The sprawling landscape of the Rs 3,000 crore Indian Administrative Services (IAS) coaching industry is a complex web of organizations, motivations, and aspirations. From not-for-profit entities affiliated with influential groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to government-backed initiatives and money-spinning coaching institutions, this industry caters to the dreams of over 13 lakh aspirants annually.

However, beneath the surface lies a labyrinth of challenges, from the cultivation of celebrity-like statuses among coaches to the prevalence of misleading advertisements, commonly referred to as “dark patterns.” This article aims to unravel the layers of the IAS coaching industry, exploring its diverse players, the impact of misleading advertisements, and recent regulatory interventions.

Diverse Players in the IAS Coaching Ecosystem

The IAS coaching industry boasts a diverse range of players, each with its affiliations, claims, and motivations. From the not-for-profit Samkalp, affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee-sponsored Nischay and the centrally funded coaching academy of Jamia Millia Islamia, the landscape is varied. Money-spinning coaching institutions, including Byjus and Next IAS, add to the complexity. These centers often bolster their claims with endorsements from former government officials, ambassadors, and mug shots of recent exam toppers. The industry not only caters to aspirants’ academic needs but also positions its coaches as celebrities, with many adopting the honorific ‘sir’ .’The motivations of aspirants are brought to the forefront through characters in popular media, such as Manoj Kumar and Shraddha Joshi  in 12th Fail and in other OTT shows. 

Dark Patterns in IAS Coaching Advertisements

At the heart of the issue lies the prevalence of “dark patterns” – deliberately misleading advertisements that make exaggerated claims. Instances like Vajirao & Reddy Institute’s proclamation of 617 successful candidates in 2022 expose the extent of the problem. Personal experiences are shared, shedding light on media outlets seeking endorsements and the financial stakes involved. The article questions the authenticity of such claims, emphasizing the significance of self-study, hard work, and luck in clearing the exam.

Government Intervention and CCPA Notices

Shifting focus, the narrative explores recent regulatory actions taken by the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) against IAS coaching institutes. The issuance of notices under Section 18 of the Consumer Protection Act of 2019, targeting misleading advertisements, underscores the gravity of the issue. The author highlights the CCPA’s guidelines for the prevention of misleading advertisements and its efforts to regulate dark patterns, listing 13 specified patterns.

Ethical Concerns and Role of Retired Officers

Ethical concerns surrounding the involvement of retired officers in lending their names, expertise, and guidance to coaching institutes associated with dark patterns should be raised. Some officers are even involved in preparing teaching aids, essays, and guidance for the ethics paper and interview, raising questions about the integrity of the coaching ecosystem.

Broader Perspective and the Real Moolah

The narrative expands its scope to acknowledge the massive revenue generated by coaching industries beyond IAS preparation. With a business exceeding Rs 58,000 crore, IIT-JEE, CLAT, and medical entrance exam coaching target students as young as 12 or 13.

Read More: What Are Dark Patterns & How’re E-Comm Giants Manipulating You With Them

CCPA’s Regulatory Vigilance

The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has taken decisive action against the prevalence of misleading advertisements in the IAS coaching industry. In response to this issue, the CCPA issued a substantial number of notices, totaling 20, to IAS coaching institutes. Furthermore, penalties have been imposed on eight institutes found guilty of engaging in misleading advertising practices.

Addressing the matter, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, provided a written reply to the Lok Sabha. He confirmed the issuance of notices and penalties, emphasizing the commitment of the Department of Consumer Affairs to work continuously towards consumer protection and empowerment. This dedication is expressed through the enactment of progressive legislation.

To modernize the framework governing consumer protection in the contemporary era marked by globalization, technologies, and e-commerce, the government repealed the Consumer Protection Act of 1986. In its place, the Consumer Protection Act of 2019 was enacted. Under this new Act, the CCPA was established to regulate matters related to the violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices, and false or misleading advertisements that could be prejudicial to the interests of the public and consumers as a class.

In alignment with its regulatory role, the CCPA issued the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements in 2022. These guidelines lay out conditions for an advertisement to be deemed non-misleading and valid. They also provide stipulations regarding bait advertisements, free claim advertisements, and outline the duties of manufacturers, service providers, advertisers, and advertising agencies.

Moreover, recognizing the need to address deceptive advertising practices more comprehensively, the CCPA extended its efforts. On November 30, 2023, it issued the ‘Guidelines for Prevention and Regulation of Dark Patterns, 2023.’ These guidelines specifically target dark patterns, listing 13 specified patterns that need to be prevented and regulated.

These regulatory measures by the CCPA underscore the government’s commitment to curbing deceptive advertising in the IAS coaching industry. The guidelines provide a framework for transparent and ethical practices, ensuring that consumers, in this case, aspirants seeking coaching services, are protected from misleading information. As the industry adapts to these guidelines, it is anticipated that genuine efforts to guide aspirants will take precedence, fostering a more transparent and ethical approach within the IAS coaching landscape.

In conclusion, the pressing need for transparency, integrity, and ethical practices within the IAS coaching industry is emphasized. The regulatory measures taken by the CCPA are viewed as essential strides in addressing misleading advertisements and dark patterns. The industry is urged to prioritize sincere efforts in guiding aspirants, steering clear of unethical practices. Ultimately, the focus is on the importance of an honest and authentic approach in preparing aspirants for the challenges ahead.

Image Credits: Google Images

Feature Image designed by Saudamini Seth

Sources: The Print, Business Standard, News18

Find the blogger: Pragya Damani

This post is tagged under: IAS coaching, Central Consumer Protection Authority, CCPA, misleading advertisements, dark patterns, Consumer Protection Act, regulatory measures, ethical practices, consumer empowerment, deceptive advertising, guidelines, aspirants, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, Lok Sabha, legislation, modernization, globalization, technology, e-commerce, enforcement, penalties, transparency

Disclaimer: We do not hold any right, copyright over any of the images used, these have been taken from Google. In case of credits or removal, the owner may kindly mail us.

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