A fight for the validity of Distance Education Degree

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has told the Punjab and Haryana High Court that degrees awarded to students under the distance education programme, examination for which were conducted by the university outside its territorial jurisdiction without the UGC permission, is illegal.

The UGC’s response came in a case wherein around 1,000 teachers of Punjab with such degrees were denied promotions by the government. The affected teachers had moved court in July.

The UGC referred to its communications to the universities in the past issued under the UGC (Establishment of and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities) Regulations, 2003, and submitted that the postgraduate degrees awarded by the universities at centres outside their territorial jurisdiction are illegal.

The High Court bench of justice Jaswant Singh, however, differed from UGC and observed that regulations did not point towards restraining/prohibiting state universities from imparting degrees through distant education mode for courses recognised by the commission, examinations for which were held outside their territorial jurisdiction.

“…What was prohibited was commercialisation of education through outsourcing by establishing the study centres or franchises outside the territorial jurisdiction of the universities concerned,” the high court bench said, adding, it was for the first time a specific stand had been taken by a university in a July 2016 communication.

The high court has now sought fresh reply from the UGC, preferably through its secretary, asking him to indicate rules and regulations, if any, requiring the universities to seek prior approval from the UGC for establishing exam centres outside state. The high court has also issued notice to Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla; Annamalai University and Madu Rai Kamraj University, Tamil Nadu.

A bunch of petitions were filed by affected teachers stating that their juniors have been promoted to lecturers in their respective streams of mathematics and commerce by ignoring their claims on the ground that they have obtained their postgraduate degrees through distant mode with exam centres outside the state. Following the petitions, the high court had stayed 2,200 promotions of teachers in Punjab government schools. The government notification on promotions was stayed on July 14.

The School Education Department had earlier prepared a list of 2,200 government school teachers to promote them from master-cadre post to lecturer on the basis of their master’s degree. However, the claim for promotion of over 1,000 master-cadre teachers has been rejected on grounds of their distance-education degrees.

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