The Education Minister Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk clarified that the Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) degree is a recognized graduation degree by the Education Ministry or specifically the Bhutan Accreditation Council under the Ministry.
Lyonpo said that under the Tertiary education policy reforms all forms of distance or online degrees are recognized as long as they are approved by the competent authorities in their countries. The Minister said that SMU degrees are valid in India as distance learning degrees.
He, however, sad that when it came to the students wanting to sit for the Royal Civil Service Exams or contest politics then the laws of the RCSC and ECB does not accept long distance learning degrees.
Lyonpo said that when the issue first came up with four students approaching the PM the PM had ordered to the MoE to look into the issue and try and help the students.
The minister, however, said that the matters are not in the hands of the government with regard to RCSC and ECB’s legal requirements drawn from their own Acts.
The minister emphasized that only four students had approached the government so far. He also said as far as elections are concerned they know of four National Council candidates who are contested in the past but they could not make it in the house.
Lyonpo said the whole issue only arose from 2016 onwards when authorities in India made it compulsory to mention distance education on the certificates of SMU.
Lyonpo said the government tried its best but it was not able to convince the RCSC and ECB to consider its requests.
The only unstated compromise at least with the RCSC or other government corporations seems to be to not disturb the candidates who are already in service before distance education was mentioned on the certificate.
Bhutan is estimated to have around 5,000 to 6,000 graduates, who over the years have graduated from the Sikkim Manipal University’s various affiliated study centers outside Sikkim. The majority of them come from the B.B Pradhan Management College (BMC) in Kalimpong which has been in operation since 2003.
Over the years these many graduates have joined government jobs both through the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and directly through government agencies. They have also taken up government corporate jobs and also contested elections on the strength of their graduation certificate.
However, this very Graduation Certificate came into question in Bhutan as Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) affiliated study centers as of 2016 have started mentioning ‘Directorate of Distance Education,’ on their graduation certificates.
Unknown to many Bhutanese students, both past and present, the UGC of India on 27th June 2013 had issued a notification saying that a University established or incorporated under a State Act can operate only within that state and cannot operate beyond that jurisdiction. This meant that the University could operate only in Sikkim.
Prior to this in 2011 Denmark and Australia started rejecting SMU graduates on the basis of a letter from India’s Ministry of Human Resources and Development that said these SMU study centers were not authorized and so their programs and degrees offered on a distant mode could not be recognized under Indian law nor be equated to an Indian degree.
When some ex-students in India took the matter to court, the Sikkim High Court in June 26, 2015 upheld that SMU affiliated study centers outside Sikkim cannot offer such courses anymore. However, to protect the interest of SMU students the court ruled that all students who had taken distance education admissions till the day of the court judgment of 26th June 2015 would have their distance education degree’s protected.
In reaction to the High Court order of 2015 the SMU did not want to take any risks and so it started mentioning ‘Directorate of Distance Education’ on its graduation certificates from then on.