Within its steel and glass facade, various education centres in the national capital region (NCR) are selling 'quick-fix' long-distance degrees and diplomas from universities, which are not even eligible to operate outside their home state.
These centres promise candidates "full support" during examinations and guarantee at least 60% marks. Discarding their hole-in-corner look, these education centres are now beginning to resemble any other BPO or IT firm in the neighbourhood.
One of these centres is situated in Noida's Sector 59. An impressive building greets one upon entering the gate. The boundary wall adorns the name of the degrees being offered - BBA, B.tech, MBA, BA, B.Com - like a shop selling different brands of colas.
A career counselor would then usher the aspirant inside a glass cabin and explain how the candidate can add degrees to his/her CV - a sure-shot way to attaining professional success.
The assistant manager-cum-counsellor of this prominent education and career centre, which also has its branches in Ghaziabad and New Delhi, says that a BA degree from Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU), Meghalaya costs Rs 21,000 and the candidate doesn't even need to attend classes for that.
"Support would be provided during examinations and a minimum of 60% marks are guaranteed. You don't need course material. It is an unnecessary expense since we provide you with full support during the examinations," she tells an HT reporter posing as a prospective candidate.
During a second visit also, she reiterated this promise of "support" and said, "The old and government institutions such as IGNOU don't think from the profit point of view. Private universities must think from the profit point of view."
The institute programmes affiliated with seven private universities.
Rajan Chopra, chancellor of MGU (Meghalaya), denied any knowledge of such 'supported examinations'.
"Cameras are fitted in each and every examination centre. If we find that there are any irregularities in conducting examinations, we will withdraw our affiliation from such centres," Chopra told HT.
Most of these courses are affiliated with new private universities which are not permitted to operate beyond their home state as per law. They need to complete at least five years of operation and take due permission of the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the UGC Regulations 2003 before expanding in other states.
There are reportedly 34 such universities with centres operating without permits throughout the country.
For instance, MGU offers graduate and post-graduate degree and diploma courses. In an answer to an RTI query, the UGC stated that this varsity does not have permission to run any off-campus centres.
The varsity opened in 2011, which makes it ineligible for running off-campus centres.
"Students should be cautious about taking admission in such universities. We call them 'certificate selling universities' which lure students in the name of big companies. But no company would like to hire any employee who holds a forge certificate," said JP Pandey, controller of examination, Mahamaya Technical University, Sector 62, Noida.
The assistant manager at the city education centre was also keen to pitch degrees from Jodhpur National University. A BA (Hons) degree costs R24,700 and can be completed by as early as next year while an MBA degree can be completed by August this year.
Jodhpur National University, which started operation in 2008, completes five years this year. It has only now become eligible to apply to the UGC for permission to open off-campus centres subject to review of its performance during the last five years.
A reply to another RTI reveals that Jodhpur National University operates under a technical loophole. They offer "industry-based learning", which means the candidate is shown as "gaining experience or conducting research, while studying". The RTI reply said that industry-based learning is not under the jurisdiction of the distance educational council.