Indira Gandhi National Open University, India’s largest distance learning varsity, allowed over a dozen private firms to offer its degrees and diplomas, violating rules and costing the public exchequer over Rs. 300 crores.
The CBI is set to probe a series of MoUs signed by IGNOU under its former Vice Chancellor VN Rajasekharan Pillai with private firms that earned crores offering IGNOU degrees between 2006 and 2011, agency sources said.
Pillai, who was also chairman of the Distance Education Council (DEC), the country’s apex distance education regulator, is already accused of corruption by the CBI in two cases. The agency has filed FIRs against Pillai and raided his home and offices for allowing Sikkim Manipal University and Punjab Technical University to offer distance programmes in violation of norms, a scam
on October 9, 2010.
But new documents accessed by HT suggest that the rot at IGNOU may have run much deeper. MoUs authorized by Pillai allowed private firms to earn crores in fees from students using IGNOU’s brand.
Pillai, now the principal secretary at Kerala’s science and technology department, denied all charges in a
. “There was no loss of funds to the public exchequer in any of the cases,” he told HT.
But the CBI confirmed that the MoUs could spell more trouble for Pillai. “There may be more FIRs filed against Pillai,” a source at the agency said on condition of anonymity. “We are particularly looking at the MoUs signed with private firms allowing them to effectively sell IGNOU degrees.”
The private groups that gained most from offering IGNOU degrees and diplomas include Bhopal-based AISECT (Rs. 65 crore), Chennai-based SAPET (Rs. 116 crore) and Mumbai’s Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics (MAAC) (Rs. 20 crore).
AISECT was allowed to run any IGNOU course across the country, and also run a series of its own courses offering IGNOU degrees at the end of the programmes. Though all IGNOU programmes must be approved by relevant varsity school boards and the university Academic Council, the AISECT courses were not.
Under the MoU, a copy of which is with HT, AISECT was given the responsibility to prepare brochures, admission forms, course material and conduct admissions – though the degree on offer would carry the IGNOU stamp.
But that wasn’t all.
IGNOU runs 139 study centres near Bhopal, where AISECT is headquartered, and about 2000 such centres across India. But under Pillai, the university allowed AISECT to open 450 additional study centres which received a share of the fees collected from students.
“This had a hugely demoralizing effect on our study centres,” a senior IGNOU faculty member said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
“The message this sends is that you’re okay with students and money being made at privately run centres instead of encouraging IGNOU’s own study centres.”
IGNOU’s tie-up with SAPET attracted flak from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Based on complaints it had received, the CVC had launched a direct probe against Pillai in 2009.
In its final report, the CVC found that SAPET admitted students without IGNOU’s approval – even though this approval was required under the MoU between the university and the private group.
The SAPET case also raised questions of conflict of interest. One of the group’s trustees, Murli Kumaran, was legal advisor to the DEC under Pillai. The CVC called the IGNOU decision to allow SAPET to identify its own study centres and charge fees without any verification of infrastructure or experience “not proper and as per statute.”
The All India Council for Technical Education – the country’s apex technical education regulator – on September 29, 2009, wrote to IGNOU advising it to ask project partners to seek the AICTE’s approval for running face-to-face courses in engineering and technology.
But SAPET ran engineering programmes from these centres without approval from either the All India Council for Technical Education – the country’s apex technical education regulator – or from IGNOU as was required under the MoU.
At a meeting on March 9, 2010, IGNOU’s school of engineering and technology decided to discontinue engineering courses with SAPET. But Pillai overruled this decision, arguing that AICTE approval was not required at IGNOU study centres, since IGNOU is established under an Act of Parliament, and granting admission to SAPET students.
The CVC concluded that no malafide intent could be found on the part of Pillai, but asked the human resource development (HRD) ministry to “fix the responsibility” for the violations of the MoU between IGNOU and SAPET.
In its MoU with MAAC, IGNOU gave up its right to team up with any other firm for similar programmes – even though MAAC continued to run its own courses in parallel.
Pillai did not answer why the university entered into an exclusive tie-up with MAAC, simply saying that “in the IGNOU system, all partner institutions continue with their own courses and programmes in parallel.”