Universities Can Set Benchmarks Above AICTE
In a landmark judgement, the Supreme Court has recently ruled that the All India Council of Technical Education cannot restrict Universities and State Governments for adopting higher norms for quality assurance in the technical education sector. The Supreme Court was disposing of a petition filed by APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University ( KTU ) which challenged an order of the High Court of Kerala. The Court held that affiliating universities and State governments concerned can lay down additional norms, other than that what AICTE prescribe, to improve the quality of education in the engineering sector.
While allowing the appeal the Supreme Court struck down the order of the High Court that had directed the University to grant permission for new courses to certain self-financing engineering colleges since they had already obtained AICTE's approval to start new courses. The court observed that the AICTE can only insist that universities and State governments refrain from further diluting its norms. It cannot claim higher norms set by the universities as null and void. The court noted that AICTE was giving permission to colleges for starting new courses solely on the basis of a self-declaration submitted by the college online. However, on many occasions claims made in declarations have been found to be dubious, thereby affecting the quality of education offered.
The Supreme Court also observed that 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 regulations of AICTE are silent as to how students will get compensated. It is the Universities which are obliged to issue degrees and whose reputation is inextricably intertwined with the fate and performance of students, that may have to face the music and hence their role cannot be belittled.
The Supreme Court concluded that no State run University can afford to have a laid back attitude today when their own performance is being measured by international standards. Therefore the power of the Universities to prescribe enhanced norms and standards cannot be doubted. The Court rejected the observation of the High Court that a University syndicate cannot lay down new norms for granting permission to affiliated colleges for starting new courses only because the University statute was not in force when the syndicate took such a decision.