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Consumer law safeguards against education frauds

A couple of months ago, about 70 students of a technical institute in Gondia, Maharashtra, reportedly lodged a police complaint alleging that the institute had cheated them.

business Updated: Sep 22, 2012 23:49 IST
Pushpa Girimaji

A couple of months ago, about 70 students of a technical institute in Gondia, Maharashtra, reportedly lodged a police complaint alleging that the institute had cheated them.

They alleged that they paid Rs 30,000 and joined the diploma courses offered by the institute, on the basis of its advertisements claiming due recognition and affiliation.

But the institute was not recognised because even after a year the students had joined the courses, the institute did not conduct any examination.

To curb such misleading advertisements by educational institutions, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory body of advertising industry, has formulated detailed advertising guidelines for educational institutions.

These clearly prohibit misleading claims or half truths about affiliations, recognition, accreditations, or even job guarantees. Yet, you find unscrupulous educational institutions blatantly violating the guidelines — probably the institute in Gondia that the students were complaining about was one such institution.

In cases such as these, the consumer protection Act comes to the rescue of students who are victims of such advertisements.

Under the consumer protection Act, false or misleading advertisements constitute an unfair trade practice and the victims can seek redress through the consumer courts. There is also a provision for all the affected students to file one common complaint or a class action suit.

In Buddhist Mission Dental College and Hospital Vs Bhupesh Khurana and Ors , 11 students had filed a complaint before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in 1994, alleging that they had lost two academic years as the college was neither affiliated to Magadh University nor recognised by the Dental Council of India, as claimed by it.

While the commission directed refund of the fee along with interest and R20,000 as compensation, the Supreme Court awarded an additional R1 lakh as compensation and R1 lakh as costs to each of the students.

In Tesol India Vs Shri Govind Singh Patwal, six students got their fees back they had paid by approaching the consumer court, along with compensation varying from R7,500 to R25,000. Here the allegation was that the institute had not only made false claims about its affiliation, but had also promised guaranteed jobs in foreign countries.

Thus, while consumer courts can give relief, it would be wise to always check the website of the All India Council for Technical Education (www.aicte-india.org), to find out about the correct status (recognition, approval, foreign affiliation, etc) of the institute. And if you come across advertisements which you think may be false or misleading, you can lodge a complaint with the ASCI.

If the advertisement violates code/guidelines, ASCI will have the advertisement withdrawn or modified. It, however, does not ask an advertiser to issue corrective advertisements.

Vishal Singh: I spent R40,000 to enroll for a 200-hour programme on 'data storage management' at an elite computer institute in New Delhi. But they have neither issued the marksheet/course completion report nor fulfilled the promise of job opportunities. And they are not responding to my e-mails either. What should I do?

Please send them a formal letter informing them that if they do not fulfill the promises made at the time of enrolment, you will be constrained to go to the consumer court, seeking not just refund of the fee (along with interest), but also compensation for the harassment and disappointment caused to you, besides costs of litigation. If they do not respond positively, just go ahead and file a complaint under the consumer protection Act. You can also join other students with similar grievance and file a class action suit. Also complain to the All India Council for Technical Education about the institute.