Education Malpractices Bill 2010: Not comprehensive and lacking teeth.

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“The old man is in a hurry!!!”

1997: Just before stepping down as prime minister following withdrawal of support by the Congress, Deve Gowda had called Kesri “an old man in a hurry”.

Congress president Sitaram Kesri hit back at outgoing Prime Minister Gowda for describing him as “an old man in a hurry”. Delivering his presidential speech to the 80th Congress plenary session in Calcutta, he said, “I must confess, I am in a terrible hurry. This old man is in a hurry to liberate the youth of India from the bonds of desperation and despondency,” he said in his presidential address at the plenary session.

In his address, Kesri said, “I look to the future. I am looking to the next millennium, to an India that is strong, prosperous and egalitarian.”

see LINK

That was 1997 and we are now in 2010. India’s current Minister of HRD seems to be in utter hurry too and for the very same reasons expressed by Kesri.  Contrary to what Kesri ascribes as the reason, the reality was that he sniffed a possibility of leveraging himself to Prime-ministership and knew that his age and health did not allow him time to go slow. He died following ill-health three years later.

However, Sibal is not old and unlike Kesri doesnot harbour dream to become India’s next PM (I may be wrong since even our current PM did not harbour the dream). At 62, Sibal is as fit as I am at 41. Maybe, even fitter! Only his patience does run out on him and he is not able to take criticism. He has a long life ahead and I pray for the same in the interest of the nation. It seems that Sibal disagrees with my observation that Indian needs him and TOI quotes him to say:  “The energy of the nation doesnot depend on parliamentarians who are above 60 years.”

Minister Sibal, India needs you and you are certainly amongst the very few ministers that impress us. Your enthusiasm and energy levels are challenging standards and hence I question the reckless hurry in pushing several bills that lack homework. In my last blog I had detailed my review of the Foreign Education Institution Bill only to provide a balance to the rhetoric. Now it appears that there is a clear acceptance of some of those arguments by many experts. Not even one year of the five-year term is over for the UPA government and unless you foresee a change in ministry or your transfer to the party work, there is no need to take shortcuts. Appoint committees and commissions to go over the issue, invite submissions from stakeholders and come up with a comprehensive set of recommendations in the third year of the 5-year term allowing the remaining period for implementation. Bill prepared by bureaucrats with inputs from a few outdated and retired experts of yesteryears in this ever-changing world is calling for trouble. Some don’t even understand the impact that Internet based learning is having in breaking the geographical boundaries totally removing the need for multiple campuses.

‘The Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill’ is another enthusiastic initiative but one that has caused unrealistic expectations in the mind of many. Popularly referred to as EDUCATION MALPRACTICES BILL leading to unfair expectations.

I was shocked to learn that some Foreign Governments were mistaking it as a bill to regulate education agents. In reality, it has nothing to do with overseas institutions at all or their appointed agents in India. It is solely to do with the “unfair practices” in “Technical, Medical Institutions and Universities” from India and working under the Ministry or any of the other allied bodies. Overseas Education agents are agents working for institutions in another country and are paid by institutions in another country and are contracted by institutions in another country. The regulation of such agencies is of no concern to India as their act is not earning for India and their existence is not illegal. Further the client for these agents is technically institutions located overseas who need to take corrective actions when the business contract is violated. The institutions have a responsibility for the act of their agents and this is required by the legislations of the governments where the institutions are located. If the institution is not complying then it is the duty of those alien governments to act. Not India at all. I will cover details on this in my next blog…

Now coming back to the issue of this blog:

MINT informs…

The Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010, is expected to address issues such as capitation fees and donations sought for admitting students; non-issuance of receipts; forcible withholding of certificates and other documents; and other non-transparent admission processes.

The Hindu reports…

While pointing out that the Bill was in no way aimed at dissuading private participation, the Ministry contended that so far there was no central law to curb a range of malpractices that crept into the professional education system. These include capitation fee, donations, overcharging for sale of prospectus, opacity in admission procedures, misleading advertisements, recruitment of unqualified persons and underpayment of teachers.

I remain pessimistic because the “education entrepreneur” lobby is very strong in India will seeks judiciary involvement at each folly to derail such initiatives using the loopholes. It is a fact that unscrupulous private providers in India cannot mushroom, get accreditation, get deemed statuses or even procure appropriate infrastructure without political backing. The “godfathers” either remain in the background or take “centre stage” as politicians or even ministers.

The idea of restricting or banning capitation fees is not novel and several directives have been initiated of from time to time. Have they worked??? The names and modalities change with the regulations. The avatars of CAPITATION include paid seats or NRI quota or Management quota or even under-the-table payments, which get exposed through sting operations initiated by rival groups and once the noise settles down, resurfaces. I recently visited one such Medical College in Chennai and found exceptional facilities being provided to the students. Minister needs to address the reasons as to why the capitations are charged or needed in the first place and addressing that will only solve the concern. Delivery of quality education with quality infrastructure is only possible with availability of funds. Government subsidizes its own institutions resulting in low fees and expects the Private providers to offer courses for low fees while ignoring malpractice that goes on in the government college admissions. Here “sports quota” or “culture quota” get sold, almost always. At times dished out as political favors.

I find it contradictory that on one hand, the Foreign Education Bill welcomes foreign providers (who will be termed as private providers when they open campuses in India) to come and set up shop, determine their fees and decide admissions with the only limitation being that the money earned is not repatriated, while on the other hand, your other bill, is looking at capping the revenue earned by the Indian origin Private institutions and attempting to increase bureaucratic control. The only reason why the capitation is being charged is that the one who has invested in the venture is seeking to get a return on investment. Is this wrong in today’s market economy? I would actually go the other way to argue that if capitation is legalized then it will be subject to audits and the money will be invested in betterment of the institutions. As not-for-profit trusts, the promoters are obliged to invest the earnings back into the institutions anyway. Notice the new-age schools in India that have carved a niche for them without compromising on quality or infrastructure. Or what is happening in the area of health care with quality private hospitals being allowed to charge higher fees based on the demand. Over a period of time, the one who is not able to live up to his promise will be driven out of business.

In today’s liberalized economy, supply and demand fix prices and also the competition sets standards. The Minister should focus on enabling setting up of more colleges that breeds competition. The capacity increases to absorb our increasing number of students can take place in immediate term with Government institutions increasing infrastructure on their available land and doubling capacity. Certainly, St Stephens or SRCC can add one floor and increase their intakes. Quality will be assured too. This will not happen because these colleges are also enjoying the high cut-offs that they boast of at the time of admissions and increasing capacity will increase supply lowering the cut-offs. The Minister should also focus on encouraging students and parents to studying wide range of disciplines and also a sincere promotion of vocational and job-ready education is the need of the hour to reduce the pressure on University education. Not all need University degrees to find employment. World knows this and India needs to move away from the degree-phobia.

I find aspects of the bill to be incomplete to summarise that it is not needed at all in the current form and with current goals. Bill to check the pricing of prospectuses or ensuring issuance of receipts!!! You got to be joking.  Do we not have a strong criminal act for fraud, cheating and deceit under the infamous Indian Penal Code section 420. This plus the implementation of the current provisions under consumer protection act, labour laws and also the advertising procedures under MRTPC should be sufficient to cover all the other coverage areas of the proposed ‘The Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill’. Provided they are all implemented. Implementation is the key and not legislation.

To be honest, it appears as another hurried initiative of the Minister to prove some abstract point that the education system that has suffered from low investment and unplanned growth for a long period can be turned around by him within a year.

Adequate deterrents are also missing in the proposed bill. Penalty for abuse is low, understanding that the jail-sentence is only an extreme provision and Sibal would know the loopholes of the Indian judicial system that will be used anyway.

Although Sibal refused to give details on the punishment, a PTI report said duping students by charging capitation fees or failing to keep promises of quality education could attract a fine of up to Rs50 lakh or imprisonment for up to three years.

A fine of Rs 50 lakhs is too low to be a deterrent. Some Indian private medical colleges collect that sort of money from each student that they admit.

I cite some more reasons for my pessimism that the malpractices just CANNOT be checked… in hurry:.

Capitation Fees:

Experts welcomed the move, but were not optimistic about the Bills being implemented once they become Acts. “It would be something to wait and see. Educational institutions and specifically those that are in the field to make profit would find newer ways to charge extra money. It will be difficult to determine what is genuine and what is capitation fee. Unfair practices in the education sector are difficult to prove,”

B.B. Bhattacharya, vice-chancellor of JNU (quoted from MINT).

Transparency in admissions:

Malpractices in admission at “minority institutions” are not covered under this bill and the opposition should certainly wake up to this.  Transparency is what is ideal but our world is not ideal at all and sanctuaries are easily found. Pedigree and Affluence have an impact on admission even at the hallowed institution in Delhi where the Minister studied and where he has served on the board of management. Indian Minority educational institutions have exploited and continue to exploit the protection that they receive. No audits on their admission norms, nor is there any answerability.  While only the “pedigree and future connections” may count at some institutions, I hear of a top school in my city where only “affluence” counts and the going rate of the admission is Rs 4-5 lakhs paid without any receipt. If the same money could be paid to the trust or given as a donation to the school, one may frown upon this but that would still go towards some development of the school and be subject to audits. In the current system, the money changing hands just vanishes towards the post-retirement benefits of some individuals with small cuts to everyone involved. Nobody complains because everyone is scratching each other’s backs.

Education as a Business first:

I mentioned the role played by politicians and the education entrepreneurs who are often referred to as education mafia. This is a significant nexus which an urban thought process will take some time to decipher. Rumours has it that the real push behind quicker implementation of the Medical Council of India screening tests for overseas qualified doctors was actually a result of the lobbying of the “education mafia” threatened by the booming attraction of the Indian students to the Chinese medical colleges, that enjoyed cost advantage over the Indian private medical colleges. If the quality of the doctors was a concern then why did these screening tests not thought of earlier when some of Indian students chose studies in former USSR countries. These cartels will continue to exercise influence as long as India is a democracy. The MCI screening test is however a good idea though some reciprocal system should be worked on that allowed mutual recognition of professional medical qualifications between India and the countries with developed education system such as USA, UK, Australia and NZ.

COACHING INSTITUTES and the NEXUS:

We have read sufficient to conclude that the coaching institutes are harming the quality of the students who end up at the institutions. Students with no aptitude and those who have only mastered the nuts and bolts of the exam system. It is a fact that institutions, their professors and the coaching mafia are all in sync. The economy of Kota in Rajasthan is dependent on the coaching industry and at the same time if it is not checked immediately, we are going to end up with large numbers of kids who have lost out on valuable regular schooling as they begin the preparation for the engineering colleges in Class 9 itself. The abolition of the Year 10 board exam is actually helping the coaching factories. Minister Sibal has made positive noises in this direction by indicating a change that requires a weightage score for the Year 12 grades too. However, please cut off the umbilical chord between the professors at institutes and those who run the coaching and tuition centers. Do ban the printing of guess papers and guides that are the only books that many students in second level cities purchase as preparation for their even regular exams. The “cheating” in exams is rampant in all smaller cities and it defeats the purpose of the exams altogether. Without the ability to enforce rules, what is the purpose of the rules, may I ask?

Media’s role and ROK SAKO TO ROK LO approach:

The Media ethics is absent before the Advert revenue. Non-partisan reporting is the need of the hour. Private providers continue to violate regulations after regulations and remain un-reported simply because they are the biggest advertisers in the Indian newspapers. This is not going to change especially when “paid news” is a reality and even “paid ranking of institutions” dominate. Education is one of the biggest revenue earners to the print press and was the savior during the period of recession. The expose by Outlook group’s Career 360 is now also several months old and I understand that Minister Sibal is aware of the reporting. Interestingly, Business World had covered the same inappropriateness years ago but was ignored. Clearly, the degrees that the institute sells is invalid and the “full page color” adverts that it releases have concocted mis-representation. However this malpractice continues unchecked. I asked one of the media managers of a national newspaper as to why they donot write against the institute and the informal answer indicated that IIPM is their valuable advertiser to risk offence. Yes, this is the only reason that comes to my mind too. Hundreds of Indian students and their parents continue to be sold bogus degrees. I believe that our regulations even currently have the RDX to put such to close shop but there is just no inclination on part of anyone.

What to say of the media, state governments often allocate prime land for them to open one campus after another in name of ushering education revolution. SRK turned down the Todi’s Lux Hosiery sponsorship for the KKR team due to public-sentiments in Kolkata but remained sentiment-less to become a brand ambassador to IIPM even knowing well that its degrees are just not accredited. When an ICON idolized by our youth chooses money over ethics, I can only say OM SHANTI OM!!! IIPM (Pvt Ltd)’s dean Arindam Chaudhury gives the reason for SRK’s involvement with IIPM. “Who else in India can make an event global by his sheer global popularity than Shah Rukh? He is perceived as the face of intelligent Bollywood because of his ‘Economics’ education background, his suave marketing skills and sharp intelligence. He is obviously the natural choice,” says Arindam.

“Economics”, suave Marketing and sharp Intelligence indeed. Not ethics…

IIPM’s promoters Planman are also into movies and the first one that IIPM shot (and bombed) was titled ROK SAKO TO ROK LO. How appropriate.

IIPM is an example of an institution that has been exposed by the responsible media and hence allowing me to be able to quote its adventures by name. It is not the only one and there are several that continue to recruit students all over.

SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE.

Having listed my concerns in my blogs, it will be unfair to corner Minister’s enthusiasm. I only want him to slow down a bit. 4 years of his tenure is still available to him and so there is just no need to sprint. Also if you opt for an ICON to represent your enthusiasm then choose the other KHAN. After Tare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots, there can be no other partner in your mission.

However, Aamir does his homework before each of his initiatives. THIS MIGHT NOT APPEAL TO MINISTER SIBAL and hence may sign up SRK as a quick fix.

2 Comments

  1. Ravi,
    Having dealt with the Indian education industry closely , i think what needs to be done by Kapil Sibal is find a method to distinguish between the quality and only for profit providers ( not an easy job , as we see countries like the UK and Australia struggle with it)

    It is also difficult for us to say how much advertising is appropriate for an institution. If an institution has the money it has the right to advertise. At the same time a student needs to be educated about the jargon that prevails in India (AICTE, etc) and their implications. The AICTE has made quite a few positive moves in that direction in recent times with mandatory disclosure. A student should also understand that an post graduate program at times can be not affiliated/accredited but an undergrad program without these affiliations can be a huge problem.
    The relationship between these institutions and the media will always be tricky, but other modes of media like Facebook etc can become very important tools to spread the knowledge amongst the younger generation about what are the things to look out for when they choose an institution…
    In a way ROK SAKO TO ROK LO is the attitude of our politicians , because by the time Mr.Sibal moves out the ministry, who know which idiot would become HRD minister. Is someone of Arjun Singh’s ability comes back the rules would just get changed once again.. because frankly these guys think and they do get away with murder …and the media might just eulogize the new minister as it might translate into more revenue..
    ” Picture abhi baki hai…

    Like

    1. The Picture is not complete and hence the bill is not comprehensive. This is the point that is being made. Picture abhi baki hai… indeed. Change just for the sake of change is a sure recipe for disaster. Like you, many are afraid that if Sibal is replaced with a clone of Arjun Singh, what will happen. Hence, they keep quiet even to the missing gaps.

      Like

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