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Confusion Confounded

A Supreme Court order in 2017 had directed all deemed universities to not use the word “university”. Now a government panel has said that they should be allowed to use the word “university” to avoid confusion abroad

The government has been urged to consider allowing deemed universities to use the word “universities” to avoid confusion abroad. This request was made by a parliamentary panel on deemed universities. The committee was chaired by BJP Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe.

The committee said that the word “deemed” is not used in foreign countries. The Department of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports, in its report, said: “The committee has recommended that the government consider the demand for allowing deemed universities to use the word universities by amending Clause 23 of the UGC Act, 1956.”

The Act states that no institution other than a university established or incorporated by a central, provincial or state Act may use the word university. However, the term deemed university creates confusion abroad as there is no such concept in many parts of the world. The report also talked about streamlining the accreditation process in higher education institutions. The committee found that only 30% of universities and 20% of colleges in India are recognised. India has a long way to go as out of 50,000 colleges, less than 9,000 are accredited.

Submitting his report before the committee, K Sanjay Murthy, the Higher Education Secretary, said that the proposed Higher Education Commission of India would be involved in the field of accreditation. He told the committee that thus the roadmap is clearly defined and they were moving towards this process.

Other than this, a report of the National Education Policy 2022 also made the same recommendation in their report, “Review of education standards, accreditation process, research, examination reforms and academic environment in Deemed/Private Universities/other Higher Education Institutions”.

This sudden turn should be seen against a Supreme Court order on November 3, 2017, directing all deemed universities to no more use the word “university” in their names. The Court was listening to a case involving the entitlement of deemed universities to start engineering courses through distance mode and award degrees for the same. This decision of the apex court had come as a major blow for several universities.

There are 123 deemed universities in India, many seeking the status of full-fledged private universities. The Court further added that universities and institutes can award degrees, but cannot use the word “university” by virtue of Section 23 of the UGC Act.

Ravi Bhardwaj, a lawyer who represented deemed universities in Court, reportedly said: “I wish the Supreme Court, in this direction, had detailed and discussed these provisions of the UGC Act, 1956. I am surprised that the Court feels that deemed universities are unregulated, which is not the case.” 

After the Supreme Court order, the UGC ordered 123 deemed-to-be-universities to drop the word university from their names. Instead, the institutes may use the phrase “deemed-to-be-university” within parenthesis. The list includes the names of 123 deemed-to-be varsities like IIFT, Jamia Hamdard, BIT Mesra, Indian Institute of Science Bangalore, etc.

Citing the Supreme Court order of November 3, the education body said that the use of the word violates Section 23 of the UGC Act of 1956, which stipulates cases where using “university” is prohibited. Institutes that do not comply with the order will face action under the UGC (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2016. 

The Supreme Court observed under Para 51: “We must also put on record what we have observed during the course of the hearing and consideration of the present matters. It has come to the notice that many institutions which are conferred the status of Deemed to be university are using the word ‘University’, which in our view is opposed to the spirit of Section 23 of the UGC Act. The UGC shall take appropriate steps to such practice.

“The institutions are hereby directed to restrain from using the word ‘university’ with its name, failing which necessary action would be initiated in accordance with the UGC (institutions deemed-to-be-universities) Regulations, 2016. Instead, the Institution may mention the word ‘Deemed to be University’ within parenthesis.”

In those cases, where the Government of India notification has the word university, the deemed-to-be-university may submit a proposal with an alternative name (without using the word university) to the UGC/Ministry of HRD so that necessary amendment can be made, the UGC said in a letter on May 7, 2020. Failing this, necessary action would be initiated in accordance with the UGC (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2019.

Again keeping in view the provisions of the UGC Act, 1956, and directions from the Supreme Court, the UGC directed 127 institutions to restrain from using the word university and instead use “deemed to be University”. This includes their advertisements, website, website addresses, e-mail addresses, letterheads, communications, hoardings, etc.

Deemed university, or deemed-to-be-university, is an accreditation granted to higher educational institutions in India by the Department of Higher Education. To quote the Ministry of Education (MOE): “An Institution of Higher Education, other than universities, working at a very high standard in specific area of study, can be declared by the Central Government on the advice of the University Grants Commission (UGC), as an Institution ‘Deemed-to-be-university’. Institutions that are deemed-to-be-university enjoy the academic status and privileges of a university.”

The higher education system in India includes both private and public universities. Public universities are supported by the centre and state governments, while private universities are mostly supported by various bodies and societies. Universities in India are recognised by the UGC, which draws its power from the UGC Act, 1956.

In addition to this, there are 15 professional councils controlling different aspects of accreditation and coordination. The status of a deemed to be  university allows full autonomy in courses, syllabus, admissions and fees.

As of November 30, 2021, the UGC lists 126 institutes which were granted the deemed-to-be-university status. The first such institute was the Indian Institute of Science, on May 12, 1958. The state with the most deemed uni­versities is Tamil Nadu; it has 28 of them.

Section 12(B) of the UGC Act of 1956 also grants it the right to “allocate and disburse, out of the Fund of the Commission, grants to Universities”. As such, the UGC categorises institutes as either “declared fit to receive Central/ UGC assistance under Section 12(B) of the UGC Act–1956”, or not. Updates to these declarations are done in meetings of the UGC and published in the minutes.

Section 23 in the UGC Act, 1956, says: “No institution, whether a corporate body or not, other than a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act shall be entitled to have the word University associated with its name in any manner whatsoever: Provided that nothing in this section shall, for a period of two years from the commencement of this Act, apply to an institution which, immediately before such commencement, had the word University associated with its name.”

The latest list, published by the UGC on July 14, 2021, lists 47 institutes fit to receive central/UGC assistance. Other types of universities under the regulatory purview of the UGC include:

  • Central universities or Union universities established by an Act of Parliament and under the purview of the Department of Higher Education.
  • State universities are usually established by a state legislative assembly act.

Private universities though approved by the UGC and allowed to grant degrees, are not allowed to have off-campus affiliated colleges.

—By Adarsh Kumar and India Legal Bureau

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