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Maharashtra: Implementation infirmities

EducationWorld July 13 | Education News EducationWorld

Somewhat belatedly the Mumbai police seems to have discovered the technique of using plain-clothes police personnel or undercover agents — an elementary policing technique foreign even to highly-qualified IPS (Indian Police Service) officers. On June 7, officers of the Thane rural police uncovered a huge fake certification racket run by the well-known Mumbai-based Swami Vivekananda College of Distance Education (SVC, estb. 1999). A month later, Vinay Kumar Mengi, principal of SVC, was arrested on charges of cheating and forgery by the Thane Rural Crime Branch for providing a bachelor of preparatory program (BPP) certificate to an undercover police agent who paid Rs.12,500 in marked currency for it without writing the exam.

Comments Kishore Khairnar, senior inspector of the Thane Rural Crime Branch, who led the investigation: “When we raided SVC’s premises we found thousands of fake certificates of Vinayaka Missions University, Salem and other universities in Madurai and Mumbai, including score cards and fake stamps.”

On its website, SVC claims to be affiliated with the Vinayaka Missions University, Salem (Tamil Nadu), a varsity ‘recognised’ by UGC (University Grants Commission), DEC (Distance Education Council — now dissolved), AIU (Association of Indian Universities) and IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University). The college website also features the photostat of a certificate issued by the Vinayaka Missions University (VMU) confirming SVC as an approved study centre of the varsity.

Significantly, the approval certificate says that SVC is authorised to “provide guidelines of various Programme (sic) under departments of Arts, Science & Management”. Despite this limited mandate, according to Khairnar, Mengi claimed that SVC is authorised to offer the study programmes of Vinayaka Missions University in the hybrid mode (online and classroom) across SVC’s five study centres.

“Our personnel visited Vinayaka Missions University in Salem. While they conceded they had affiliated SVC, they maintained that the ambit of the agreement was for SVC to enroll students for the Vinayaka Missions’ education programmes. The syllabus, curriculum and conduction of courses and tests apart from awarding of certificates was the domain of the university, not the institute,” says Khairnar.

VMU’s admission of svc’s limited mandate and its deliberately vaguely worded affiliation certificate indicate that the university’s management is well aware that in a notification issued in 2010, UGC prohibited state government universities from establishing “off-campus centre(s)/affiliate colleges beyond the territorial jurisdiction of the concerned state’’. Further, both UGC and AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) have repeatedly warned universities against outsourcing study programmes to private institutes.

Curiously, this is not the first time  Vinayaka Missions University has been embroiled in controversy. In 2006, a UGC-led enquiry found VMU guilty of conducting distance education courses without the requisite approvals, offering study programmes through franchisees and turning a blind eye to third parties issuing its certificates. At the time, a UGC committee had “advised” VMU not to start study centres/off shore centres for distance education programmes without the specific approval of the commission. Despite VMU having disregarded this advice, UGC has remained silent thus far.

According to a 2011 AICTE report, Maharashtra hosts the second largest number of illegal education institutions in the country, with 22 percent of institutes enroling students for technical programmes without AICTE approval.  Currently, state education authorities do not have the power to initiate action against unauthorised institutions. However in mid-June, the Maharashtra state government decreed a Maharashtra Prevention of Unauthorised and Illegal Educational Institutions Ordinance, 2013. Under this ordinance, owners, management and proprietors of ‘illegal’ institutions will be liable for a prison term of one year and fines of Rs.1-5 lakh for exceeding the mandate given to them by the affiliating university. The ordinance is awaiting the governor’s assent.

However education activists across the state are unimpressed by this ordinance. “It leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Who will implement its provisions? Will the government wait for students to be deceived and then prosecute fraudulent institutions? The promoters of fraudulent institutions will have the right of appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. This process itself will take 15-25 years. By the time justice is given to aggrieved students, crooks will have pocketed crores of rupees running such rackets,” says Vivek Velankar, a Pune-based RTI activist who has been campaigning for transparency in education for over a decade.

The fact the SVC has been able to project itself and function as a full-fledged degree college offering dubious quality education in its numerous study centres for over 13 years, highlights the infirmities of the country’s ramshackle higher education system. While apex-level organisations such as UGC and AICTE issue orders and diktats, there’s no clear responsibility for implementing them. Lack of governance permits thousands of dubious institutes to fleece students by promising them high-sounding study programmes which they are ill-equipped to deliver. And when all else fails, they issue fake degrees with impunity.

The SVC-VMU scandal should be a wake-up call for the state government and academia. But the greater likelihood is that it’s a storm in a teacup and will be soon forgotten for business to be conducted as usual.

Sunayana Nair (Mumbai)

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