The government tried its best to help graduates from the Gangtok-based Sikkim Manipal University (SMU) to get their degrees recognised, but both the Election Commission of Bhutan and the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) were unmoved.

This was the response from education minister Norbu Wangchuk to a question on the uncertainties surrounding SMU graduates, at the meet the press yesterday.

The government’s response on the issue has come as a brutal blow to hundreds of graduates who obtained their degrees from SMU. SMU graduates claim that about 5,000 Bhutanese have graduated from the university to date.

“The matter is with the election commission and RCSC,” minister Norbu Wangchuk said. He said that the Bhutan Accreditation Council (BAC) under the education ministry could only catagorise the mode of education either as “distance” or “regular”.

The issue emerged when BAC took over the responsibility of providing accreditation in 2016. Till then, the Royal University of Bhutan handled the accreditation of documents.

“As much as we would like to support the graduates, we are caught under the framework of law. We tried our best,” lyonpo said. “Unfortunately, we have not been able to convince the election commission or RCSC to consider the request.”

The education minister offered his sympathy to the youth of Bhutan saying they have invested a lot in getting their degree.

He said the Prime Minister was concerned about the issue and had instructed the education ministry to explore all possible ways of helping the affected graduates. Following the instruction, the ministry explored several possibilities, but to no avail.

“However, we want to confirm that the degrees from SMU are not illegitimate. We recognise this as legitimate degree, and in fact, according to our tertiary education policy, we recognise all forms of studies – distance, regular and online – as long as they are approved by a competent authority in the host country,” he said.

SMU degrees, he said, are recognised by a competent authority in India. “We want to clarify that SMU degrees are approved degrees in India.”

The education minister, however, added that both the electoral laws and RCSC recognise regular degrees only. “If the graduates want to contest elections, the election Act is quite clear, and unfortunately, only formal degrees are accepted,” he said.

However, the education minister said that only few graduates would want to pursue their career in politics and as members of the local government and the National Council. Citing official records, he said only four SMU graduates have so far have contested in the parliamentary elections.

The issue, he said, came to light in 2016 when a “competent authority” in India asked all universities offering distance degrees to reflect the mode of education on their certificates.

Earlier in April this year, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay at a meet the press had said he would like the degrees to be recognised and accepted.

MB Subba