Students have right to refund of fees

Pushpa Girimaji
Pushpa Girimaji

CONSUMER courts have condemned the practice. Regulators have warned against it. Yet, educational institutions continue to draw up terms and conditions that deny students their legitimate right to a refund of their fees in case they move to another college, thereby effectively preventing them from exercising their right to join a college of their choice.

Given the uncertainties in getting admission to a college of their choice, students invariably apply to several institutions, and it is a common practice to join the first college that gives them admission. Later, if they do get seats in colleges of their choice, they move there. Thatís when the problem starts.

The first college, which would have collected the full fee, refuses to refund the amount, and in many cases, even return the original certificates of the students. Since the amounts involved are not small, students and parents have in many cases been forced to seek the help of courts to get back the money.

Then last year, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) issued public notices, condemning such practices, and directed educational institutions to refund the fee collected from the students, and return the original certificates. A maximum of Rs 1,000 can be retained towards processing charges that may have been incurred by the institution in regard to the admission, the regulators said. However, complaints of educational institutions refusing to return the fee continue even today.

In fact, in a recent case that came up before the apex consumer court, the educational institution argued in its revision petition that its terms and conditions clearly said that fees once paid by the student was not refundable under any circumstance. Its terms also stated that original certificates would not be returned till the end of the course. The case has its origin in the admission of Janjanam Jagdeesh to the M.Sc course in animal biotechnology in the College of Science and Technology, Vishakapatnam, on June 30, 2004.

Just a week later, since he got admission to a college of his choice in Hyderabad, Jagdeesh asked the Vishakapatnam college to refund the fees of Rs 40,600 paid by him, and also return his original certificates. The college not only refused but asked him to deposit another Rs 40,315, being the fee for the next academic year as a pre-condition to returning the certificates. In the absence of any choice, Jagdeesh paid the amount, and subsequently filed a complaint before the district consumer disputes redressal forum, which asked the institution to refund the entire amount, along with Rs 20,000 as compensation.

Unhappy with this, the college went in appeal before the courts at the state and later the national level. The national commission referred to the UGC directive and asked the college to retain Rs 1,000 and refund the rest of the fee collected from the student along with 6 per cent interest. If the amount is not paid within two months, the interest at the rate of 10 per cent has to be paid, the commission said (The Registrar, Andhra University vs Janjanam Jagdeesh, RP No 3926 of 2009, decided on July 6, 2010).

In 2008, the apex court had given a similar verdict in a case where the institute had retained Rs 1 lakh and returned only Rs 10,000 on the ground that a seat rendered vacant by such withdrawal after the commencement of the course remained vacant for the complete academic course of two years. The national commission here had pointed out that the institute had not suffered any loss as it had admitted in the general category more students than the sanctioned strength. It had directed the college to refund Rs 1 lakh along with 6 per cent interest (Nipun Nagar vs Symbiosis Institute of International Business RP No 1336 of 2008).