If the detection of 36,000 fake degrees issued to people across 17 states is termed the tip of the iceberg by the investigators, the scale of the scam in Himachal Pradesh is shocking beyond words. Only 14 of the 55 hard disks seized from Solan’s Manav Bharti University have been scanned so far by a special investigation team. From the anonymous complaint to the University Grants Commission to the detection of unauthorised degrees, the private university ecosystem in the state has taken a huge hit. Even more alarming is the revelation that the university may have been indulging in the blatant illegal activity for over a decade. That it went undetected is serious enough, but what is more disturbing is the persistent demand for fake degrees — the desire to seek certification for courses that require a high degree of competence and knowhow without undergoing the studies and evaluation that take a selected talent pool years together. What does this say about our higher education system, or us as a society?
Assets of the owner and family/associate concerns valued at Rs 194 crore have been linked to the scam proceeds; it is being touted as the biggest-ever attachment of properties of any educational institution in the country in a money laundering case. The figure may make for a good headline point, but does not absolve the accused, or those assigned supervisory tasks. Something is amiss, and hugely so. The tentacles are spread nationwide; periodical crackdowns have helped, but clearly fall short.
Restoring the private sector’s credibility in higher education would be a long-drawn process in the hill state. Transparency, urgency and showing purpose of intent in the probe are prerequisites, but the regulatory authorities have their work cut out too. What has to be kept in mind is to ensure that the entire lot of students, staff and faculty of the institutions under scanner is not made to pay for the criminal path adopted by a few among them.