Monday, September 6, 2010

Playing with students’ fortune

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A week after the Supreme Court upheld the High Court order asking self-financing medical colleges to fill the management quota from the rank list prepared on the basis of the common entrance examination conducted by the state government the students are in the dark about the fees they have to pay.

It was eight years ago that Kerala allowed the setting up of private professional colleges on self-financing basis. Since then the government and the managements have been playing with the students’ fortune.

The term ‘self-financing’ is a misnomer. The finance comes from the students in the form of exorbitant fees.

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have had such colleges since the 1980s and they were attracting students from Kerala in large numbers. AK Antony, who, as chief minister, sanctioned the earliest elf-financing colleges, envisaged admission to half the seats from the government’s rank list, leaving the managements free to admit students of their choice for the remaining seats.

Initially, students admitted under government and management quotas paid the same fees as were paid by students in the government colleges: Rs11,500 for the medical degree course and Rs6,600 for the engineering degree course.

However, students seeking seats under the management quota had to pay huge sums under the counter. The courts ruled such payments illegal. The managements then demanded higher fee structures. As the government failed to bind the managements down through legislation or agreement they could freely fleece the students.

Self-financing colleges now dominate the professional education sector. Seventy of the 84 engineering colleges and 12 of the 17 medical colleges in the state come under this category. The sanctioned intake of the engineering colleges is above 26,000 and that of the medical colleges is 1,100.

Belated attempts to control the managements through legislation have led to litigation. Over a period, problems in the field of engineering education have died down but those in the field of medical education, where scope for profiteering is vast, have persisted.

Every academic year now opens with the students or managements approaching the courts with petitions. The plethora of judgments that have emerged has not yielded a formula that can end the agony of students and guardians.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist, which heads the Left Democratic Front, had vigorously opposed the UDF government’s stand on self-financing colleges. Its student affiliate’s campaign against the private colleges led to violence on several occasions.

After the change of government in 2006, it fell to the LDF, particularly the CPI-M, to manage the problem. Its record has been as dismal as that of the UDF.

Every year Education Minister MA Baby holds talks with the private managements only to surrender to them. This year, after signing an agreement on fee structure with the government, the managements filled the 450 seats in their quota on the basis of an entrance examination which they themselves conducted.

Early last month the High Court set aside these admissions and ordered fresh admissions from the government’s rank list. Since most of the students admitted on the basis of the test held by the managements had not taken the entrance examination conducted by the government, they have to go out.

While the Supreme Court upheld the High Court order with regard to admissions, it has still not disposed of the petitions. In offering seats to students in the government’s rank list, the managements have stated that the fees payable by them will depend upon the apex court’s final order expected on September 13.

Under the agreement the managements signed with the government this year, they are entitled to collect from each student admitted under the management quota an annual fee Rs550,000 and a caution deposit of Rs500,000. Now they are also demanding a bank guarantee to cover the fees payable for four years. This, they say, is necessary to prevent their being left in the lurch if a student drops out.

The managements’ demands are beyond the means of most of the students who took the government examination. They have very little time to raise the money as the Medical Council of India has fixed September 30 for the completion of admissions. To make things worse, the managements have threatened to raise the fees if they are not able to get enough students from the government list to fill the management quota.

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