Kolkata High Court Prevents NUJS from Discontinuing Online Course for Already Enrolled Students

The Calcutta High Court Monday retained the National University of Legal Sciences of West Bengal (NUJS) to discontinue the online courses it launched in 2012 for students already enrolled and further considered that degrees and diplomas awarded upon completion of the courses would be deemed to have been issued with the approval of the Scholarship Commission academics.

Around 2012, NUJS had decided to launch online courses on various topics and for proper administration of these courses required the help of a facilitator – an organization called Ipleaders. Subsequently, IPleaders and NUJS reached an agreement between them regarding the distribution of work and responsibilities and the sharing of income generated by students.

Subsequently, many students enrolled in these courses which continued until September 2018. However, these online courses did not receive the approval of the University Grants Commission, therefore the committee executive of the NUJS took the decision on September 29, 2018 to stop the courses.

Subsequently, the aggrieved students had filed a motion for an order against the decision to interrupt the courses which was rejected by the impugned order of a single judge dated March 1, 2019.

A bench comprising Judge Subhendu Samanta and Justice IP Mukerji felt that it would be unfair to interrupt classes and therefore stressed,

In our opinion, at this stage, it would be very inequitable and unfair to de-recognize the course, cancel it and refund the fees directly. Since, on the representation of the University, the students had undertaken this method of study and thus changed their position, the doctrine of promissory estoppel would prevent the University from canceling this course. It would also prevent the University Grants Commission from de-recognizing it.”

The Court further recognized that the NUJS is a leading institute at the national level for the conduct of legal studies and that the degrees and other qualifications issued by it are of high value and manifestly recognized by the University Grants Commission . However, the Court said it appeared that the online mode of study may not have been expressly approved by the Commission.

Believing that no student would doubt that a leading institute like NUJS would not have the approval of the University Grants Commission to deliver the courses online, the Court observed,

When a top institute like the National University of Legal Sciences of West Bengal advertises a particular course, usually no student would go behind the advert and try to check if the University Grants Commission has approved it. Students were more likely to assume that such approval had been obtained from the University Grants Commission. Based on this, they signed up. Classes have been going on since 2012. Students have not only spent money, but also extended their time and energy to attend classes.

Accordingly, the Court ruled on the motions observing that students who have already registered for online courses from 2012 and have not completed them should be allowed to take the courses if they are otherwise permitted to do so. However, the Court clarified that no new registrations for the online course will be permitted, unless expressly authorized by the University Grants Commission.

“Under these circumstances, we direct that students who have already registered for online courses from 2012 and have not completed them be permitted to attend the courses if they are otherwise permitted to do so. Upon successful completion of the courses , they would be awarded the required degrees and diplomas, etc., by the University deemed to have been issued with the approval of the University Grants Commission.No further enrollment in the online course will be permitted unless expressly authorized by the Scholarships Commission academics”judged the Court.

The Chamber further declares that this subsequent development may be brought to the notice of the arbitral tribunal adjudicating an arbitral dispute arising out of an arrangement for the implementation of online courses between the University Grants Commission and the NUJS.

Senior Counsel Abhratosh Majumdar and defenders Suman Sengupta, D.Basu Mallick, Diptend Banerjee and Jyoti Chakraborty Dip appeared for the appellants. Senior Counsel Pratik Dhar and defenders Ritwik Pattanayak and Pappu Adhikari appeared for NUJS.

Ipleaders was represented by lawyers Arkaprava Sen, Sanghita Mukherjee and Maite Tapas. UGC was represented by counsel Anil Kumar Gupta.

Case Title: Abhisek Panda & Ors v. West Bengal National University of Legal Sciences & Ors

Case citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Cal.) 239

Click here to read/download the order

Denise W. Whigham