Recently, the University Grants Commission (UGC) released a list of 21 fake universities operating in different parts of the country. They are self-styled, unrecognized institutions which are functioning in contravention of the UGC Act. They are neither universities established by a Central or State act nor deemed to be universities under Section 3 of the UGC Act ,1956, and, therefore, are not empowered to award degrees under Section 22 of the Act. The degrees, diplomas or certificates awarded by them are not treated as valid for academic or employment purposes. A few years ago, a parliamentary panel had expressed concern at the government’s indifferent attitude in safeguarding the interests of students at the hands of fake institutions. It was regretted that the UGC and the AICTE were not going beyond uploading the names of fake institutions on their websites.
Any entity that awards degrees without authorization under the appropriate statute is a fake university. In our country degrees can be awarded only by the institutions authorised by UGC. However, due to lacunae, entities continue to award degrees without the requisite authorisation. The degrees awarded by them are, obviously, fake. Indeed, there are thousands of degree holders who are already employed but who had never chanced to see a college. All was well, one can remember, for many practicing lawyers possessing fake marksheets till the Kolkata Bar Council lodged a complaint in September 2004 with the Jorasanko police station against those who had used these. One may also recall that the vice-chancellor of LN Mithila University in Bihar was arrested on charges of having amassed a huge amount of money by selling degrees.
There are even reports of truant and irresponsible medical practitioners having fake degree earning a fast buck, which was brought to light by a Delhi court verdict. The Medical Council of India revoked the licenses of as many as 12 doctors with fake certificates. In 1978, the Controller of Examinations, Calcutta University, had to look into the issue of allegedly forged marksheets to students of degree courses between 1972 and 1975. Two education ministers of Bihar had to tender their resignations because of their direct involvement in a fake degree scandal in1999.
One of them kept absconding to avoid arrest for having made money along with his education commissioner by selling fake B Ed degrees. B N Mandal University in Bihar was reported to have sold postgraduate degrees and it is learnt that Gujarat University conducted the examinations of a pharmacy college for some years without the mandatory approval of the Pharmacy Council of India and/or the AICTE. The rise in fake certificate exposure had prompted the Council of the Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to sound a warning bell to the state about mushrooming fake boards.
Some time ago, the CBSE provided the member state boards with a list of four fake boards and asked them for information about other fake boards to forward to the Union Ministry of human resources and development for laying down rules and regulations. Parliament was informed in 1993 that there were as many as 27 bogus educational institutions in India issuing fake degrees. Even if a bogus university is detected, all that the UGC can do is to issue a notice warning them and asking them not use words like ‘university’, ‘vidyapith’, ‘visva vidyalaya’, ‘visva vidyapith’ and not to confer degrees under these names. Such notices are issued by other agencies, too, so as to make the masses aware. The NCTE provides detailed guidelines. The Association of Indian Universities also offers information through its handbook and other publications. But who cares? It was learnt that the self-styled Maithili University, for a long time, lorded over its vast network spread not only across India but also in some neighbouring countries.
All that it reflects is a general erosion of basic values even in our institutions of higher learning where academic standards and norms have been sacrificed. Not to speak of fake universities, recognised ones cannot be categorized as first-rate universities as per NAAC norms. Experience has it that certain universities have received sufficient funds to increase their size and raise the levels of operations in the field of higher education, but the colleges affiliated to them could not get the attention they deserved. It is known that both the Union and the state governments can legislate in the field of education, which is a concurrent subject under the Indian Constitution. True, a government of India legislation will prevail over any law passed by the state legislature, but this does not mean that Parliament can prevent a state legislature from functioning within its own sphere. Taking advantage of the situation, Chattisgarh passed the Private University Act in 2002 and began to grant recognition to private state universities in a way quite prejudicial to higher education.
More than 100 private universities sprang up within a short time without having any infrastructure worth the name. They further mushroomed across the country in a demand- driven surge that drew allegations of irregularities including franchising out courses in violation of the rules. The country cannot afford a rerun of what happened in Chhattisgarh from 2002 to 2005 when a large number of universities were established through executive orders issued under one act. As it turned out, the Supreme Court had to order the closure of most of these institutions. It seems that educational institutions in India have been plagued by the perquisites of the Nehruvian state that guaranteed an endless flow of taxpayers’ money without any accountability for the quality of teaching and research conducted. Complaints were received by the union human resource development ministry that the deemed universities had been affiliating colleges despite the fact that they were not allowed to do so under the UGC Act.
The ministry ordered the UGC to withdraw a controversial order that allowed the deemed universities to mislead students by claiming themselves to be fullfledged universities. The ministry had reason to derecognize 44 such universities in 13 states for not standing up to their claims. That the UGC Act lacks teeth is not refutable. Lately, it came down on unauthorised centres of learning. It identified some 10 universities that claimed to be UGC-certified with validated degrees and ordered them to shut down their off-campus centres. Periodically, the Commission issues public notices, press releases and paid advertisements for the awareness of the people. A few years ago, the UGC informed that Bharatiya Shiksha Parishad, Lucknow, and Indian Institute of Planning Management (IIPM), New Delhi were unrecognized. The High Court gave the final decision against the institute and advised that acts of the IIPM constitute a criminal offence of cheating punishable under Section 420 of IPC.
To comply with the court decision, the UGC lodged an FIR against the institution. AICTE also gives details of fake technical institutions on its web portal. lt has also published an approval Process Handbook as per the AICTE (Grants of Approval of Technical Institutions) Regulations, 2012. CBSE displays the list of affiliated or disaffiliated schools on its website for ensuring the genuineness of the marksheets. Needless to say, the existence of fake universities shows the increasingly low morale of our people. This calls for a system that can inculcate proper values among the youth as proposed by the National Education Policy (NEP).
The government, media and UGC should proactively highlight the existence of such universities. The national regulator needs to be more vigilant to keep an eye on upcoming bogus universities. It is also imperative that before taking admission the students check the authenticity of the university concerned from the UGC website as well as from the website of the higher education department of the state. What is needed is to strengthen the hands of the UGC by making the running of such institutions a cognizable offence. We can no longer afford to put up with the gimmicks of the fake degree mafia and non-serious promoters of education who are bent on minting money by exploiting the innocent.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 5, 2022, issue.
The writer, a former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata, is presently with