unwarranted. Such a stand on the part of the AICTE has compelled us to take note of certain developments that have taken place after 2012 on the AICTE front,” it stated.
The applications for extension of approvals are processed by AICTE only online, merely based on the colleges’ self-disclosure in their online applications, the Court noted. If all infrastructural facilities as prescribed by AICTE are found to be available on paper (whether available at the site or not), the AICTE grants extension of approval, it added.
“The position ever since 2012 has been that all applications for approval/extension of approval are processed by AICTE only online. Though AICTE has reserved to itself the power to conduct inspections and take penal action against colleges for false declarations, such penal action does not mean anything and does not serve any purpose for the students who get admitted to colleges that have necessary infrastructure only on paper and not on-site,” the judgment said.
The court opined that ultimately, the universities that are obliged to issue degrees and whose reputation is inextricably intertwined with the students’ fate and performance, who may have to face the music and hence their role could not be belittled. Thus, no State-run university can afford to have a laidback attitude today when international standards measure their performance. Therefore, the power of the universities to prescribe enhanced norms and standards cannot be doubted.
Therefore, it allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of Kerala High Court, and upheld the decisions taken by the university.