UGC's ban on state varsities operating outside state when offering distance learning courses upheld by Madras HC

The court made it clear that there is no bar on students from outside the state enrolling in such programmes provided the activities of such universities do not span beyond the state
File photo of Madras High Court | (Pic: Express)
File photo of Madras High Court | (Pic: Express)

Recently, the Madras High Court upheld UGC regulation that mandates that the state universities, which are both private and government-funded, can undertake activities only within the territorial jurisdiction of their respective states while providing distance education. However, the court made it clear that enrolling in such programmes by students from outside the state is not prohibited, so long as the activities of such universities do not go beyond the state, stated a report by Bar and Bench.

While the universities established by the state enactment and other private universities may accept students from outside the state, the court said that their other operations, such as the establishment of learner support centres and conduct of the examination, must only take place within the state. A Bench of Justices R Subramanian and K Kumaresh Babu passed a judgement on January 20 that allowed the UGC's appeal against a 2013 High Court order that had quashed the UGC's 2012 decision to impose such regulations, as reported by Bar and Bench.

The court has now held that the UGC must be given "primacy" in matters of University education. "The right and primacy of the University Grants Commission to impose Regulations for conduct of distance education programmes are upheld. We hasten to add that this shall not affect the students who have already undergone the courses pursuant to the interim orders of this Court," the judgment stated.

After petitions were filed by several private universities across Tamil Nadu, including Annamalai University, the 2013 order of the High Court under the appeal had been passed on. During the hearing of the appeal, the court was told by the UGC that following the 2013 order, the UGC formulated two regulations. One regulation in 2017 and the other in 2020, to the effect, that the territorial jurisdiction of state universities (both government-funded and private) will be as per their Acts and Statutes, but not beyond the boundaries of their respective states, stated the Bar and Bench report.

The regulations by the UGC imposed eligibility criteria on state universities. This was for offering programmes involving distance learning within the state and 
prohibited distance learning courses through private franchisee arrangements. It was also noted by the court that the UGC's subsequent regulations were not challenged by the state universities. The court also noted that the respondent universities had conceded that the UGC had the power to formulate and implement such regulations. The court then went on to highlight that priority has been given to the UGC in this matter of university education by the University Grants Commission Act, stated the report by Bar and Bench.

As a result, the court decided that while private universities and those established by state enactments may accept students from outside the state, their other activities, such as providing learning centres through open or distance learning programmes, must be within the territorial jurisdiction of the concerned state.

The judgement will not have an impact on the students who are currently enrolled in distance learning programmes and the degrees will be valid for students who have completed their education in these programmes said the court, stated the Bar and Bench repor

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