Scams thrive unchecked in education system

Scams thrive unchecked in education system

National Institute of Management Solutions (Education Scam) DH Photo/ Prakash Kumar

From the second floor of a four-storey commercial building located at a busy market area in Janakpuri, Delhi, the National Institute of Management Solutions (NIMS) operates and produces ‘highly skilled’ engineers, management professionals and other graduates.

Though it is not authorised under the law to award a degree, the institute offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes in engineering, management and other disciplines, primarily in online and distance education modes. It also provides hands-on training to its students ‘offline’ in three-four small classrooms on its premises.

“I did BBA from NIMS in 2011. At the time of admission, they told me that their programmes are recognised by the government. But, when I applied for an MBA at another higher-education institute, my application was rejected. They said my BBA certificate was not valid,” said one of the victims, requesting anonymity.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has recently declared NIMS as a fake university and issued a public notice on October 7.

Operating since 1998, NIMS is believed to have enrolled hundreds of students and awarded degrees to them. But the UGC did not initiate any legal proceeding against it for violation of the law. As a result, though the institute has stopped admitting students, for now, it is alleged that it continues to operate

With the entry of NIMS in the UGC’s list of fake universities, the total number of such institutions in the country has now reached 24.

Most of these fake universities on the UGC list maintained and updated for more than two decades are not operating from their original locations. While the officials of the UGC have no clue about these universities now, some of the officials in the Ministry of Human Resource Development suspect they might be operating from some other location with different names “which would only come to light when someone lodges any complaint.”

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has a much bigger list of private institutes, most of which are openly operating and offering degree programmes in engineering, management, architecture and other technical disciplines without any approval of the technical education regulator.

Interestingly, of a total 264 such unapproved institutions across the country, 64 are operating from Delhi alone, right under the nose of the UGC and AICTE. Uttar Pradesh has eight fake universities operating in the state and 24 unrecognised higher education institutions offering degree programmes in engineering, management, architecture and other technical disciplines for the past
several years.

“We are aware of their existence and also keep warning the students. It is difficult to act against them as nothing is found at the addresses mentioned as their office,’’ an official of the higher education department in Uttar Pradesh said when asked for a response on the issue.

The UGC Act, 1956 clearly provides that no institution other than a university established under a central, state or provincial Act, an institution declared as deemed-to-be-university under Section 3 of the UGC Act, and an institution, especially empowered by an Act of Parliament, can award degrees.

As per the AICTE regulations, it is mandatory for the institutions to get the approval of the Council to offer degree programmes in engineering, management and other technical disciplines.

But, no action is taken against those institutions that are not recognised.

“What can we do? Our mandate is to approve technical programmes. We cannot cross our limits and take action against institutions offering technical courses without our approval. We write to the states when we receive a complaint requesting them to take action,” AICTE vice-chairman M P Poonia told DH.

In 2015, the UGC had made an exception and lodged a complaint with the Delhi Police against the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) accusing it of “misleading, cheating and fooling” their students. Acting on the complaint, Delhi Police had registered an FIR against IIPM founder Arindam Chaudhuri and others under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

“I was benched for two weeks by my company last month after they came to know that my MBA degree from IIPM was not valid. Thankfully, my company somehow agreed to allow me to resume my work,” Soujanya K (name changed), who works with a BPO in Bengaluru, said.

Lack of political will

For more than two decades, the Union government has been trying to address the problem of fake universities and unapproved institutions. To give powers to the UGC to deal with the fake universities with stringent provisions for action against them, the government placed an amendment Bill in 1991, but it could never see the light of the day. In 2010 again, the HRD ministry brought a Bill to check malpractices in the higher education sector. This too could not get the nod of Parliament.

A parliamentary committee on government assurance had rapped the HRD ministry in its report in 2016 for not taking tough action against the mushrooming of private and fake universities, “who deceitfully claim to be recognised institutions of learning,” recommending that the government should consider in the interest of the students to bring a central law to punish those who indulge in unfair practices.

“The committee would like to await the decision of the government in this regard. Till then the assurance would remain alive in the records of the committee,” the parliamentary panel had noted in its report. Interestingly, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who is now the HRD minister, was the chairman of the parliamentary committee.

“This is a very unhealthy practice; we must end it. Existing Acts do not empower the regulators to close down such institutions. That’s why we are bringing the Higher Education Commission of India Bill. The Provisions made in the Bill will deal with this kind of diversions firmly,” higher education secretary of the HRD ministry R Subrahmanyam told DH.

Fake universities and unrecognised higher education institutions offering degree programmes are functioning unabated and thriving across the country not just because of the lack of firm action against them by the government but also because they are in demand.

A section of students who fail to get admission in recognised institutions enrol with these institutions’ programmes to obtain a professional qualification.

Several HR professionals in the industry acknowledged, on condition of anonymity, that a large number of Tier-II and Tier-III companies do not mind hiring someone with a degree from an unrecognised institution so long as the candidate appears to have the skills required for the job.

“Such hirings are mostly done for low-paid jobs,” a senior manager of an IT company said.

The AuthBridge, a Gurugram-based company which offers background check services to the employers and performs close to one million checks per month, said that of all the checks performed to verify the education credentials of the job seekers in 2018, 1.13% were found discrepant.

“While 33% of these cases were found to be discrepant due to fake or forged degrees, 41% were found to be discrepant due to degrees from fake or unrecognised universities,” the company said.

“We need a widening awareness on this issue of fake and unrecognised institutes. While some enterprises are extremely stringent on these parameters, many still haven’t woken up to the potential threats. UGC publishes a list of unrecognised colleges. More needs to be done,” AuthBridge’s founder Ajay Trehan said.

(With inputs from Sanjay Pandey in UP)

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