The Hoodwinking of India’s Students


Hundreds of Indian students, mostly from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, face the prospect of being unceremoniously deported from the United States after federal authorities last month shut down the ‘sham’ Tri-Valley University (TVU) in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The university, which had charged its mostly Indian student intake thousands of dollars in fees, has been accused of fraud, misusing visa permits, money laundering and helping foreign nationals illegally acquire immigration status.

An investigation by the US Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency reportedly found that while the students had been admitted to various residential and online courses at the university—and, on paper at least, lived in California—they were actually working illegally around the country.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The case has sparked something of a panic among the Indian student community in the United States. Internet forums have been abuzz with students debating the problems with TVU, warning prospective students in India that the place is nothing more than a scam with its promises of allowing students to work from day one, requiring no credit, no attendance, no tests and charging just $2,500 per semester.

To compound the unease, many of TVU’s students have now reportedly been fitted with GPS radio tags around their ankles, something that federal authorities say is merely being done to help the system keep track of them.

Unsurprisingly, though, such moves haven’t gone down well with Indians, who note that radio tagging is usually reserved for convicted criminals.

‘How can you treat the poor students like this?’ asks Hyderabad-based VS Kutty, whose nephew enrolled at the university last year. ‘Many of them used their parents’ life savings for their education plans. Instead of blaming us, shouldn’t our government be ensuring that fraudulent institutions don’t hoodwink us?’

Faced with such sentiments, New Delhi has tried to deflect criticism toward US authorities over the tagging of the students. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, for example, was quick to declare that Indian students aren’t criminals, and demanded that the tags be removed.

The reality, though, is that the problem extends far beyond this one case. Over the past decade at least, questionable institutions such as TVU have been proliferating to cater to the growth in students from India. TVU is simply the most extreme example so far of the exploitation of gullible students and parents in the education market—and of the lack of adequate systems in place to stop it from happening.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief