I was planning to name this feature on the lines of “Inside India’s billion-dollar undercover industry…” initially. Then, I realized that this industry will probably take a few more years to grow that big. It currently stands at probably a few more than a few million! Also, it’s not undercover, not when it operates openly in the public!
Imagine. You are a final year B. Arch student, and your thesis is due for a few months. You hardly know what to do, because you haven’t done anything in the last four years! Your college will stamp you PASSED if you submit the sheets and appear for a name-sake jury. You call up your agency to negotiate price and deliverables. Next, you choose your topic from the menu card, and once the deal is final, you Netflix-and-chill! Thesis done! Or as is the term now, SORTED!
There is an exponential boom in the business of this industry in the last few years! The agencies, mostly individuals or a coordinated collective operate from their small-home-offices under makeshift names and via mom-and-pop methods! For a certain sum of money, you can get your physical model made, your views and walkthroughs done, your sheets composed and rendered, drawings included. And if you are feeling lazy, you go for the total package! Amounts vary between 10-25 thousand INR for presentation and tend to go a steep north of 60-75K for the entire package. Businesses run openly, using popular social media sites like Instagram and Facebook! The Council of Architecture, India is yet to act upon such malpractices. For a national body vested with regulatory authorities, inaction is pretty unfortunate.
There are Facebook pages that openly post about such services, calling for ‘booking of slots’ for the upcoming thesis session! They post about past theses and portfolios and brag about the numbers of assignments completed in the last season. One of them also explained why it isn’t a thing of shame to avail paid help!
Such agencies are run by graduates from prestigious colleges as well and thesis help groups are moderated by architects working for a long time, in reputed offices and even heading their organizations! Not just theses, these agencies will prepare your personal portfolio as well in exchange for some generous cash! No wonder, architects have been complaining about seeing the same projects in different juries and portfolios, and of the candidate being not at par with what his/her portfolio depicted!
These agencies do garner a lot of traction. The author asked a few architects about these practices, whether they are aware of it, and about their thoughts on the same!
Ar. Madhav Raman, Principal, Anagram Architects was visibly surprised upon knowing about such services,
“Wow! Didn’t know about this. Are these agencies available online? Have you brought this to the CoA’s notice?”
Ar. S. K. Das of SKDAS Associated Architects was poignantly clear about this matter.
“There should be no subcontracting of work at any stage except maybe, a physical model by local craftsmen. I prefer and even insist that models be made by students.”
Ar. Sunaabh Sarkar, Principal, Decorarch Architects lays down the reason.
“I am often appointed guide for thesis students. Instead of wasting time to find out if the works submitted by students are their own, (which any experienced eye can easily make out) I make them do their productions, models included, so that they can proudly say ‘We earned our degree’. Those who support the practice of paid outsourcing are only doing so to pursue their own interests and not for the profession. Was wondering if such services are permitted legally!”
Ar. Manish Gulati of MOFA Studios says,
“We have a strict criterion of selecting students for internship at our office which includes shortlisting, rigorous skill tests and two-level interviews. If at any point we feel or get to know that the portfolio submitted by the student was prepared by a professional agency accepting payment, we will not only suspend the student at whatever stage of internship they are but also put a question mark on the integrity of the institution from where the student belongs.”
Ar. Ameet Singh, Principal Partner of Design Bureau is straightforward in his approach!
“Usually one knows by talking to students during interviews as to how much they know and have done.”
With shortcuts becoming the favorite of the ‘cuts’, students opt for these services because of the comfort and assurance it provides. If you are a final year student, have loads of your dad’s money and you are reluctant to put in the hard work, you have options at hand! Let us see how each of the stakeholders participate in making such a despicable practice into a huge success. The stakeholders are three- the institution, the student, and the agency.
Of the 450+ colleges providing a B.Arch degree in India, a majority have an annual intake of 70+, with a few colleges going up to a shocking 160! Most of these are capital-oriented corporate entities with zero concern about the employability of the graduates they produce! Majority of the faculties they employ are extremely young with nominal experience and have taken up teaching for the perks of a comfortable, well-paying (??) job. Also, with such a huge student pool, one professor mentoring 6-8+ theses together is common. Naturally, the time spent on mentoring individual designs is extremely low, and in most cases, absent all together. This results in students getting a free reign, which then is misused by many! Colleges don’t bother about assignments as long as they are getting a steady supply of fees and overheads. Even if they do, many guardians will be at loggerheads with the administration, “How dare you fail my kid? We paid lakhs, we need the degree!” Avoiding problems is convenient for business.
In the absence of any daily supervision, a last-day readymade submission becomes the only requirement for scoring well! With colleges gradually shifting their focus from a design based thesis to presentation and render oriented work, it is slowly becoming the standard norm to submit visually attractive panels. Where earlier, a design jury focused on the aspects of design and the candidate’s depth of technical knowledge, now it has all come down to eye-candy! Such professional renders and perfect walkthroughs are hard to make for a student, and in a bid to stay afloat, students avail the services of visualizers. Many go a step further and gets their presentations done by agencies. And finally, some outsource their entire thesis, design included!
Agencies are the tail-end stakeholders here, and it would be a biased judgment to blame them for the entire fiasco. Majority of these are run by young graduates who, in the absence of a stable-paying job started to work as thesis help for the generous financials. It all starts with one commission, and more work comes via word of mouth. And when the money is visible, there is no going back. This cannot be termed as a crime in the absence of any laws about the same. However, ignoring a major academic malpractice on the grounds of the unavailability of any law will only tantamount to the inability of the regulating body. This, in its basic essence is equivalent to the B.Arch degree being bought, and not worked hard for and earned. And it is a shame.
Byron Fisher in his book ‘The Supply and Demand Paradox’ asks two very pressing questions.
1. Will a consumer demand a good or service simply because a producer supplies it?
2. Will a producer supply a good or service simply because a consumer demands it?
He makes clear to the reader exactly why the supply of a particular product or service cannot in and of itself generate demand. In stark contrast, demand for any product or service – whether illicit or not – will always generate supply, as it spurs one or more business organizations to satisfy that demand in the pursuit of profits.*
From the above, it is evident that the mere existence of agencies which are into the business of theses and portfolios isn’t the necessary prerequisite for these services to sell. These agencies exist because there is a demand from students who can afford such services. Ethics, self-righteousness and the zeal to prove oneself takes a step back. Who is to be blamed? The institutions will blame the students for not being integral enough, the agencies will state, “We just responded to a demand for profit! We are not to be blamed!” Students (or architects now) will be audacious enough to state that they had a service available at hand, which they availed.
The vicious cycle of supply-demand has messed up ecosystems in the past, and it continues to do so. Democratically speaking, all three stakeholders share equal blame. Institutions for negligence and apathy! Students for exhibiting escapist mentality and for employing illicit methods! And definitely, such agencies because despite knowing that it’s major malpractice, these entities have chosen to walk the road with a greedy heart and selfish motives. But somehow, it was a thesis candidate who, for the first time, thought about outsourcing the work. When he graduated, he started what can probably be called the first of such thesis helps! And it all grew from there. Few members of our fraternity couldn’t uphold their professional integrity, they couldn’t differentiate the ethical from the immoral. That particularly is the saddest part of this unfortunate saga.
Earning a B.Arch is hard. Submitting a successful thesis, much harder. Buying it, however, is very easy! And when some individuals have a lucky bank balance, all they do is indulge in such cheap thrills! Turns out, they do need big dollar bills to have fun all nights!
All names, groups, and pages have been blacked out for the specific purpose of trying not to provide such agencies and/or individuals more coverage, and hence, more business. In times like these, it is a standard assumption that many of those who will be reading the story will be delighted to hire an agency to get their work done.