Which is what makes the situation ripe for unscrupulous claims by businessmen to set up unauthorised educational institutions to exploit gullible students, sometimes right under the nose of the University Grants Commission, the apex statutory body charged with "coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education" and the All India Council for Technical Education, the statutory body and a national-level council for technical education.
On Wednesday, the UGC came out with a list of 21 such "self-styled and unrecognised institutions, functioning under the contravention of the UGC Act," declaring them as fake and "not entitled to confer any degrees."
A long time coming
Around the same time, the news about the controversial Indian Institute of Planning and Management deciding to shut down its 18 campuses across the country hit the headlines. A statement on the institute's website read (unedited):
“All IIPM campuses now only have old students and these campuses are being shut down as and when old batches finish their courses. IIPM will be operative only in Delhi as a research and training institutions, the training will be imparted only to corporates or institutions who enter into a technical collaboration of knowledge sharing with IIPM. Every detail on this website applies to IIPM 1973-2014.”
It is significant that the news of shutting down the campuses hit the headlines within weeks of a First Information Report being registered against IIPM founder Arindam Chaudhuri in May 2015. The FIR was based on a complaint by the UGC accusing IIPM of “misleading, cheating and fooling” its students by charging a hefty fee from them, despite the fact that its courses are not authorised by the UGC or the AICTE.
Chaudhuri had denied the charges. “UGC and AICTE keep themselves in news by targeting IIPM with their lies because we have stayed consciously out of their purview and accused them of massive corruption”, he had said then in a statement. “We have never claimed that the institute is recognised by any statutory body. Nor have we claimed we give degrees," he had added. "We give certificates and write clearly everywhere that 'students interested in de jure recognition of IIPM’s programmes need not apply to IIPM!' Its [sic] written clearly since 1970s in our prospectus and in our websites since it came into effect.”
The FIR, in turn, had come in the wake of full front-page advertisements in newspapers across the country, talking of Chaudhury's latest venture, which was described as IIPM 2.0, offering collaborative courses with recognised institutions to leverage IIPM's "intellectual capital and reservoir", promising students an "entrepreneurial and intellectual edge".
Chaudhuri sought to explain the news about shutting down the campuses as a reinvention strategy. "I don't understand the sudden interest in an announcement that was made almost two months ago," he was quoted as saying by the Economic Times. "IIPM will now work through knowledge partnerships as IIPM 2.0, as announced in our advertisement on May 11."
"The aim is to give our real edge in economics, entrepreneurship, leadership and strategy to lakhs instead of thousands through partnerships with dozens of institutions. There was malicious campaign being run against us, so we have decided to stay out of this UGC and AICTE jhamela (problem). Let the regulation (read AICTE and UGC approved) papers be taught by the institutes we tie up with."
When contacted, however, Chaudhuri refused to answer specific questions on the controversies around IIPM in recent times, including the FIR that the UGC had filed. But he did respond to yet another request for his reaction to the UGC's latest list of 21 fake universities with the following (unedited) text message:
"I am not interested in being a part of your story on fake universities because iipm is not an university and 7 years back when UGC farcely put out our name in that the high court of Dellhi immediately ordered them for remove it and they had to do so."
It was indeed ironical for Chaudhuri to be invoking a Delhi High Court order of seven years ago, for as recently as September 2014, after many years of public interest litigation, the same court had rapped IIPM for misleading students and restrained it from applying the terms "MBA, BBA, management course, management school, business school and B-school" to its course offerings.
The issue at stake was not the red herring about nomenclature used and whether IIPM described itself as a university – after all, it did indeed specifically say on its website that it was not – but whether the degrees that it claimed to award were recognised.
"IIPM is not entitled to confer any Degree," the court had unequivocally said. "The prospectus issued by IIPM showing itself as conferring a Degree, is evidently false and misleading." It had added that IIPM had created a maze "to entrap students to enlist with it in the hope of acquiring a qualification which IIPM is not entitled to confer.”
Which is why, this time, in its 2.0 avatar, IIPM seems to have scrupulously avoided the objectionable terms.
While IIPM might be a one-off case of an institute with massive advertising budgets which manages to remain in the news by trying every conceivable trick in the book to make people believe in its credentials, there are many more such self-acclaimed “centres of excellence”, on the prowl for gullible students and their money, that manage to stay under the radar, as evidenced by the UGC's list of only 21 such cases.
Most agree that the UGC list is far from being complete or exhaustive. For instance, last month, four persons were arrested in Hyderabad with over 1,000 fake documents for running various institutions under a fictitious university called the Hyderabad Educational and Research Centre. While one of them declared himself as the director of these institutions, another absconding accused was running websites such as www.Hyderc.com, www.Golcondavidyaparishad.com, www.Gnuedu.co.in, and www.Noise.co.in.
A few days back, a 25-year-old techie was arrested in Mumbai for running a fake entrance examination website which, the police suspected, had links with many private universities and colleges as well. He was running a website for the Odisha Joint Entrance Examination and was finally arrested after a year-long investigation into the case.
Likewise, a well-known aviation institute in the country was reportedly running a bogus BA Aviation course which it claimed was affiliated to the MG Meghalaya University. The university, however, denied running any such course when contacted by fuming students who decided to file a complaint against the institute.
Kamesh Kiran, who heads IBC India, a degree verifying service in Bangalore claimed that “there are thousands of fake universities and bogus institutions” while speaking to the Times of India last week.
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