Tamil nadu’s once highly reputed 22 state government universities are steadily losing their sheen because of scams, corruption and serious graft that are constantly being exposed by the media.
The latest scandal rocking the state’s floundering academy is a major scam in answer scripts re-evaluation at the Chennai-based Anna University (AU), the state’s premier engineering and technology university which has 530 colleges affiliated with it. A thriving scam was uncovered in July by the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC). According to DVAC, thousands of students who had failed engineering exams or recorded poor scores in the April/May 2017 examination conducted by AU, paid huge bribes to improve their scores.
DVAC spokespersons say that of the 300,000 students who had applied for re-evaluation of answer scripts of the April/May 2017 exam, 73,733 were passed and 16,636 were awarded higher marks. DVAC officers who seized incriminating documents and answer scripts from the suspects’ homes found the number of answer sheets of over 100 students had been tampered with and marks inflated.
It was found that an entire re-evaluation mafia comprising professors, university staff, agents and brokers negotiated with students willing to pay for enhanced marks and took advantage of a loophole in the AU re-evaluation rules to increase their scores. According to AU’s examination rules, if a student is awarded 15 marks more than her original score in a first re-evaluation, a second re-evaluation is conducted. The marks awarded in the original paper, first and second re-evaluations are compared and the highest score is declared as correct and final. In this particular case, there was an organised racket in which the “re-evaluation mafia” manipulated answer sheets of students who were ready to pay and inflated their marks during the second re-evaluation.
This open, uninterrupted and continuous racket in AU reportedly thriving for ten years, has shocked the academy and industry leaders — who hire thousands of AU graduates annually. DVAC investigations also indicate that managements of several of the top-ranked, 503 affiliated engineering colleges negotiate commissions with brokers and promote the re-evaluation culture to ensure a higher institutional ranking in the ranks list published annually by AU. According to AU sources, the university officially earned Rs.75 crore in the past five years (2011-16) for re-evaluation of answer scripts.
“The re-evaluation racket in AU is only the tip of the iceberg. Scandals are rife in admissions, appointment of faculty, promotions and awarding contracts to firms. Yet, the biggest scandal in AU is that the vice chancellor’s office is often sold to the highest bidder. It is no secret that vicechancellors recover their bribe-money paid to politicians, by extracting huge sums for granting affiliation approvals to private colleges, appointing faculty and awarding contracts. Corruption in Tamil Nadu’s higher education system can be stemmed only by appointing persons of unimpeachable integrity and professional competence to the apex-level position,” says E. Balaguruswamy, former vice chancellor of Anna University.
As indicated by DVAC’s exposure of the scandal, better elements within the establishment and Tamil Nadu’s bureaucracy — reportedly the most efficient in the country — often strike back. Last March, a case was registered by DVAC against former AU vice chancellor (2013-2016) Dr. M. Rajaram and six others for allegedly appointing faculty in exchange for bribes. In November 2016, R. Radhakrishnan, vice chancellor of Anna University, Coimbatore was convicted to five years’ rigorous imprisonment for accepting a bribe from a furniture contractor eight years earlier. These and other scandals have resulted in AU — the only university in Tamil Nadu ever ranked (651-700 band) in the London-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2017-18 — being omitted from the 2018-19 WUR league table.
The greater, more pernicious impact of the scams and scandals in AU and its 530 affiliated engineering colleges is that AU’s certification is becoming increasingly devalued. Managements — and particularly HR (human resource) managers — of IT and engineering companies who hire thousands of AU graduates every year, are designing comprehensive and detailed entrance tests to separate AU’s grain from chaff.
Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)