October 22, 2015
Imagine an aspiring post-graduate student from North or North East India browsing for a distance education course in a university in Tamil Nadu, considered to be the Mecca of higher education. Google throws up two websites for the same university. The assumption is this: the student logs on to one, selects a course, may be makes a payment through a cheque or Demand Draft, receives course material, writes examinations through designated study centres in one of the far away states from Tamil Nadu, gets a result, and last but not the least, also receives a degree certificate.
All is fine. Only that the website the student accessed was a fake one. This came to light recently in the case of Thiruvalluvar University, a State-run University in Vellore. And, it was brought to light by none other than the original website service provider who developed it for the university in 2009. The fake was almost a replica of the original, though with a different colour code and smartly withholding telephone numbers. And, to connect with people outside the State, the text terms the university “Thiruvalluvar Vidhalaya”.
According to Balaji Raju, Managing Director, AES Technologies India Private Limited, Coimbatore, which is in the business of website development besides other IT services, the fake website was noticed some six months ago.
“We have developed websites for more than 400 institutions across the globe, of which 250 are in Tamil Nadu alone. We have devised a web tool that throws up sites that are similar to ours. Replications are not new. When we find a replication, we e-mail the server provider and alert him about it, and usually the fake website is removed. But it has been very unique in the case of Thiruvalluvar University. The fake continues to thrive, thanks to the negligent attitude of the University Grants Commission (UGC), and to an extent the university itself,” he says.
Explaining his contention, Mr. Balaji says that to begin with, when the university roped him in for developing the website in 2009, there was a website www.tvuni.in relating to Thiruvallur University, though the university did not really use it. In reality, the University claimed that there was nothing official about it. But efforts were not taken to ensure that the old website was removed or withdrawn. In this scenario, AES Technologies brought out the university’s official website www.thiruvalluvaruniversity.ac.in. All was hunky dory till Mr. Balaji spotted this replica website a few months ago. He alerted the university and also the server provider of the fake website, located in Canada.
The response he got stunned him. The server provider in turn accused him of being the fake because www.tvuni.in was the official website that appeared in the UGC list of State universities.
It was then a long process by which the Vice-Chancellor of Thiruvalluvar University was alerted and convinced to inform UGC to make the necessary corrections. The amended version of the official website appears in the UGC list since last month. But it does not end here.
The university carried a disclaimer on its official website: “The Thiruvalluvar University’s official website is www.thiruvalluvaruniversity.ac.in and all announcements made by the University will appear in this website only. It is noticed that some fake websites in the name of the University is also available online like www.tvuni.in and all the students and others interested in conducting business with this University should avoid using such fake websites and browse only the official website of the University, viz., www.thiruvalluvaruniversity.ac.in. Despite this clear announcement, if anyone had links with the fake websites and incurred any loss, our university will not bear any responsibility for such loss.”
The very next day the fake website carried this: Disclaimer: “This is official site of university and we have no concern with similar websites because we noticed that some fake websites are running on the name of our university”
This website remains even as this story goes online. Financial implications cannot be really proved unless students who have been cheated come out with the relevant proof. But the university has come across cases of fake certificates sent by employers for verification. How many students have been cheated and for how many years this racket has been going waits to be unravelled.
What makes this revelation even more shocking is the fact that the errors that have not been rectified on the UGC website for years, encourages this kind of illegal activity. There are errors galore. The very first university under the State university list in Tamil Nadu is the Alagappa University and its website address is http://www.alagappauniversity.ac.i Try accessing this and you will get “This webpage is not available”. Just come down a little bit and you get Bharathiar University with the website address as follows: http://www.bdu.ac.in/ You enter this and you will be welcomed by the website of Bharathidasan University. A little below, it is ‘Madaras University’, instead of University of Madras.
When a statutory body appointed to maintain “quality higher education for all”, as its logo goes, offers so much ambiguity, it only makes it easy for a few university officials, distance education departments, and study centres, to make hay while the sun shines.