Because of the uncertainty surrounding higher education entrance examinations, many students are expected to take admission in an institution even before these entrance examinations are conducted. This might also result in quite a refund requests once these exams are conducted and students take admission in a different institution.
COVID-19 has not spared any sector, and education sector is one of the worst hit as has been noted in our earlier stories. In an earlier article, the many factors at play when it comes to re-opening of educational institutions like accessibility, employment, disease preventive measures, etc. was discussed.
While some states conducted the 12th boards with precautions and modifications in the examination pattern, other states have either cancelled or postponed it indefinitely. CBSE and ICSE have cancelled the pending 12th board examinations because of the concern over the safety of students. Marks will be calculated on the basis of their internal performance in the academic year.
COVID-19 has resulted in an uncertain situation for parents and students
For now, exams like JEE Mains, and NEET stand postponed. The HRD Minister tweeted that JEE Main Examination would be held between 01 and 06 September 2020 and JEE advanced on 27 September 2020. The NEET entrance for medicine has been rescheduled for 13 September 2020. Most of the top ranked institutions in the government as well as private sector admit students based on the results in these tests.
Because of the cancellation of board examinations, there is a looming uncertainty over the conduct of various entrance examinations both at the national & state level. Parents & students are concerned about this long uncertainty. This uncertainty is being exploited by certain private institutions as there are instances where parents are pressurized into booking seats by paying token amount under the pretext that entrance exams may be cancelled, and seats may soon get filled up due to large demand. The staff in private institutions are also under the pressure to fill the seats as their salaries are tied to admissions and students paying up.
UGC came up with regulations on fee refund and certificate collection following receipt of many complaints
Suppose a student wishes to change college after taking admission, they are entitled to refund as per the University Grants Commission (UGC)’s notification released in 2018. The then HRD Minister, Prakash Javadekar stated that students faced several problems during admissions because of coercive and profiteering institutional practices being adopted by some institutions. The UGC came up with the notification for fee refunds and non-retention of original certificates at the time of admission following the receipt of a large number of complaints regarding the same.
Sections 12 (d) and 12 (j) of the UGC Act, 1956 empower the UGC to issue such a notification. All universities recognized by UGC including deemed to be universities must abide by this notification for all programs- undergraduate, postgraduate, and research programs. These rules also apply to colleges affiliated to various universities. The same is applicable to institutions under AICTE. But what does the UGC notification on refunds say? Here are some details.
Purchase of prospectus must not be mandatory
First and foremost, the purchase of institutional prospectus should not be made mandatory for applicants at any time. It should be left as a personal choice. Institutions should disclose details such as status of institution, affiliation, accreditation, physical assets and amenities, course wise sanctioned intake of students, types of fees payable and total fees for each programme, admission deadlines, faculty details, management member details, and all other information that students and parents require to make a fully informed choice.
Fees for only one semester/year can be charged
The institutions can charge fees in advance only for the semester or year for which student is to take part in academic activities. Collection of fees for the entire programme of study in advance is prohibited.
Students are entitled to refund depending on the point of time of withdrawal notice
If a student wishes to withdraw from the programme in which they had enrolled, the following the refund scheme is to be followed depending on the point of time when they give notice of withdrawal of admission to the institution.
Money collected as caution deposit and security deposit should be fully refunded. The refund should be made to the applicant within 15 days upon receiving the withdrawal application. One can also approach the consumer court if the refund is denied.
Students’ original documents must not be confiscated by colleges
Students must not be compelled to submit their original personal certificates like marksheets, school leaving certificates, etc at the time of admission form submission. Nevertheless, a copy of self-attested copies of the same must be mandatorily collected. Original can be collected for verification of attested copies in the presence of student at the time of admission. But it should be returned. The institutions cannot take the originals into custody.
It is also mandatory that all universities have a Grievance Redressal Mechanism in place. The websites should have an option for the same and the grievance should be redressed within 30 days.
UGC’s grievance redressal portal can be used for registering complaints
If a person finds that the rules are being violated, they have the option to register a complaint in the students online Grievance Redressal Portal of the UGC. UGC has also launched separate portal for the registration of grievances related to COVID-19. In the current situation, UGC has asked fee payment related matters to be considered sympathetically. Students’ requests must also be considered in this matter.
The next academic session is expected to start from 01 August 2020 with 6 day a week working days to compensate for the lost time. However, this might be delayed further because of the evolving situation.
Punitive action against violations
In case UGC finds any college contravening the above regulations, punitive action will be taken against the university. This includes withholding grants, withdrawal of affiliation, informing general public, withdrawal of university declaration, and more. It can even ask the state governments to take necessary action against the university.
Prospectus of Institutions to have all the details related to refunds
To understand the regulations better, the prospectuses of two colleges recognized by UGC, and available online have been taken into consideration here. St. Francis College for Women in Hyderabad is an autonomous institution (conferred by UGC). Their prospectus for 2020-21 asks applicants to carry both original and photocopies of intermediate certificates. Those who fail to produce the required documents will not be given admissions. The fee refund policy states that fees once paid is not refundable unless if someone leaves due to unavoidable reasons within 15 days from the date of admission, they can get a refund of 50%, as mentioned in the UGC guidelines.
Guru Gobindh Singh Indraprastha University is a UGC recognized university in Delhi. Their 2020-21 admission brochure clearly indicates the UGC’s fee refund policy but mentions the one notified in 2016. Registration charges and counselling participation fees will not be refunded. Both original and photocopies are to be submitted.
Parents & Students must be aware of these refund rules
However, despite the official notification, there are institutions that continue to confiscate the documents of students in order to ensure that students do not drop out of colleges once they take admission. Colleges also try to compensate for their losses through non refund of hostel fees.
The uncertainty and confusion around higher education admission because of the ongoing pandemic situation may result in many such cases of students taking admission but deciding to opt out later. Parents & Students must take note of the existing rules & guidelines regarding refunds and file a grievance with the UGC if rules are flouted. The UGC on its part should also be proactive to deal with an increased number of such grievances.