Advertising watchdog cracks down on coaching centres for misleading students with ads

Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has listed 12 tuition institutes for making false claims, blatant misuse of photos of 'toppers', and minimum-guarantee marks to woo candidates

As we approach the start of a fresh academic year, lakhs of students have already begun mulling over which coaching class will give them an extra edge in entrance exams. But if you have zeroed in on a particular class based on tall claims made on their website or hoardings, beware. With the coaching season set to begin in February-March, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has pulled up several tuition centres for making misleading claims in their advertisements.

Cetking Education features in the list of coaching institutes hauled up. Pics/Swarali Purohit
Cetking was among the coaching institutes that changed their advertisements after getting a notification from ASCI. Pic/Swarali Purohit

Some institutes wrongly claimed that their students had secured top ranks, even displaying their photographs and scores prominently in the adverts. However, when approached by ASCI, they were unable to substantiate the claim. Others claimed they had teachers who went to Ivy League universities (read Harvard) or received major grants, like the Fulbright scholarship. Again, these claims were unsubstantiated.

Shockingly, even well known centres have resorted to such underhanded tricks to woo students. ASCI has now released a list of the offending institutes, including TIME Institute, Cetking Education, CLAT Possible and IMS Learning Resources, among others. Since the council is a self-regulatory body for the advertising sector, it cannot take any punitive action, but can only suggest changes.

Shweta Purandare, ASCI secretary general, said, “Inquiries are conducted following complaints by individuals and our observation of misleading adverts. The concerned advertisers or companies are given time to respond to the complaints raised, and if they are not able to establish their claims, they are declared to be giving misleading information. Most of the times, advertisers take back the claims by making required changes, else the complaints are forwarded to concerned authorities in the government.”

‘Merely technical points’
Among the institutes that changed their ads is Cetking, whose co-founder, Avneet Bhatia, said the ASCI had merely listed ‘technical’ errors which had been pointed out by a competitor.

“There are certain technical points on which objections were raised by a competitor from the market. But the issue has been resolved now and ASCI was informed about it subsequently,” said Bhatia.

Devjyoti Das, CEO of CLAT Possible, also clarified that the required changes had been made, and added, “The objection was about the profile of a specific teacher which said she holds a Fulbright scholarship. ASCI pointed that she had been nominated for it but did not pursue it. This is a very technical point. The fact she was offered such a scholarship explains the level of the professor. However, after ASCI pointed it out, we made the required change. But such technical points certainly do not directly impact students’ decisions.”

Student speak
Das may claim that such details in the adverts do not influence students, but when this reporter spoke to a coaching student at TIME Institute, she said, “There are so many advertisements for TIME. It is a known brand. So I decided to take admission here.”

She even referred one of her friends to the institute, but both said they were unaware of the false claims being made by the centre. “I am not aware of ASCI or its findings. I took admission to this class because of my friends; I had heard of class several times,” said the friend. Despite attempts to contact TIME, no one was available for comment.

ASCI’s objections

Here are excerpts from the ASCI’s list of 12 institutes that have flouted norms:

CETKing Education

>> The advertisement claims it is the “Home of Toppers”, with photographs of three students who have been toppers in entrance tests 

>> Ad reads: “Results:700+ IIM Calls, 200+ JBIMS Calls, 358 IIM Converts, 236 SYMBIOSIS, 63 NMIMS,18 TISS, 19 MICA and many more”. This was not substantiated with evidence 

>> Other advertisements not found to be in order has the following claims: “CET King No.1 in Dadar”, “CET King Dadar Best Coaching available”, “Increase your mark by 40 marks”, “Guaranteed Admissions in top B- Schools

Triumphant Institute of Management Education P. Ltd
The advertisement claims “Karnak Verma makes history by ranking All India 3rd in IAS CSAT exam”. This is false and misleading, as no such rankings are given by the Union Public Service Commission, which conducts the exam

CLAT Possible
In the Law entrance exam section of the website, a statement reads: “Surabhi Modi Sahai has won Fulbright Scholarship”. This is misleading by ambiguity, as Ms Modi was offered an opportunity to be a Hindi Teaching Assistant under the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant program, but she did not accept

IMS Learning Resources Pvt. Ltd. (MBA CET): The advertiser’s tagline “Trusted by 15000+ students for MBA CET since 2009”, when read in conjunction with “Trusted for Success” is misleading by ambiguity. The ASCI does not consider the number of enrolments to necessarily be an indicator of trust in the institute.

The advertisements read: “CATKing No.1 CAT Classes in Borivali, Andheri & Powai”, “Best you can get” and “Prof Rahul Singh further went to Harvard Business School for his masters in management”. None of these claims were substantiated.

Can you get legal recourse?
Consumer activist and advocate, Shirish Deshpande told mid-day, “Parents or candidates can take this matter to the court. However, individual facts and circumstances will have to be established, such as whether the specific advertisement attracted the candidate, or how it led to the candidate suffering some kind of financial loss or public embarrassment.”

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