Did the commerce ministry decide to run invalid educational programmes through its Footwear Design and Development Institute’s (FDDI) eight campuses across India despite knowing this would jeopardise the future of its students? A written reply in the recent Lok Sabha session in Parliament by minister of state for commerce (independent charge) Nirmala Sitharaman indicates that the ministry was aware in 2015 that the courses FDDI ran with Mewar University, a private institute in Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, were unauthorised. About 4,000 students who took up the programme since it was started in 2012 and ran for three years, are now uncertain about their careers.
Replying to questions by parliamentarian Chandrakant Raghunath Patil on the degree granting status of FDDI, Sitharaman had, on July 31, 2015, said “The UGC, in September, 2014, has raised questions against the MoU between FDDI and Mewar University for grant of degree to FDDI students registered for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014 in the light of AICTE’s non-recognition of its degree.”
Sitharaman’s statement raises several questions. When the University Grants Commission (UGC), in September, 2014, alerted the ministry of commerce to the questionable collaboration between Mewar University and FDDI (which started in 2012), why did FDDI then aggressively market those courses for its academic session 2015-2016 until the matter was highlighted by HT Education on May 13, 2015 leading to the course being discontinued?
Advertising courses in newspapers, FDDI had also in its 2015 prospectus highlighted its collaboration with Mewar, saying that the degree courses would be continued for the next academic year. Not only that, following HT Education’s story on the validity of FDDI-Mewar University joint degrees, FDDI had, in newspaper advertisements, stated: “In an aggressive campaign backed by vested interests, questions have been raised regarding the veracity of the programmes offered by FDDI, a training institute under the ministry of commerce and industry, government of India.”
Justifying its collaboration with Mewar University, the FDDI advertisement also stated that “The alliance has been made to offer degree programmes to students who wish to build their career in niche areas. Such degree programmes are not offered by the conventional universities, and the Mewar University cannot possibly offer these niche programmes without the support of these specialised institutes (FDDI and 33 others who had collaborated with Mewar then). This alliance has made it possible for a large majority of students to get credible degree-based programmes in these high growth areas.”
While according to Sitharaman’s statement, the status of the degrees is questionable as these did not have AICTE approvals, the fact (highlighted by HT Education earlier) is that the FDDI-Mewar collaboration violates UGC (Establishment of and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities) Regulations, 2003.
There is no provision for any collaboration between a private university and any institute for grant of degrees. Section 3.2 of the Regulations 2003 says, “A private university shall be a unitary university having adequate facilities for teaching, research, examination and extension services.” Private universities have to operate within the boundary of their states and set up off-campus centres only in exceptional circumstances after their main campus is developed. Even then, several conditions apply for the off-campus centres, and UGC approval and concerned state government’s consent are required for the same. In case of FDDI and Mewar, none of the conditions were fulfilled.
In her reply, Sitharaman also said that FDDI started degree courses in 2010, first in collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou), which was discontinued in 2012, and then from 2012 with Mewar University. However, Ajay Kumar, FDDI’s officiating managing director, while talking to HT Education, had said that for the first time in 2007, FDDI had collaborated with Punjab Technical University (PTU) to grant degrees.
“The collaboration with Punjab Technical University was also questionable in the light of regulations of UGC and norms of Distance Education Council (DEC), the then regulator of distance education. Realising the problem, FDDI got rid of PTU and collaborated with Ignou under the then launched face-to-face programme. However, this programme, too, was termed illegal and discontinued down by Ignou in 2012. Then FDDI collaborated with Mewar University,” says an FDDI faculty member who does not want to be named.
What is likely to prove to be embarrassing for the ministry of commerce is a reply under Right to Information Act by Anil Kumar Sharma, a central public information officer (CPIO). His response to an RTI by an FDDI student on the validity of its programmes is that the degree granted by FDDI in collaboration with Mewar University is as per the UGC rules and acts. On the other hand, UGC, in another reply under RTI, says that degree awarded by FDDI in collaboration with Mewar University is against its norms. (See box on page 1 for replies of two RTIs)
RTI response by University grants commission belies commerce ministry claims
To an RTI application filed by this correspondent on May 13, 2015, UGC’s response was that Mewar University cannot grant degrees outside its main campus of Chittorgarh. Below is the relevant part of the reply by UGC’s undersecretary Paramjeet
Q: Is there any provision in any of the UGC regulations which allow a private university (Mewar University) to enter into MoU with a vocational training institute (FDDI) and grant degree on the behalf of the Institute?
UGC reply: No such provision is available in the UGC (Establishment of and maintenance of Standards in Private Universities), Regulations 2003
Q: According to the chairman of the Mewar University, he informed UGC about its MoU with FDDI to grant degree but UGC didn’t object to it. Is it true?
UGC reply: Mewar University never submitted any MoU to the UGC for approval
Q: If these MoUs are not valid, has UGC communicated it to Mewar University? When? Kindly provide a copy of UGC’s letter to Mewar University in which UGC has either approved or not approved Mewar’s MoU with FDDI.
UGC Reply: As informed above, Mewar University never submitted any MoU for the approval of UGC. The UGC informed Mewar University that the university can award degrees to only those candidates which are admitted and studying in the main campus of the University at Chittorgarh.
To an FDDI student’s RTI query the central public information officer, commerce ministry, responded that all regulations for grant of degrees by Mewar University to FDDI students were as per UGC rules
Q: From which university we are being given our mark-sheet and degree?
Reply: In order to provide our graduates to acquire degree in the relevant field, FDDI signed an MoU with Mewar University.
Q: Is it affiliated to UGC?
Reply: Yes, Mewar University is approved by UGC u/s – 2(f).
Q: Are the norms and regulations of providing degree as per the UGC rules and acts?
Q: Whether the degree is regular degree or distance education learning degree?
Reply: It is a regular degree
Q: If you are giving degree from Mewar University then please send a copy of the MoU signed between FDDI and Mewar University.
Reply: Kindly arrange fee of Rs. 10 (Ten Rupees) for providing details as per RTI Act 2005. According to MoU, all students enrolled at FDDI and trained at 8 campuses will be awarded degree by Mewar University.