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Educational info in public domain

Educational info in public domain
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The universities and educational institutions repeatedly refuse the degree-related information on the ground that it is third party information and...

The universities and educational institutions repeatedly refuse the degree-related information on the ground that it is third party information and that the information was with them in fiduciary capacity. (In the previous article it was explained how degree-related information was not personal)

Who is third party?
The CPIO has to verify his own record before contending that the information sought was third party information. Once a student passes an examination and qualifies to secure a degree, the degree and passing details cannot be treated as private or third party information.

Passing an examination is a qualification and awarding the degree such as 10th Class, 12th Class or Intermediate, graduation or post graduation, is a public activity and that certificate is a public document generated by a public institution.

The academic institutions awarding such degrees under a statutory authority are discharging their statutory duties such as registering the qualification details and degree related information.

When there is an apprehension or doubt about validity or existence of a qualification, it is necessary to verify genuineness of the same. If verification proves that it is a genuine degree, it vindicates the qualification of the candidate.

If it is proved to be a wrong degree, it will serve a larger public interest. Hence the degree or academic qualification-related information needs to be accessible to the citizen.

If a student fails in an examination and attempts again to finally clear the test and secure qualification, there are two kinds of information – one, public information i.e., the tested qualification, and, two, private information i.e., the details of failure or disqualification, which is personal to the candidate which has nothing to do with public activity, disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy and thus it has to be treated as third party information.

Whoever claims a benefit of restriction under section 8 of RTI Act has a duty to substantiate or justify withholding of the information sought, which was clearly stated in section 19(5): “In any appeal proceedings, the onus to prove that a denial of a request was justified shall be on the Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer, as the case may be, who denied the request.”

Is CV a secret document?
Generally, every student who graduated will use the degree of graduation for pursuing post graduate studies or for any employment which required graduation as an eligibility criterion.

For instance: If BA degree is a requirement for studying MA, the student who wants to study MA has to prove that he graduated. If he does not have that qualifying degree and manipulates to secure admission MA or an employment where it is prescribed as qualification, it has to be checked.

For higher education or employment, he has to reveal his details of education details. If a candidate wants to treat the patients as doctor, he has to prove medical graduation. In such cases, it is the duty of the student to disclose or share details of his graduation with the concerned authorities etc.

The record of this educational qualification is maintained for the general information of public and for verification of the genuineness of the degree, if needed.

Any competing student, whose opportunity in higher studies or employment, is expected to share his degree-related information and see the competitor’s degree-related information. All this is happening in routine. It was never considered as private or personal information.

Another important factor is that every student aspiring for career advancement will necessarily disclose his qualifications, percentage of marks, distinctions or awards if any, in his CV or bio-data voluntarily.

Only the information relating to failures or when marks obtained were less than required for passing or qualifying, is not disclosed by the concerned candidate, because none likes to project that he failed in examination.

If a candidate passed his examination and obtained graduation degree, his earlier failures become irrelevant, unless they are specifically declared as disqualifications for any specific purpose. (For instance, candidate needs to obtain distinction in the first instance itself for claiming a gold medal or rank).

Hence, the degree or academic-qualification-related-information needs to be accessible to the citizen. If a student fails and attempts again to finally clear the test and secure qualification, final result could be public information.

Every academic/educational qualification at land mark stages like 10th class, Intermediate, Graduation, Post Graduation or PhD and clearing of every annual examination that promotes the student into next year, cannot be stated to be private information, they are in public domain. Keeping this degree related information secret might lead to manipulations and frauds.

Degree register is public record
Thus, every university is a public body and the activity of awarding degrees is a public activity and it can be concluded that all degree related information as available in the permanent register of the university is accessible public document. This basic principle of public record was laid down in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

The right to information was made available in Section 76 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Further, section 74 of Evidence Act, gave list of "public documents":

(1) The following documents are public documents: (i) of the sovereign authority, (ii) of official bodies and tribunals, and (iii) of public officers, legislative, judicial and executive, of any part of India or of the Commonwealth, or of a foreign country; (2) public records kept in India or private documents.

Section 76 provides for right to inspect and to obtain certified copies, as now provided by the RTI Act. Section 76 says:

Every public officer having the custody of a public document, which any person has a right to inspect, shall give that person on demand a copy of it on payment of the legal fees therefore, together with a certificate written at the foot of such copy that it is a true copy of such document or part thereof, as the case may be, and such certificate shall be dated and subscribed by such officer with his name and his official title, and shall be sealed, whenever such officer is authorized by law to make use of a seal; and such copies so certified shall be called certified copies.

The degree-related information of students is considered as directory information in the United States of America and it is disclosable. It was not considered as personal information. The United States has a law called the Family Educational Rights Protection Act (FERPA) relating to the disclosure of Student-related information.

The FERPA is aimed at protecting information related to students. The FERPA has clearly put three distinctions on the information of a student: educational information, personally identifiable information, and directory information. Each of which will vary in the limitations subjected to by the FERPA.

Cases involving request for disclosure of educational records fall under the ambit of directory information which is defined as “information contained in an education record of a student that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed.”

Directory information is public information and will be made available to the public unless the student has restricted it. In no way does the disclosure of the information of a student’s educational records or his achievements or honours during his tenure at the institution, amounts to his breach of privacy.

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