Graduates of the Gangtok-based Sikkim Manipal University (SMU), say that the situation they are in is due to the failure of the Ministry of Education (MoE) in not sensitising students.

Hundreds of SMU graduates have been left in uncertainties since they came to know last year that their degree was “distance”. Both the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and the Election Commission of Bhutan do not recognise distance degrees.

The affected graduates say that while they were unaware of the mode of education, the MoE should have sensitised students going to India for higher education.  A 2010 graduate, Sonam Jamtsho, said that although some government agencies knew that the mode of education was distance, we were not sensitised about this impending consequence,” he said.

SMU used to be part of education fairs in Bhutan, he said. “But our agencies under the education ministry did not intervene on time.”

The affected graduates claim that the Bhutan Accreditation Council (BAC) under MoE only made the announcement in 2016.

At the meet the press on August 4, Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk was asked about why the ministry failed to sensitise the students. The minister did not respond to the question.

The Chief Programme Officer with the Department of Adult and Higher Secondary Education (DAHE), NB Raika, said, that it is not fair to blame the department and the ministry for the problem. “We would have advised them if they had come to us,” he said. “We had sensitised students about this through the media.”

NB Raika said that DAHE was aware of SMU offering distance education and had the students approached DAHE, the issue wouldn’t have emerged.

Until 2015, the university did not reflect the mode of education on graduation certificates although they were distance degrees. That allowed some of the SMU graduates to enter civil service and contest parliamentary elections.

“Only in 2016, a competent authority in India made it mandatory for all universities offering distance education to reflect the mode of education on their graduation certificates,” he said.

Most of the affected have graduated from the Kalimpong-based BB Pradhan Management College. “Most of the students in the college are Bhutanese,” said a 2016 graduate, Namgay Tenzin.

However, it is not only those students who completed out in 2016 that have been affected. Those who graduated prior to 2016 have also been affected although the university did not reflect in the graduation certificates the mode of education as distance.

SMU offers formal or regular courses. But most of the colleges Bhutanese graduates were enrolled in, like the BB Pradhan Management College and those in Meghalaya and Silliguri, were distance education centres of SMU. The affected graduates were unaware of this.

Aspiring to become a thrompon, two female SMU graduates from Haa in 2016 had sought attestation of degree certificates from the BAC. They were shocked to learn from BAC that the mode of education of their course was distance.

“They were completely unaware of this impending consequence because no such issues had come up before,” Sonam Jamtsho, who is also from Haa said. “The mode of education is not reflected on their graduation certificates because of which they were with the belief that they had acquired a formal degree,” he said.

Another affected, Kinzin Thinley, who graduated in 2010 from Shillong-based Six Sigma Educom College with a degree from SMU, said that the rules should be applicable only after 2016. “The government and the concerned agencies should do something to solve this issue as a onetime measure,” he said.

The graduates say that although they are allowed to attend the national graduates’ orientation programme and could even sit the preliminary exams (PE), they are barred from registering for the Bhutan Civil Service Examinations.

They said the students attend classes like any other regular students. “We are very unfortunate to have enrolled ourselves in SMU. We never knew that our degrees were distance,” another SMU graduate, Sherab Dema said.

Although SMU was established in 1995, it started offering distance education in 2001 by setting up the Directorate of Distance Education.

The graduates claim that the issue has affected SMU graduates wishing to pursue Masters abroad such as in Australia. “The agents are rejecting SMU certificates and there is almost no chance for up gradation of our qualification with SMU degrees,” another graduate said.  “We are worried that our certificates will not be accepted for employment abroad.”

However, the certificates are accepted in India. But, the graduates are apprehensive that the government may not recognise even the masters degree because of the invalid bachelors degree certificates.

MB Subba