UGC’s Final Qualifying Criteria for NET

Supreme Court Upholds UGC’s Eligibility Criteria for National Eligibility Test :

The Supreme Court has upheld the University Grants Commission’s ( UGC ) final qualifying criteria policy prior to declaring results of the National Eligibility Test ( NET ), which was held in June, 2012. The NET is the qualifying exam for eligibility to junior research fellowship ( JR F) and lectureship in Indian universities and colleges.

“We are of the view that, in academic matters, unless there is a clear violation of statutory provisions, the regulations or the notification issued, the courts shall keep their hands off since those issues fall within the domain of the experts,” the SC bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and A K Sikri stated in a 24 page judgment pronounced on 19th September, 2013. The bench was disposing of an appeal by the UGC against the 29th April, 2013 judgment by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court.

The apex court set aside the judgment by the high court bench at Nagpur that had struck down the UGC’s decision to introduce the requirement of 65%, 60% and 55% aggregate marks for candidates in general; OBC; and the physically and visually handicapped, scheduled caste, scheduled tribe ( PH, VH, SC, ST ) categories, respectively as the final qualifying criteria in NET June, 2012.

Justice Radhakrishnan, who pronounced the judgment on behalf of the SC bench, cited the view taken by the apex court in three previous cases to reaffirm, “The court shall not generally sit in appeal over the opinion expressed by expert academic bodies and normally it is wise and safe for the courts to leave the decision of academic experts who are more familiar with the problem they face, than the courts generally are.”

“The UGC as an expert body has been entrusted with the duty to take steps as it may think fit for the determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in universities. For attaining the said standards, it is open to the UGC to lay down any qualifying criteria, which has a rational nexus to the objective of maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research,” the apex court held.

Initially, the UGC had notified certain minimum qualifying marks for each of the three papers I, II and III, with a rider that the final qualifying criteria will be decided before the declaration of the NET June, 2012 results. The requirement of aggregate marks as the final criteria was introduced over two months after the conduct of the NET on 24th June, 2012.

Scores of candidates, who secured the minimum passing marks in each of the three papers, but could not secure the aggregate marks in the NET, cried foul over the UGC’s final qualifying criteria and had filed writ petitions in the Nagpur bench as well as in the Kerala high court.

Agreeing with the view taken by the Kerala high court, the high court division bench at Nagpur, comprising of justices R C Chavan and P B Varale, had pronounced a 44 page judgment which not only struck down the UGC’s final criteria, but also directed the UGC to declare the result of the petitioner students on the basis of their scores in individual papers with reference to the minimum marks prescribed for passing those papers.

The apex court’s judgment comes as a huge relief to UGC which faced the prospect of declaring over 2.04 lakh candidates, who had scored minimum marks in each of the three papers, separately, as qualified instead of the 57,550 candidates who were declared as qualified based on the final qualifying criteria of aggregate scores.

The apex court observed, “Candidates are seeking final declaration of results the moment they have obtained the minimum marks separately in paper I, II and III, ignoring the other two steps ( related to consideration zone and fixation of final qualifying criteria before results ) and forgetting the fact that only those who obtain the minimum required marks alone will fall in the consideration zone. All these steps, as we have referred to above, have been clearly stipulated in the notification for NET 2012 examination.”

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