UGC has kept a list of fake universities for 25 years. Why doesn’t it act against them?

No Indian university can grant a degree without the regulator’s approval. Yet several unauthorised universities have been doing so for decades despite being on the UGC’s radar.

ByChahak Gupta
UGC has kept a list of fake universities for 25 years. Why doesn’t it act against them?

On October 7, the University Grants Commission issued a list of 24 fake universities, meaning institutions not recognised by the higher education regulator or authorised to confer a degree.

The UGC has been issuing the fake universities list every year since 1994 and, remarkably, some institutions have been appearing on it quite persistently.

Mahila Gram Vidyapith, a “university” in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh, has made it to the list every year since 1994. Yet, it continues to admit students and award them degrees and certificates.

The Institute of Alternative Medical Sciences, Kolkata, established in 2009, offers multiple courses in “alternative medicine” such as Indo-allopathy and homeopathy. Its website casually mentions that “eligible candidates” can even avail a Registered Medical Practitioner Certificate.

The Vishwakarma Open University of Self Employment is based out of Sanjay Enclave in Delhi. Its website proudly declares that it is one of the institutions named by the education ministry to promote self-employment and that it’s the “only university generating crores of jobs”. Offering 149 courses, mostly in paramedicine, it even claims to be one of the country’s “finest” institutions.

I contacted VS Mahajan, the dean of the Vishwakarma University, posing as a prospective student. I had graduated in history and barely passed, I said, but I wanted to study biochemistry. Would it not be a problem that I didn’t have a science background?

“How does that matter?” the dean interjected. “Anyone can learn the skills. We have courses ranging in duration from one year to five years. Ours is one of its kind university. Those who don’t get admission in other universities because of academic reasons can come to us and we will train them. It’s an aptitude-based university.”

The university even offers technical paramedical courses, from life support administration to cardiac lab assistance. How are these courses supposed to help prospective students? “There are people who have worked in hospitals for 20 years but don’t get promoted because they don’t have diplomas,” Mahajan replied. “We give them a diploma in recognition of their prior learning after taking online exams. Then we get their marksheets made.”

As for being the “only university generating crores of jobs”, he claimed their alumni were employed in public and private sector jobs because they had “real skills”. “How does the degree matter anyway? One should know the skill, as our prime minister has emphasised time and again,” he reasoned.

For Mahajan, the term “fake” as it applies to an unrecognised university such as his is merely a matter of interpretation. “We are not doing anything wrong. We are making a skilled labour force. What does ‘fake’ mean? Does a degree recognised by UGC promise jobs? You don’t ask a cobbler if he has a degree as long as he gets the job done,” he said. “Why level these accusations against our noble pursuit then?”

Comparing the UGC to the now redundant VCRs, Mahajan claimed the regulator was capable of neither assuring students of jobs nor reinventing itself. It was a “decaying” system, he added.

Not merely diplomas and degrees, the university even awards honorary doctorates. On its website is a list of people who have received honorary doctorates in fields ranging from social work to neurosurgery.

“Can I get an honorary doctorate from the university with only a bachelor’s degree?” I asked the dean.

“If you have done considerable work in the field for five years and you tell us about it, then why not?” he replied. “There are PhD holders who just sit in universities and do nothing. Most of them do not even get a job. We are not concerned with academic qualifications. If you have worked in the field for more than five years, do you not deserve a doctorate?”

Mahajan added, as an aside, “The online course is only for Rs 15,000. You can fill the form on the website.”

Mahajan insisted that the UGC’s fake universities list was faulty. Why? The list mentioned Vishwakarma Open University for Self Employment but the institution didn’t use the word “open” in its name, he explained. That is not quite so. The “credentials” segment of the university’s website features a marksheet which is issued by the Open University for Self Employment.

No university can award a degree without being recognised by the UGC, a statutory body set up by the Indian government in 1956 for “coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education”. Yet, institutions like the Vishwakarma University have been operating across India for over two decades without facing any action from the regulator, or the government. The UGC has filed FIRs against and fined two universities under the UGC Act of 1956, which prohibits the award of degrees by unrecognised institutions. But even these two institutions continue to operate.

Why, one might wonder, has the government or the UGC not taken any action against such universities despite listing them as fake year after year?

This question was asked in the Lok Sabha to the education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal last December. He replied that the UGC had sent letters to state governments to take appropriate action against fake universities located in their jurisdictions. The regulator had also issued warning notices and filed FIRs.

Ten months later, the UGC has issued another list containing the same 24 fake universities as last year, and two other institutions whose applications for recognition are pending in the courts.

The UGC has also dragged its feet on deciding the status of the Bhartiya Shiksha Parishad, a self-proclaimed university in Lucknow. Pokhriyal said the institution was not recognised by the UGC, yet Rajnish Jain, the secretary of the UGC, said in a circular released on October 7 that it couldn’t be included in the list because its application for recognition was pending in the court. In the past, though, it has regularly featured on the UGC’s fake universities list.

Over the last two decades, the institution has time and again written to the UGC, as also the president, for permission to operate but the regulator has cited the illegality of granting degrees by an unrecognised university to deny it.

Still, the university’s website boasts of an imposing building and a bouquet of undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses. It continues to admit students every year. On its website, a dropdown menu on the “affiliation” page contains the category of “fake universities”. It throws up a UGC list of fake universities sans the Bhartiya Shiksha Parishad. No other document or information about the university’s affiliation is made available. The website claims that under the National Education Policy of 1986, it is considered to be one of India’s best institutions.

Newslaundry contacted Jain, the UGC secretary, to ask why the regulator hadn’t taken action against the fake universities on its list, but he was not available for comment. This report will be updated if a response is received.

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