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The Great Indian Nightmare
Maheshwer Peri
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September 25, 2008
George Bernard Shaw once asked an attractive woman seated next to him at a dinner table, "Madam, would you go to bed with me for a thousand pounds?" The woman shook her head. "How about 50,000 pounds?" he continued. The woman, after further thought, coyly replied, "Perhaps." Shaw continued, "How about five pounds?" The woman exclaimed, "Mr Shaw, what do you take me for!" Shaw calmly replied, "We have already established what you are. Now we are merely haggling for the price."

In the great Indian Education Bazaar, everything is up for sale -- government, media, educational institutes, foreign faculty, collaboration with foreign varsities, endorsement of teaching shops by reputed names for credibility, successful candidates in competitive exams posing as alumni. The only issue is the price, and you can haggle over it.

"I threatened one institute with legal recourse if it uses my name in any of its brochures," said a topper, whose name the institute was using to position itself in the market.

Says a parent, "My son joined the BBA course offered by a Delhi-based institute. Mortgaging my house in Bihar, I paid Rs 12 lakhs as fees, only to realise later that it wasn't accredited with the UGC (University Grants Commission). Worried, I admitted my son to the Delhi [Images] Open University, too. My son now studies in two institutes without any time for himself, and has gone into a depression and developed suicidal tendencies."

Representatives of the concerned institute respond, "The parent shouldn't have just gone by the ads. These are meant to attract students for our business." Writes a frustrated professor who gave up teaching, "The impotent rage that I felt during those years as a professor, about kids literally crying their hearts out, but still refusing to come out in the open has killed all traces of compassion in me."

The problem starts with the UGC, the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), and the HRD (Human Resources Development) ministry. An entrepreneur who had gone to register a distant education course that could be enabled on the Internet was told, "The normal process takes a long time and as your course is on the Internet, it may not pass at all. Saheb, aap hamari dekhbal karo aur hum aap ka kaam karva denge (You take care of us and we will ensure that this course gets UGC recognition)."

The rules of the game are weird, "They are more bothered about floor space, toilets and the like. I can rotate faculty across five programmes and they won't care two hoots," cries the professor.

Bureaucrats exploit an impotent society and an overburdened judiciary to earn slush money. Good institutions are harassed, and those bad are indulged. And for the bad institutions, there are middlemen who help them get out of trouble "We realised that the solution for all the complaints against us lay with a person in Punjab, who had all the right connections in the ministry of education," says a representative of another educational institute.

The media comes out completely scarred. "I can't even write about a good institution like the ISB (Indian School of Business) as the biggest advertiser would have a problem," says an editor of a leading English daily. "There is pressure on me to have the dean of a private institute featured on my front page," says another editor.

Articles with misleading facts are planted in the media, and come in handy for those who resort to advertisements to gain credibility. "They are the biggest advertisers and we need to keep them happy," says an ad sales head. B school rankings and awards are up for sale; the price is paid through advertisements. "If you push us up by a couple of ranks, it wouldn't be noticed by anyone," an institute once said to me.

They entice publications through other methods. For instance, four months into the launch of our business magazine, Outlook Business, a private university awarded us the 'best business magazine.' A few years ago, Outlook was awarded 'the most popular magazine amongst the masses.' Aware of my deep suspicion and dislike for such honour, I was once offered 'an entrepreneur with social consciousness.'

The nation watches in dismay as the game goes on. They fleece and post lavish profits. No questions are asked. No taxes are paid. There are no regulations. Glance at advertisements featured in the leading Indian publications. People who shout the most are the biggest liars. Often, the job placement figures and the salaries offered are not even half of what is claimed.

"What some of these so-called MBA institutes produce are kids who know how to wear a tie and spout jargon that would only help them sell an insurance policy. So, why should we pay pounds to buy peanuts?" asks a source closely linked to placing students in jobs. Those who can't grant MBA degrees because they lack the mandatory AICTE approval find these can be secured from private universities in Chhattisgarh or Europe.

A student visited an international B school in Europe whose degrees are hawked in India. He now writes, "We walked into a college which is not bigger than my 4,000 sq ft house and we could meet only two people during our entire stay." This foreign institute isn't even recognised by its own government.

A parent, whose son went on one of the international study tour, retorts, "All my son did on the tour was to visit a few night clubs. He had a lot of fun at my expense. It was never a study tour."

To create an image for themselves, some institutes invite international professors to lecture on one of their campuses. The professors allow their names to be used, obviously, for the right price. Teachers who haven't visited India in the last five years find their names mentioned under visiting faculty in the ads of dubious institutes.

Now the new game is consulting and executive education. While investigating a recent executive education advert by an Indian institute which claimed that they tied up with a couple of very prominent global university and B school, we realised that their contribution was a mere two per cent of the entire course content.

In times of financial crunch, even the best global institutes and universities are up for sale -- all for the right price. A mail to some of these varsities elicited panicky response or silence. They left it to their Indian partners to 'manage' the Indian media.

The realisation you have been taken for a ride sinks in -- often very soon. As I write this column, another student has committed suicide in Delhi. And the lies continue. The facade is unchallenged.

Corruption thrives. Slush money pours. Unemployable manpower grows. Employable manpower is a trickle. An over-burdened economy is made to pay more for the trickle. A poor population is forced to borrow to fund education for their children -- no returns guaranteed. The income gap widens. The economy weakens. The India growth story is challenged. It is real.

A professor harassed for being a whistle blower and forced to resign says, "If a person like me cannot make an honest living in this country, I would be more concerned about the country's future than for myself."

This is The Great Indian Nightmare.

Are you concerned? Want to make a difference. Please write to me at

Maheshwer Peri is the President and Publisher of the Outlook group of magazines.

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