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Tamil Nadu: Aided anarchy

EducationWorld November 12 | Education News EducationWorld

Reports of continuous mismanagement of the city-based Pachaiyappa Trust (PT, estb. 1842), which runs 15 educational institutions in Tamil Nadu, have been hitting the newspaper headlines in Chennai for over two months, raising doubts about whether the government-aided education model is serving any public purpose.

Founded by munificent philanthropist Pachaiyappa Mudaliar 170 years ago, PT manages three aided colleges in Chennai, two in the textile town of Kancheepuram and one in Cuddalore and nine aided schools in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Cuddalore. Questions are being asked why one of the country’s wealthiest trusts with assets valued at Rs.5,000 crore needs to be supported by Tamil Nadu’s taxpayers. Under the aided model, the state government pays the salaries of teachers and support staff of aided institutions including schools, colleges and universities. In turn, tuition fees of all aided education institutions are subject to government approval and are maintained at rock-bottom levels to fulfill the government’s objective of access to all sections of society.

Faculty members of PT’s six government-aided colleges fault the board of trustees for constantly bickering and disagreeing over all major decisions and plunging academic standards to the depths. Fed up with arbitrary and delayed decisions, faculty members of the six colleges (mis) managed by the trust, formed a joint action committee and with support of the Association of University Teachers (AUT), appealed to the Madras high court to dissolve the trust and appoint an interim IAS officer to oversee its activities. Unwilling to vacate their positions, the four existing trustees called upon the court to conduct elections to fill five vacant positions on the board.

Passing orders on a batch of applications filed by both parties, on October 16, the Madras high court appointed former chief election commissioner (CEC) of India T.N. Seshan, nationally reputed for his integrity and credited with giving teeth to the Election Commission in the 1990s, as interim administrator of PT and gave him a free hand to set the affairs of the trust in order. The appointment comes with a mandate to fill 121 teacher vacancies in the six colleges in accordance with UGC (University Grants Commission) guidelines, and then hold elections to fill PT board positions. Moreover, the court decreed that until the board is reconstituted, incumbent trustees will be divested of all administrative powers.

The faculty and students are hoping for a much needed image makeover of PT’s 15 education institutions which have an estimated enrolment of 30,000 students, following Seshan’s appointment as interim administrator. Seshan received nationwide acclaim as CEC (1990-96), when by staggering national and state elections so that adequate security could be provided to polling stations, he substantially eliminated electoral malpractices such as booth-capturing, voter impersonation and intimidation.

“The board of trustees has not done any constructive work in the past few years due to infighting and lack of consensus. Although the government had permitted the board to fill 121 vacant faculty positions in the six aided colleges ten years ago, the trustees have failed to do so. Currently, there are 14 faculty vacancies in Pachaiyappa’s (arts, science and commerce) College, Chennai and 41 vacancies for non-teaching staff. Key decisions regarding appointment of principals have not been taken and temporary principals have taken charge in two colleges including Pachaiyappa’s College. Moreover, the trustees have doubled the student intake since 2005 but infrastructure development has not kept pace,” says Dr. P. Arulmozhichelvan, professor of physics at Pachaiyappa’s College which has 6,000 students instructed by 70 faculty and 73 guest faculty on its muster roll.

With the state government liberally disbursing merit scholarships on caste, community and kinship considerations, the once reputed Pachaiyappa’s College, Chennai has degenerated into a breeding ground for anti-social students routinely involved in gang wars. The arrest of five students of Pachaiyappa’s College on September 27, for planning to attack Presidency College students is the latest in a series of incidents of vandalism and violence which have cast another long shadow over PT institutions.

Clearly, the state government has to bite the bullet and discontinue aid to the cash-rich PT so that it manages its own affairs, or nationalise the trust’s 15 schools and colleges. Throwing taxpayers’ money into black hole education institutions where learning outcomes are abysmal and whose certification is worthless, cannot go on indefinitely. Time for Seshan to speak up in his forthright style.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)

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