In May 2016, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)’s Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) upheld complaints against twenty-three different educational institutions for violating ‘ASCI Guidelines for Advertisement of Educational Institutions.’
These institutions include not only private coaching classes but also online certification training providers, private educational societies, and a UGC recognised University. The upheld complaints relate to false claims regarding high rankings in competitive exams, high salary packages in placements, and claims of having the best faculty. Other complaints included unsubstantiated claims of providing hundred percent placement or being the best in their respective field.
The guidelines were issued by the ASCI after taking into consideration the high value that parents put on the education of their children and great personal sacrifices they make for ensuring it. The advertising content guidelines apply to ads of all educational institutions, coaching classes, and educational programmes.
The guideline, among other things, mandates institutions to not make claims regarding extent of batch placed, highest or average compensation of students placed, or marks and ranking of students passed out unless they are substantiated with evidence. They also forbid advertisements which lead the public to believe that enrolment in the institution will provide the student a job unless the advertiser is able to submit substantiation to such effect and also assume full responsibility of the same.
They further prohibit institutions and programs from claiming recognition, authorisation, accreditation, or affiliations without having proper evidence.
Against this context, the notification released by the ASCI on August 4, 2016 mentions that the CCC found following claims in the advertisements by 23 different educational institutions as not substantiated and, thus, violating the ASCI Guidelines for Advertising of Educational Institutions:
- Apeejay Education Society: The advertisement’s claim, “Highest Salary 6.2 L & Avg Salary 3.6 L”, was not substantiated with evidence to prove that the students have availed the claimed salary packages.
- Clat Forum: The advertisement’s claims, “Meet the toppers of CLAT”, “Neha Lodha” shown as “Clat ’15 Topper”, were false and were misleading by implication. As per data submitted by the complainant and information available in the Public domain, Akash Jain was the Clat ’15 Topper.
- Simplilearn Solutions Pvt. Ltd. (Simplilearn.com): The advertisement’s claim, “World’s largest Professional Certifications Company” was not substantiated and was grossly misleading.
- Aldine Ventures Pvt. Ltd. (Aldine CA): The advertisement’s claim, “study from India’s best final faculty” and “Study from India’s best CPT faculty”, were false and misleading. The advertisement contravened Guidelines for Advertising of Educational Institutions and Programs.
- Bhanwar Rathore Design Studio: The advertisement’s claims, “India’s No.1 Design Entrance Coaching Canter” and “Highest selection record from BRDS as compared to any coaching institute in India,” were not substantiated with authentic comparative data or with a third party certification. Such a comparative claims are not practically possible given the vast nature of the field of education and presence of a large number of institutes across India.
- Legal Edge Tutorials: The advertisement showcasing the comparative data of various criteria indicated, showing Legal Edge to be better than other similar institutes, is not substantiated and is misleading.
- Made Easy Institute (GATE, ESE & PSUs Exams): The advertisement’s claims, “India’s Best Institute for IES, GATE & PSUs”, “Crack in 1st attempt”, “ Best faculty”, “Best study material”, “Best results”, “Best pool of faculty in India”, “Best infrastructure & support”, “Maximum selections with toppers”, “The ONLY institute which has consistently produced Toppers in ESE, GATE and PSUs”, “The results in ESE 2015 4 streams 4 first ranks, 38 selections in top 10, 350 selections out of total 434 vacancies” and “The results in GATE 2016 1st Ranks in ME, EE, EC, CS, IN & PI, 53 selections in top 10, 96 selections in top20 & 368 selections in top 100”, were not substantiated with authentic evidence. There was no validation by an independent third party for the claims as well. Also, the claims were considered to be misleading by exaggeration.
- Pratham Education (Crash Course Batch 2016): The advertisement’s claims, “6 All India Rank 1’s in Entrance Exam of 2015”, “Crash Course Batch 2016”, “AIR 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 17 & 20 in Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies”, “AIR 1, 2,3,4,5,7,11, 13, 15, 16, 18 & 20 In IP University BBA Course”, “AIR 1 In IP B.Com”, “AIR 2,4,5,7,8,9,13,16,17,18,19 In Delhi University BBE Entrance in 2015”, “AIR 5,38,45 in IP BJMC & AIR 2,4,16,19 in Delhi University BMMMC Entrance in 2015”, “51 out of Top 100 Final selections in Delhi University BMS/BBA (FIA) Entrance in 2015”, “23 Final Selections in the Oberoi’s Entrance in 2015, were Pratham Students” and “37 Final selections in IN IIM Indore in 2015”, were not substantiated and were considered to be misleading by ambiguity and implication.
- Rau’s IAS Study Circle: The advertisement’s claim, “8 in top 20”, “39 in top 100” and “396 Total Selections”, were not substantiated with supporting data and are misleading.
It further states that the complaints against advertisements of all educational institutes mentioned below were also upheld mostly because of unsubstantiated claims that they ‘provide 100% placement’ or because of their claims to be the ‘No.1 in their respective fields’:
Penguin School of Business Management (Lifetime 100% Job Guarantee), KL University, SCMS Group of Educational Institutions, Ucmas West Bengal, Apollo Engineering College, Bakliwal Tutorirals (IIT), Gurukul Institute (Personal Coaching for Spoken English), Amirta International Institute Of Hotel Management & Catering Technology (International University Diploma), Apeejay Education Society, Lloyd Business School, IMS-NOIDA (IMS Ghaziabad), United Group of Institutions (United Institute Of Management), Utkal University and New Delhi Institute Of Management.
In todays globalised and technology driven era, consumers are constantly bombarded with advertisements trying to promote different products. This promotion, although harmless when done judiciously, becomes damaging when it exploits the information asymmetry among the general public and misleads them.
Considering the significant role that education plays in the development of human capital of a nation, any misleading and deceptive information regarding the same can cause a substantial damage to the social and economic development of a country. It is therefore important that such unsubstantiated and misleading claims are dealt with promptly and sternly.
At present there is no central statutory agency or uniform legislation regulating the advertising industry in India. Therefore, a comprehensive law on advertising in all forms of media providing more clarity and acting as a one-stop window for all cases relating to advertising is highly desirable.