Autonomous Institutions; Rajagiri College of Social Sciences Vs. M.G. University [Kerala High Court, 29-07-2016]

University Grants Commission (UGC) – Autonomous College – Approval of the Courses – General matters starting of new courses – Even with respect to the academic aspect, an autonomous institution is obliged to follow Section 118 and get approval from the University. When such approval is granted by the Board of Studies, on the basis of an examination of the course content and syllabus as approved by the Governing Council of the institution, then directing the Institution to get a further affiliation would be reintroducing the rigmarole, sought to be avoided.


IN THE HIGH COURT OF KERALA AT ERNAKULAM

K. VINOD CHANDRAN, J.

W.P(C). No.22824 of 2016-C

Dated this the 29th day of July, 2016

PETITIONER(S)

THE PRINCIPAL, RAJAGIRI COLLEGE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES, RAJAGIRI VALLEY P.O., KAKKANAD, COCHIN-682 039.

BY SRI.KURIAN GEORGE KANNANTHANAM, SENIOR ADVOCATE. ADVS. SRI.TONY GEORGE KANNANTHANAM, SRI.THOMAS GEORGE, SRI.ALEX GEORGE (CHAMAPPARAYIL).

RESPONDENT(S)

1. M.G. UNIVERSITY, REPRESENTED BY ITS REGISTRAR, PRIYADARSHINI HILLS, KOTTAYAM-686 365.

2. THE REGISTRAR, MAHATMA GANDHI UNIVERSITY, PRIYADARSHINI HILLS, KOTTAYAM-686 365.

3. THE VICE CHANCELLOR, M.G. UNIVERSITY, PRIYADARSHINI HILLS, KOTTAYAM-686 365.

BY ADV. ASOK M. CHERIAN, SC.

JUDGMENT

The petitioner seeks for approval of the courses as proposed by Ext.P2. The petitioner is an autonomous college who was granted that status as per Ext.P2 order in the year 2014, by the University Grants Commission (UGC); commencing from the academic year 2014-15. While the petitioner was continuing so, an application was made for five new courses, by Ext.P3, the details of which are as follows:

1. BBA – (40 seats) as per the existing scheme & syllabus of MG University.

2. B.Com Model-I (Finance & Taxation) – 40 seats as per the modified syllabus.

3. B.Com Model II (Vocational – Finance & Taxation) -40 seats as per the modified syllabus.

4. B.Sc Psychology – Model II – 30 seats as per the modified syllabus.

5. M.Sc Psychology -20 seats as per the modified syllabus.

2. The petitioner’s proposal went through the University but however, neither order of approval permitting commencement of the courses, has been received as yet nor has the University rejected the proposal, in which circumstance, the learned Senior Counsel appearing for the petitioner relies on the UGC Norms and Chapter 9 of the Mahatma Gandhi University Act, 1985 introduced by the University Laws 3 rd Amendment Ordinance 2014 to urge a deemed approval.

3. The learned Standing Counsel for the University however contends that there is an anomaly in the deeming provision as available in Section 118 of Chapter IX. The University had been quick to place the proposal before the Board Of Studies for consideration. Further, despite the fact that the petitioner is an autonomous Institution,they would have to comply with the provisions of the First Statutes and make a formal application for affiliation, argues the learned Standing Counsel.

4. The learned Senior Counsel counters that the University itself had proceeded on the premise that no affiliation is required in the earlier year, when approval was granted with only a demand of affiliation fees. The learned Senior Counsel relies on Ext.P13 produced along with a Memo, which is the approval for the previous year.

5. The autonomous status has been granted by the UGC, to promote academic excellence as is seen from Ext.P2 itself. The UGC considers such grant based on the “Guidelines for Autonomous Colleges issued by the University Grants Commission”, which has application during the XIIth Plan period, ie: between 2012-2017. The said guidelines, based on the National Policy of Education, speaks of conferment of autonomous status, criteria for identification of institutions for such grant, pattern of financial assistance and even the governance of an autonomous college, which is akin to the governance of a University with a Governing Body, Academic Council, Board of Studies and a Finance Committee in that order of hierarchy.

6. Under the heading “General matters starting of new courses” the guidelines speak of an autonomous college being enabled to start a new degree or post graduate course with the approval of the Academic Council of the College fulfilling the minimum standards of the University/UGC. A diploma or certificate course can be commenced without the approval of the University but the certificates are to be issued in the name of the College. This indicates an autonomy in deciding an academic program, not available in the conventional stream; alive to the contemporary needs of education and employment.

7. As to the degree courses with which we are concerned now, the approval for starting a new course has to be obtained from the Academic Council of the College and the condition only is that such courses shall fulfill the minimum standards prescribed by the University/UGC in terms of the number of hours, curriculum content and standards. The guidelines in fact prescribe only that the University shall be duly informed of such courses with respect to the award of degrees. This is because the parent University is conferred with the power to award such degrees, but however the certificate would show the name of the College. This indicates the University not endorsing the degree awarded as such; but for lending its name insofar as ensuring a certain minimum standard. Beyond that, the quality of the programme and the excellence in application, would have to be tested on the basis of the professionals send out; which in turn would build a reputation for the institution and the respective programmes.

8. The academic standards maintained would be the sole responsibility of the College and the degrees and awards would also be known by such standards maintained by the individual autonomous institutions. It is also specified that the examinations would be conducted by the autonomous institutions and the results also published by them. The marks would be forwarded to the University and the University is obliged to grant the degree within a period of 45 days from the date of such communication of results. The autonomous status however, does not give absolute financial autonomy and is confined to academic autonomy.

9. The guidelines so read would indicate that the UGC essentially is aiming at decentralisation of the structured curriculum education, enabling higher standards in the autonomous institutions, since in the present circumstances, often, the University is unable to give individual attention to the affiliated Colleges. This de-centralisation would also ensure the course completion in the duration prescribed for the course, publication of results within time and the grant of degrees and diplomas with expedition; which again is a problem the various Universities in the Country, currently face; by reason only of the enormity of the number of students and the varied courses conducted.

10. In accordance with the decision of the UGC to permit autonomous institutions; Chapter IX was introduced into the Act, more or less incorporating the terms in the guidelines. Specific reference is made to Section 118, regarding the powers of the University over autonomous colleges. Sub-section (1) of Section 118 speaks of the power of the University over the autonomous colleges as are applicable to any affiliated College, subject to the provisions of that Chapter and the provisions of the Statutes, Ordinances, Regulations, Byelaws and Rules. Sub-section (2) speaks of an approval and recommendation of the Council of an autonomous college, with respect to any academic programme submitted to the University, which has to be placed by the University, before the Board of Studies of the University. The first proviso enables the University to constitute a Board of Studies or an Expert Committee, if with respect to a particular academic programme proposed and recommended by a college Council, is not available in the University. The second proviso provides for the Expert Committee to have enough number of members to facilitate a fair and objective assessment of the academic programme. Subsection (3) mandates that the Board of Studies or the Expert Committee, shall within 30 working days from the date of receipt of the proposal, consider the proposal and approve, reject or return the same with remarks to the Vice Chancellor. The first proviso to subsection (3) specifies the grounds on which such rejection shall be made. The second proviso is a deeming provision, which enables the autonomous college to consider the academic programme having been approved by the University; if the decision of the Board of Studies has not been communicated within 30 working days.

11. The learned Standing Counsel for the University banks on the time prescribed in subsection (3) and the second proviso to point out an anomaly, which makes the deeming provision unworkable and impractical, according to him. Thirty days time is provided for the Board of Studies to decide upon a proposal, from the date of receipt of the proposal and the communication by the University, regarding the decision taken has also to be made within the said 30 days. This in most circumstances would create a stalemate and the University would be faced with the prospect of the deeming provision being relied on in the majority of cases, contends the University.

12. A reading of the provision would definitely indicate that it is incongruous, but it should always be the effort of this Court to harmoniously interpret such provisions, so as to avoid conflict or incongruity and adopt a construction which does not render either of them inoperative or redundant. Even if the University does not communicate a rejection order within 30 working days, there is a definite mandate cast on the University, to place the proposal before the Board of Studies and ensure consideration of the approval within 30 working days from the date of receipt of the proposal. On attempting a harmonious construction, any claim under the deeming provision could be successfully averted by the University if such a decision of the Board of Studies is brought on record, which evidences the decision taken, to be within the specified 30 working days.

13. The next contention raised by the learned Standing Counsel is that the petitioner has not made any application for affiliation in the format prescribed under Chapter XXIII of the Mahatma Gandhi University First Statutes, which is anchored on the language of subsection (1) of Section 118 of the Act, which reads as under:-

“118(1). Subject to the provisions of this Chapter and the provisions of the Statutes, Ordinances, Regulations, Bye-laws and Rules made thereunder, the University shall have all other powers over the Autonomous Colleges as are applicable to any affiliated College of the University under this Act, the Statutes, Ordinances and the Regulations made thereunder.”

14. The contention raised is specifically that since the autonomous colleges are subject to the provisions of Chapter IX of the Act and the other provisions of the Statutes, Ordinances, Regulations, Bye-laws and Rules, the norms of affiliation prescribed under Chapter XXIII of the First Statutes would necessarily have to complied with. A separate application in the format prescribed, would have to be made for every new course started and there ought to be an inspection conducted before an affiliation as such is granted.

15. Looking at the UGC guidelines and Chapter IX newly introduced into the Act, this Court is unable to countenance such a contention. That would be a retrograde measure directly in conflict with the envisioned progressive device of de-centralisation attempted by the scheme for autonomy. A plain reading of sub-section (1) of Section 118 as extracted herein above would indicate that autonomous colleges and affiliated Colleges are treated different and distinct by the Statute; as is the intention disclosed from the Guidelines of the UGC also. The words employed in the above extracted sub-section would indicate that the University would have powers over ‘the autonomous colleges as are applicable to any affiliated colleges’, which, on a plain interpretation, would indicate that both are treated distinct and different.

16. What is discernible is that the other provisions of the Statutes regarding control over the functioning; except on the academic aspect would be available to the University. Even with respect to the academic aspect, an autonomous institution is obliged to follow Section 118 and get approval from the University. When such approval is granted by the Board of Studies, on the basis of an examination of the course content and syllabus as approved by the Governing Council of the institution, then directing the Institution to get a further affiliation would be reintroducing the rigmarole, sought to be avoided. The interpretation can only be this; since, as noticed above, the University does not in fact give an approval with respect to the standards of the academic programme adopted by the institution, with even the certificate indicating the name of the autonomous institution in which the student has undertaken the course and from which he/she has passed out.

17. On the above declaration of law, the facts in the above case have to be looked into. The petitioner institution applied for an approval as per Ext.P3 dated 18.11.2015 as noticed above, for four new courses and one additional batch. The statement of the University indicates that the proposal of the Institution was considered by the Board of Studies on 15.12.2015. Hence, the approval was considered within the 30 working days and a communication was issued on 08.01.2016, which is produced as Ext.P5. Ext.P5 speaks of 3 courses, B.Com Model I (Finance & Taxation), B.Com Model I (Computer Application) and B.Com Model II (Vocational Finance & Taxation). We are concerned here, only with the first and last courses mentioned in Ext.P5.A modification was suggested by the Board of Studies of the University.

18. Pausing here for a moment, it is to be noticed that there was no decision taken on BBA, which permits the petitioner institution to avail of the benefit of the deeming provision as found in Section 118(3), second proviso. With respect to B.Sc. Psychology and M.Sc. Psychology also, there was no decision taken by the Board of Studies as per Ext.P5. However, subsequently the University has issued Ext.P7, directing the institution to adopt the existing scheme and syllabus of M.G. University for the said courses in Psychology. The learned Senior Counsel submits that by Ext.P8 communication, the college agreed to adopt the suggestion of the University. In such circumstance, there need be no impediment for approval of B.Sc. Psychology and M.Sc. Psychology and the BBA course is deemed to have been approved.

19. What remains is B.Com Model I and B.Com Model II sought for in Ext.P3, one as a new course and the other with an additional batch. The Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Studies on 15.12.2015 as is indicated at Ext.P5 indicates that the Board of Studies had suggested a different syllabus for B.Com Model I (Finance & Taxation). With respect to B.Com Model II (Vocational Finance & Taxation), there was a comment made at paragraph 6 in the Minutes, which reads as under:

“6. Regarding B.Com Model II (Vocational Finance & Taxation) syllabi sequencing of Optional papers under Semester 3,4,5,6 are not logical and needs to be revised.”

20. The entire suggestions made by the University were accepted by Ext.P8 dated 18.02.2016. Then a query was raised by the University, as to the approval of the academic programmes by the Governing Council, which was responded to by Ext.P11, wherein the decision of the Governing Council was forwarded to the University. However, the University has not taken any decision and by the statement filed in the above case, the University speaks of a affiliation required for the courses.

21. It has already been found that there is no requirement for an affiliation, since an affiliated College and an autonomous college are treated differently by the Act itself. The only stipulation is that the autonomous colleges are subject to the various provisions of the Statutes, Ordinances, Regulations, Rules and Bye-laws and such powers can be exercised by the University, similar to those exercised on affiliated colleges.

22. In such circumstance, Ext.P12 proposal dated 02.06.2016 having not been acted upon by the University and no decision having been taken by the Board of Studies and also for reason of the Institution having accepted all the suggestions made by the Board of Studies of the University, the five courses are to be deemed to have been approved. The University shall issue approval orders and any affiliation fees directed to be paid would be satisfied by the petitioner-institution. The order of approval shall be issued within a period of two weeks from the date of receipt of the certified copy of this judgment and the autonomous institution shall be permitted to commence the course from this academic year, ie. 2016-2017.