SFI writes to MHRD and pulls the plug on fake universities offering DLitt degrees to VIPs. Full list inside
Not too many people would have forgotten Arindam Chaudhuri. Author, entrepreneur and founder of the now infamous Indian Institute of Planning and Management, he was hailed by many as a visionary and an influencer. At the turn of the century or thereabouts, many youngsters rushed to get admitted to IIPM. After all, it was advertised as being better than the IIMs.
The writing had been on the wall for a while. It's just that no one cared to read between the mortar lines. There had been speculations around the institute's credibility long before It began with a legal clash between IIPM and a magazine. A probe then proved that the institute was spreading false information through its advertisements. Finally, the University Grants Commission barred IIPM from issuing degrees and issued a notice calling it a fake university. All of a sudden, Chaudhuri's house of cards had collapsed.
While the curious case of Chaudhuri and IIPM remains a rather strange blot in the rather pedicured history of Indian private education, a new list released by the Students' Federation of India (SFI) reveals details of nine fake universities in India that have specialised in awarding Doctor of Letters (DLitt) and PhD degrees. According to the SFI's letter, all one has to do is pay a hefty amount of money. The claim is a little more shocking: the alleged list of degree recipients includes top bureaucrats, scholars and teachers.
IIPM story: IIPM was dissolved in 2015
The SFI has written to the Ministry of Human Resource Development demanding a vigilant intervention and has asked them to set up a high-level committee that can enquire into these fake varsities. "Genuine researchers earn a doctoral degree after years of committed work in their respective fields. Lack of stringent actionscurbing of the award of fake PhD degrees is in another way questioning and nullifying the genuine effort of scholars who work hard for a better part of their life," reads the letter. "On a detailed study, it has come to our notice that there is an influential mafia network that facilitates this fake degree infrastructure and it is also a shocking fact that many of those people who hold these fake degrees are people in highly influential positions," it says.
These are the universities that the list has revealed — University of Asia, The International Tamil University. Kings University, USA, Universal Tamil University, International Peace University, Germany, Indian Virtual University for Peace (IVUP), The Open International University for Complementary Medicines, Indian Peace University and The International Economic University. "States like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan are hubs for these institutions," says Mayukh Biswas, SFI National General Secretary. "Upon looking at the list, you'll even find that this mafia has come up with something called Kings University. People may think that this is the same as King's College London and fall prey to it," he adds.
How did it all begin?
C M Shanmukhadas is a former Madras University Professor who recently relocated to his hometown Koyilandi in Kozhikode. A few months ago, he got to know that a neighbour of his, a Homeopathic doctor, was awarded an honourary Doctorate from the University of Asia. Now for Shanmukhadas, the news seemed strange. He tells us why. "I know him personally. He doesn't have a BHMS degree. Many people in our locality are aware of this." So, when this 'doctor' Sreevaram Vasudevan was awarded a PhD in Education Counselling, Shanmukhadas checked out the university's website.
"The university says that you can apply for a DLitt, which permits you to prefix your name with a 'Dr' tag. This wasn't a PhD like Vasudevan claimed," says Shanmukhadas. Now, there was something suspicious in the website — most of its pages were static, while university websites usually have dynamic pages. "I got in touch with author Indu Menon and a few other friends in IIT Madras, who immediately realised the website was not legitimate. This website was created on April 4, 2018. It has been updated only 10 times since then," he says.
Fake or real : University of Asia claims that the building in the picture is in its campus
The university's photographs were apparently copied from another website. The website also says that the Vice-Chancellor of the university is Dr Adam Jun, but they have used the photograph of Dr Furuta Motoo, Rector, Vietnam University. They have also used photographs of journalist K Park, calling him the university's registrar Dr Bee Thiam. All that it took them was a simple google reverse image search to get all these 'truths' out there. The university is believed to be headquartered in North Korea. But the university's name written on the website in Korean reads 'Asian day hub', which is apparently copied from the website of another Korean university based in Tokyo.
The frightening revelations about the University of Asia was just the tip of an iceberg. After realising the truth, Shanmukhadas heard of two other people from Kozhikode who had received DLitt degrees from the Indian Virtual University of Peace (IVUP). One of them was an officer in the Sarva Shiksha Mission. "I'd forwarded the case to the SFI Central Executive Committee. What followed was a protest and the officer, M G Balraj, was relieved of his duty," he says.
Shanmukhadas, along with a few other activists and journalists then formed a WhatsApp group to fact check and test the credibility of universities that awarded these degrees. "What we found was shocking. The list was longer than we had ever anticipated," he says. Strangely enough, the list names three peace universities. "We came across a youngster from Palakkad who had posted on Facebook that he had received an honourary doctorate for Youth Development from a peace university. This had gone viral. We had to take a lot of time and effort to make him understand the reality and finally got him to remove the post," says Shanmukhadas.
One more revelation that came up during this discussion was the case of the current HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. Pokhriyal was conferred with a DLitt by the Open International University, Colombo. Unfortunately, this university isn't recognised by the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka.
Reality check: P Vasu with his DLitt degree
The Kozhikode Director of Education T Suresh Kumar was also conferred with a DLitt by the University of Asia. A few other recipients of doctorates from these universities include director P Vasu, singers Vaikom Vijayalakshmi, Sooranad Hari Kumar, dancer Gayathri Viswanadhan and entrepreneur N C Mohandass. But it is not clear if these recipients are aware of these universities' fraud. "We have found out that a lot of industrialists in Kerala have paid hefty sums to procure doctorates to elevate their social status," says Shanmukhadas.
Who heads these universities anyway?
Two universities in the list, Kings University and International Tamil University are headed by the same person — their Vice-Chancellor Dr S Selvin Kumar. Kumar, who claims to be a historian says that he was a faculty at the Madurai Kamaraj University. He also claims to be the Chair for two organisations called International Peace Council USA and United Human Rights International. The latter, however, has no online presence. The agent for most of these universities is apparently, a group called Dr S Radhakrishnan Teacher's Welfare Association.