University of Manavallu: In Silicon Valley, a dodgy Chinese-Telugu alliance

SAN JOSE: Back in the 1990s, the proliferation of students from India and China to American universities gave rise to some charming abbreviation expansions.

University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), one of the great mid-western universities, came to be called University of Indians and University of Chinese. Brand-new Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) had so several students from Bangalore that some Indians called it Brand-new Jayanagar Institute of Technology, after a well-known suburb in Bangalore. Some students joked hyperbolically to this correspondent they could organize a tennis ball cricket game between Jayanagar 4th Block vs Jayanagar 9th Block on the campus. On the West Coast, the University of Southern California (USC), another haven for Asian students, was dubbed University of Spoiled Chinese.

But nothing prepares you for Silicon Valley University (SVU) and Northwestern Polytechnic (NWP), two Bay Area schools that are currently in the news in India because several students who came here to study have been deported, and others have not been allowed to board flights from Hyderabad on their way here. Two days of moseying around these sketchy colleges yielded the following observation: saturated with students from Andhra and Telangana, they well may be dubbed Sri Venkateshwara University and Nalgonda-Warangal Polytechnic.

Here’s the inside – and outside – scoop about SVU and NWP. The two institutions, run by Chinese-American principals, appear to cater almost exclusively to Indian applicants; students who spoke to this correspondent said more than 70 per cent of the nearly 5,000 enrolled in two schools are from these two states, and clearly and audibly, Telugu is the lingua franca on campus.

They might as well call it University of Manavallu (“our people” in Telugu).

The institutions also don’t bear any comparison to UIUC, USC, and NJIT, which, jokes about Indian-Chinese overflow aside, are well-established and highly-regarded schools.

So how is Silicon Valley getting scammed?

Officials from two institutions under the lens made themselves scarce when this correspondent went visiting on Monday and Tuesday, but its not difficult to get an idea of the real picture talking to students, scores of whom were hanging around NWP campus in Fremont with worried expressions, although the semester had ended. They said they were anxious about news reports in India that the schools were under the scanner and some students arriving in San Francisco to study here have been deported, and they were eager for some clarity on the situation.

The schools have issued statements denying they have been blacklisted and maintain they are legitimate institutions. Technically, they are correct. They have a campus, a faculty, classroom instruction, and valid accreditation. But they are sketchy in the extreme and just about make the cut in terms of legitimacy.

Even a cursory tour of the institutions and interviews with students points to a massive academic rip-off where getting a good education and earning a degree is secondary to immigration. These are basically education warehouses, diploma mills.

Because this “business model” affects the overall sterling reputation of students from India, thousands of who gain admission to America’s greatest institutions and best universities, the story needs to be told in some detail.

Over the past decade or so, there has actually been an explosion of engineering colleges in the (undivided) Andhra Pradesh. By some accounts, the state has actually more than 700 engineering colleges, with more than 300,000 seats, a third of which are unfilled because supply exceeds demand. The thousands of students graduating from these dodgy colleges are poorly skilled to even land a job in India.

But the United States is an attractive destination because a few Chinese-American entrepreneurs have engineered a business model to take advantage of this massive overflow of “engineers” who want to migrate to America, “higher education” being just an excuse. So for $20,000 (close to Rs 14 lakhs at current exchange rates), institutions such as SVU and NWP lower the bar for students to gain admission to their courses (sans any rigor with regards to qualifying tests such as GRE or GMAT), facilitate their post-degree job search, and mainstream them in the US.

Remarkably, the institutions have very few Chinese students (compared to Indians), despite the fact that some students at NWP said they also had Pakistani classmates.

Because the institutions are compliant with respect to accreditation and faculty in a poorly regulated system, they are able to generate the I-20 and other documentation which enables applicants to get a legitimate F-1 student visa from US embassies and consulates in India. Typically, consular officials have little reason to deny them student visas if they meet all criteria including valid admission and financial security in accredited institutions.

Once in the US., they are slumming it.

Some students confessed to this correspondent that they live on $ 500 a month (aside from the $ 20,000 tuition fee for the entire course), shacking up five and six to an apartment. There were mixed reviews about the faculty, and according to some, classes are held only two or three days a week. Some of them work illegally they said, despite the fact that they are not allowed to do off-campus work on a student visa till they get Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training.

Anecdotal accounts in areas near the institutions indicate illegal household help, including baby sitting, is available for below minimum wage because of the profusion of indigent students from India, less than ten per cent of whom are female.

While insisting that they meet all legal criteria even as they reluctantly concede the institutions are sub-par, some students revealed that the latest crackdown was caused by some students trying to come to the US on the basis of fake certificates and income guarantees in India. There appears to be thriving racket in this business in India that US authorities have cottoned on to, despite the fact that similar scrutiny on the university is lacking.

One Indian student who arrived on Monday said he was detained for eight hours at San Francisco airport, and customs, border control, and immigration officials allowed him entry only after rigorous questioning about his academic chops (including questions about coding and his course work in India) and determining the genuineness of his financial declaration.


“It was tough,” he declared, somberly.
Meanwhile, India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Tuesday advised all Indian students seeking admission in US educational institutions “to do due diligence to ensure that the institutions to which they are seeking admission have proper authorization and capacities.”
Apart from travel documents, the students should also carry all required documentation regarding their study plans, housing, financial support, healthcare arrangements etc and be prepared for admission (entry to the US) interviews with US immigration officials, the MEA advisory said.

An MEA statement said the Governmene of India has actually taken up the matter of denial of entry for Indian students with valid student visas with the US government and the response of the US government is awaited. Till such time the matter is satisfactorily resolved, the students seeking admission in aforementioned two institutions are advised to defer their travel to the United States, the MEA said.

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