1. This writ petition is filed by Ph.D scholars of the 1st respondent Institution. They joined the program on different dates during the years 2013-2015. They are aggrieved by Exhibit P1 circular, by which all Ph.D students were required to pay semester fees of Rs.12500/- w.e.f. July 2017. It is submitted that going by the University Grants Commission (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2016, as well as the memorandum of association of the 1st respondent, the petitioners were required to pay only admission fees and hostel fees. Exhibit P10 Regulation specifically provides at clause 6 as follows:-
6.0 ADMISSIONS AND FEES STRUCTURE
6.1 No institution deemed to be university shall, for admission in respect of any course or programme of study conducted in such institution, accept payment towards admission fee and other fees and charges:
(a) which is a capitation fee or donation in whatever nomenclature or form;
(b) other than such fee or charges for such admission, which has been declared by it in the prospectus for admission against any such seat, and on the website Of the institution,
“Provided if there are any fees prescribed in accordance with the Fee Regulation framed by the Government or by the Commission from time to time, then the fees or other charges for admission shall not exceed the same;
(c) without a proper receipt in writing issued for such payment to the concerned student admitted in such institution. With regard to the prospectus, Clause 6.5 of Exhibit P10 provides as follows:-
6.5 Every institution deemed to be university shall publish. before expiry of sixty days prior to the date. of the commencement of admission to any of its courses or programmes of study, a prospectus containing the following for the purposes of informing those persons intending to seek admission to such institution and the namely:-
(i) each component of the fee, deposits and other charges payable by the students admitted to such institution for pursuing a course or a programme of study, and the other terms and conditions of such payment;
(ii) the percentage of tuition fee and other charges refundable to a student admitted in such institution in case such student withdraws from such institution before or after completion of course or programme of study and the time within, and the manner in, which such refund shall be made to the student;
(iii) the number of seats approved in respect of each course or programme of study for the academic year for which admission is proposed to be made;
(iv) the conditions of eligibility including the minimum and maximum age limit of persons for admission as a student in a particular course or programme of study, where so specified by the institution;
(v) the educational qualifications specified by the relevant statutory authority/body, or by the institution, where no such qualifying standards have been specified by any statutory authority;
(vi) the process of admission and selection of eligible candidates applying for such admission, including all relevant information in regard to the details of test or examination for selecting such candidates for admission to each course or programme of study and the amount of fee to be paid for the admission test;
(vii) details of the teaching faculty, including therein the educational qualification and teaching experience of every member of its teaching faculty and also indicating therein whether such member is on regular basis or visiting basis;
(viii) the minimum pay and other emoluments payable for each category of teachers and other employees;
(ix) the ranking of the Institution under National Institutional Ranking Framework for the last three years (if available).
(x) information in regard to physical and academic infrastructure and other facilities including hostel accommodation, library, hospital or industry wherein the practical training to be imparted to the students and in particular the facilities accessible by students on being admitted to the institution;
(xi) broad outline of the syllabus specified by the appropriate statutory body or by institution, as the case may be, for every course or programme of study, including the teaching hours, practical sessions and other assignments;
(xii) all relevant instructions in regard to maintaining the discipline by students within or outside the campus of the institution, and, in particular, such discipline relating to mohibition of tagging of any student or students and the consequences thereof and for violating the provisions of any regulation in this behalf made under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 or any other law for the time being in force.
Provided that the institution deemed to be university shall publish information referred to in items ii) to (xi) of this clause on its website, and the attention of the prospective students and the general public shall be drawn to such publication on the website through advertisements displayed prominently in the different newspapers and through other media;
Provided further that the institution deemed to be university may publish prospectus in accordance with this clause at any time before the expiry of sixty days specified under this clause.“
2. It is submitted that the petitioners were admitted as Ph.D scholars, pursuant to Exhibit P13 admission notification which did not provide for the payment of any fees. It is, therefore, contented that the fixation of fees by Exhibit P1 can have no effect on the petitioners who had secured admissions prior to the implementation of the same and on the basis of a notification which did not provide for such fees. It is stated that though the petitioners had approached the respondents, raising their grievances their requests have been rejected and the tuition fee is being collected from them as well. The learned counsel for the petitioners would rely on the UGC Regulations and the prospectus to contend that they had been admitted on the specific assurance that they would not have to pay any tuition fee. It is stated that the petitioners are meritorious students, who have acquired admission only on the basis of their merit and their excellent performance and that they are not liable to pay any amounts, except the boarding, lodging and medical facilities as per the IIST Rules as provided in Exhibit P13 admission notification.
3. Counter affidavits have been placed on record by the IIST and the UGC seeking to justify the imposition of the fees. Respondents 1 and 3 in their counter affidavit contends that the research scholars are eligible for fellowship and that offer letters sent to the research scholars on seeing admission specified that they have to remit the tuition/registration fee fixed from time to time. It is stated that semester fees were charged from UG and PG students but Ph.D scholars were exempt from such fee. It is stated at paragraphs 11 and 12 of the counter affidavit as follows:-
“11. It is submitted that the present Ph.D fee structure was not introduced unilaterally. Director, IIST vide Office Order No.467 dated 02.12.2016 constituted a four member Committee consisting of two faculty members, Deputy Registrar (Academics) and Deputy Registrar (Finance) to finalise and recommend:
(i) Propose a semester fee structure for IIST Ph.D students (for both full time and those sponsored from ISRO/DOS).
(ii) Suggest guidelines for duration of Ph.D fellowship for full time students;
(iii) Review the existing PG (MTech./MS) semester fee structure for IIST students (both full time and those sponsored from lSRO/DOS) and recommend any changes in the existing fee structure.
The Committee gave its recommendation (last meeting held on February 02, 2017) which was higher (Rs.178OO/- for full time Ph.D students and Rs.5000/- for part-time sponsored students) than that is introduced Rs.12150/- and Rs.3500/- for full time and part-time Ph.D students respectively). The same was discussed in various forums such as Heads of Departments and Deans, Finance Committee (held on August 18, 20 17) and in Board of Management (held on September 06, 2017). The Director of the Institute also met the Ph.D student community and had detailed discussions with them on the Ph.D fee matter. The Ph.D students were fully aware of the introduction of Ph.D fee. The above Ph.D fee notification was put up in the website of the Institute on 26th October 2017, as well as informed to all Ph.D students through email that the PhD fee is introduced at IIST, for January session of the Academic Year 2017-18.
12. It is submitted that the Ph. D fees now being charged by the Institute is only a meagre amount compared to the fellowship offered to them, by the institute. It is prerogative of the institute to introduce a reasonable fee structure for the Ph. D students like any other educational institutions, from a particular academic session onwards considering the fact that the Institute cannot afford to exempt them, alone in the present circumstances.”
4. The UGC in paragraphs 5 and 6 of its counter affidavit contended as follows:-
“5. It is respectfully submitted that the 1“ respondent is a Deemed To Be University under SectIon 3 of the UGC Act. Clause 6.1 of the UGC Regulations (institutions Deemed to be University) Regulations 2016 says that Deemed to be University shall not charge any fee which has not been declared in the prospectus. However it is seen from Exts R1(a) to (f) produced along with the Counter Affidavit of the University, which are the offer letters to the candidates, wherein there is a general clause enabling the university to fix the tuition fee/registration fee and the fee for boarding etc from time to time. In the reply given by the University in response to Ext P17 letter, issued by this respondent seeking comments on representations received by this respondent in this regard had stated that “ The institute has been sending offer letters to all selected PhD candidates all these years indicating that they will have to remit tuition/registration fee along with fee for boarding/lodging and medical facilities etc, of the institute as may be prescribed from time to time”. However UGC Regulations 2016 is silent whether a Deemed To Be University can increase/enhance the fee at mid term. The UGC Is having no control in fixing any such fee in a Deemed To Be University. Hence for the appropriate cases depending upon the curriculum and other factors a Deemed To Be University can charge their own fees. As such UGC cannot say that the charging of fees contemplated in Ext. P1 is excessive or otherwise.
6. It is submitted that though the petitioners made a request to this respondent and University Grants Commission had sought for a clarification from the institution as per Ext.P17 and in reply to the said clarification the institute had given a detailed comments. All these comments are within the prerogative of the institution. UGC cannot direct the University not to impose any additional fee especially, when there is no such criterion prescribed by the UGC. The fees seemed to have been imposed on various heads and the same is within their reasonable margins especially when the students are imparting education in Ph.D level. There is no specific criteria by the UGC for charging fees for Ph.D students. At any rate University Grants Commission has not fixed any fees for Deemed to be University.”
5. I have considered the contentions advanced. It is not in dispute before me that the petitioners were admitted in terms of Exhibit P13 admission notification. Exhibit P13 does not provide for the payment of any fees. It is also not in dispute that it is by Exhibit P1 dated 12.9.2017 that the tuition fee had been made applicable to research scholars in the 1st respondent. Exhibits P9 and P10 specify that the entire information with regard to the amount, components, frequency and mode of any kind of payment including fees or charges of any kind and refund rules are liable to be informed to the applican
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ts. It is submitted by the learned counsel for the petitioners that though no specific prospectus had been issued by the 1st respondent, Exhibit P13 is admission notification for the year 2013. It is submitted that Exhibit P13 did not contain any provision for collection of tuition fees. It was provided in Exhibit P13 that research scholars will have to pay for the services provided by the institute for boarding, lodging, medical facilities etc. as per the IIST Rules. It is contended that it was pursuant to identical admission notifications that all the petitioners had been admitted as research scholars. In view of the specific provisions contained in UGC Regulations that fees can be collected only after informing the applicants by way of a prospectus and in view of the specific contentions that there was no such intimation in the admission notifications pursuant to which the petitioners were admitted, I am of the opinion that Exhibit P1 circular can have no application to the petitioners, who were admitted prior to the issuance of the same. 6. The writ petition is, therefore, allowed. There will be a direction to the 2nd respondent to collect only such fees as are provided in the admission notifications/prospectus on the basis of which the petitioners were admitted. Any amounts paid in excess shall be refunded to the petitioner forthwith.