Regulators need tooth to tackle menace

Regulators need tooth to tackle menace

Regulators need tooth to tackle menace

Fake institutions continue to operate in India in an extralegal manner and their presence is indeed baffling. How did they carry on for so long? Is it a regulatory failure or is the malaise much deeper? A degree, as distinguished from certificate and diploma, can be awarded by the university defined under section 2(f) of the UGC Act.

Section 2(f) notes that a university can be established by an Act of Parliament or state Legislature. Under this there are three broad classifications: Central university (46) established by a Central Act; State university (329) established by a State Act and private university (223)–so far established by an Act of State Legislature.

A deemed university is defined under section 3 of the UGC Act. Degree conferring authority under the respective Acts of Parliament also rests with institutions of national importance (73). Besides, 13 Indian Institutes of Management are not universities but have the power to confer a degree. All other institutions, under whatever name, are not allowed to award degrees, rendering them “fake.”

The UGC has now listed 21 such institutions. Section 23 of the UGC Act prohibits an institution to use the word university, except as defined under the UGC Act. Under this, a maximum penalty of Rs 1,000 can be levied in case any institution uses the term university to award a degree in contravention with the law.

Obviously, this is a very mild deterrent. The UGC is a regulatory body but, in effect, it is only advisory as has no power even to derecognise a university or a degree conferred by it. It can only stop the funds if any university or college affiliated to it fails to maintain standards as per the UGC Act. The well-known educationist, the late Amrik Singh, in his book “50 years of higher education in India,” declares the UGC to be a “toothless tiger”.

Under the regulatory provision, the UGC is not bound to initiate inquiry or file civil or criminal petition though it does not prevent the UGC to do so. Obviously, it is within its jurisdiction to declare unlawful institutions only as fake university. On moral grounds - on the grounds of fraudulent practices of fake universities – any individual can file a suit or a PIL.

So the question is how to prevent fake universities? It can be addressed through a suitable amendment of the UGC Act, by hiking the penalty to Rs 5 crore or more and empowering UGC to file a civil or criminal suit in the court. A more stringent clause may be that before the establishment of the university and its power to confer a degree, the consent of the UGC be made mandatory. But there may be opposition to it. Also, such absolute power could be the source of rent seeking as well. 

AICTE approval
There are 343 institutes conducting technical programmes and 116 institutes conducting architecture programmes which are not approved by AICTE. Under the AICTE regulation, it is empowered to approve technical institution and the programme run by it. The AICTE, unlike the UGC, is empowered to not only not pull up any institution on the ground of academic deficiency but also has the power to initiate civil or criminal suit against institution which follows fraudulent practice.

It simply refuses to grant an approval and publishes such list but prefers to adopt a soft approach for filing a suit. I believe a heavy penalty clause might be a better option for AICTE to adopt for which an amendment may be needed. There may be similarly medical, legal and teacher training institutions which are fake. Further, there are many grey areas - there are institutions granting specialised degrees in sports, fashion, aviation and so on for which there may not be regulatory councils, other than the UGC. Such institutions are fake as they may not have degree granting powers under the UGC Act.

But what if the programme is run by an Indian private institution but the degree awarded is from a foreign university? Are these institutions fake? It may be difficult to say so under the present law. These grey areas need to be identified and suitable regulation made.

The point is: Why are fake universities or institutions growing fast? The reason is the high market demand for a course for which there may not be sufficient number of public institutions and therefore, the niche private institutions are mushrooming through legal or extralegal means. As there is demand in the market for such a course, students queue up in those institutions as they know the certification will help them land a job.

The government should constitute a high-powered committee to review all Acts and regulations of all regulatory councils to make them effective. Second, all regulatory councils must have strong penalty clauses. Third, all private institutions granting diploma or foreign degree should be surveyed and on the basis of the survey, a suitable action, including regulation, may be thought about.    

(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of Higher & Professional Education, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi)

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