Students to take UK branch campus to Supreme Court

Ruchir Wakde (20) dreamed of attending a foreign university. Then in 2009 he did the next best thing – he started an undergraduate degree at Leeds Met India – Bhopal in central India, often described as the country’s first foreign branch campus.

But after graduating three years later with a bachelor of business administration (BBA), and with a £8,000 (US$12,900) debt, he discovered his degree was just a piece of paper.

The degree from the university – a joint venture between the UK’s Leeds Metropolitan University and the non-profit Jagran Social Welfare Society (JSWS) – is not recognised in India. Jagran Group is one of India’s largest media companies, owning many newspapers.

“My degree is useless. I simply wasted three precious years of life on a course which is not recognised in India,” said Wakde, who says he feels cheated.

The university, delivering degrees that it says are awarded by Leeds Met India – Bhopal and Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK, had promised a qualification that would enable its graduates “to stand out from the crowd”.

Fellow student Varun Dubey said he got the shock of his life when he found he could not get a place on any other graduate programme in India, as his Leeds Met India BBA – which cost a total of Rs1.3 million (£16,250) – was not recognised.

“The last three years, which were most decisive for my career, have been wasted. We aren’t eligible for admission to a postgraduate programme and we don’t know what to do,” said Dubey.

Wakde and Dubey are not alone. Some 52 students who graduated from the institution in May are in the same boat. Another 98 students currently enrolled at Leeds Met India have no idea whether they will be in the same position when they graduate next year or the year after.

Court action

Around 17 of the students filed a writ with the Jabalpur High Court in Madhya Pradesh in March this year, after students were informed in February that the institution did not have the required permission from the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), which oversees technical and vocational degrees in India.

The university, which offers both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, claimed students could save 70% of the cost of studying the same degree at its UK campus.

The students were demanding Rs3 million (£35,000) in compensation from JSWS and a refund of Rs1.5 million (£17,000) paid as fees, on the grounds that they had allegedly been duped by the university with false promises.

The key to the court case was whether students knew the courses were not recognised when they enrolled, yet enrolled anyway, or whether the university misrepresented its degrees.

The students who filed the writ said that the university claimed its courses were recognised by AICTE. Their lawyer, Siddharth Radhelal Gupta, said in court during a November hearing that the institution provided incorrect and misleading information in its official brochure by claiming that its courses were AICTE-approved.

He said that when Leeds Metropolitan University opened its offshore campus in Bhopal in collaboration with the JSWS in August 2009, students were informed that the institution had all the requisite permissions, including recognition by AICTE.

But the court maintained that the students knew all along the degrees were not recognised, and therefore the university had not misrepresented the facts. The university had not claimed to have recognition in its brochure, the court found, and dismissed the case on 29 November.

Accreditation issues

But the ruling does not clarify how the university was able to run courses without official accreditation, with legislation still pending in parliament that would allow foreign branch campuses to operate in India.

“AICTE approval is necessary for [a] foreign offshore campus. No institution is allowed to run any course without approval from AICTE. But by using their influence, the group was running this institute,” said Ravi Wakde, father of Ruchir.

Abhishek Mohan Gupta, director of Leeds Met India, had said in an interview with University World News that the university was providing foreign degrees to students in India, and claimed at the time:

“Our application for recognition for the university is under process with the All India Council for Technical Education. Even our institute does not figure in the list of de-recognised institutes of AICTE.”

The students now say they will go to the Supreme Court to get justice.

Their lawyer told University World News: “They have sufficient grounds to move to the Supreme Court. How can an institute run for three years without getting any approval from AICTE or UGC [University Grants Commission]?

“The students had paid money and invested three years for a course which is not recognised.”

First foreign branch campus

In a written reply to University World News, the JSWS said the High Court found the allegations in the two writ petitions to be “false, frivolous and misconceived”.

JSWS Chair Hari Mohan Gupta alleged that the student’s writ was part of a “conspiracy hatched by some powerful person who used these innocent students as his [sic] pawns to destroy and tarnish the reputation of JSWS” through false and baseless allegations.

“However, the truth has prevailed and all the charges against the university have been demolished by the High Court,” Gupta added.