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Tamil Nadu: Annual scramble

EducationWorld June 12 | Education News EducationWorld
Every May, the stress levels of millions of students (and parents) in the southern seaboard state of Tamil Nadu (pop. 72 million), scrambling for admission into the state’s 525 engineering and 39 medical colleges, rises in direct proportion to mercury levels. This year was no exception. Students and parents had to wait in serpentine queues to purchase application forms which either ran out very quickly or could not be collected because applicants had failed to carry all the “required documents” with them. Only after getting done with this task, can students worry about sky-high cut-offs demanded by the most highly-rated colleges and further until July when ‘counselling’ begins and they choose — on the basis of their class XII marksheets — which highly subsidised colleges and course options are available to them.
 
The intense competition for admission into top-ranking colleges under the highly-subsidised government quota and uncertainty about getting admission into courses and colleges of choice, prompts some students to block a seat and course of choice in a private engineering or medical college under the management quota where the tuition fee (fixed by a state government-appointed committee) is substantially higher. However, since the demand for high-quality engineering and medical education far exceeds capacity available, it is routine for private college managements to illegally demand admission/capitation fees which are several multiples of the fees fixed by the state under the management quota.
 
This huge demand-supply gap for superior engineering and medical education has spawned an entire tribe of touts and agents who masquerading as education consultants guarantee students admission into private colleges and courses of their choice for huge (illegal) admission/capitation fees. Regardless of all legislation of the Central and state governments and the Supreme Court’s landmark verdicts in the T. M. A. Pai Foundation vs. State of Karnataka (2002) and P.A. Inamdar vs. State of Maharashtra (2005) cases which specifically prohibit levy of admission/capitation fees by professional education institutions, agents openly advertise their services on websites claiming to offer career guidance, counseling and direct admission into engineering and medical colleges of choice. When this correspondent contacted one Ashutosh Singh whose mobile number is prominently displayed in online advertisements, she was informed that a management quota seat can be guaranteed in the computer science degree programme of the private sector SRM University for a consideration of Rs.3 lakh paid upfront without a receipt.
 
Numerous agents offer management quota seats in reputed and mid-level engineering colleges for capitation fees in the range of Rs.1.5-10 lakh for students whose class XII percentage is below the stipulated cut-off. Seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities are available for Rs.25-30 lakh in addition to which students pay the officially sanctioned tuition fees of Rs.2.75 lakh per year.  All this despite the Tamil Nadu Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Collection of Capitation Fee) Act, 1992 and the Supreme Court verdicts in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation and P.A. Inamdar cases.
 
However it’s pertinent to note that anxious students and parents are ready and willing to pay huge (and illegal) capitation, donations/admission fees for guaranteed admission into only a few top-ranked engineering colleges. Paradoxically most of the state’s 500 private engineering colleges staffed with inexperienced and temporary faculty, lacking adequate infrastructure and research and development facilities are given a wide berth by students and parents.
 
But the demand-supply gap in medical education in particular is so wide that all available seats are quickly filled. That’s because on offer are a mere 1,945 seats per year in 17 government medical colleges and 1,200 seats in self-financing medical colleges and deemed universities. Therefore medical college officials demanding illegal admission fees are the rule rather than exception.
 
According to academics, the state government regulatory authorities are largely to blame for the mad annual stampede for admission into top professional colleges. “The state government and regulatory bodies have done nothing to raise medical education capacity or standards of the state’s second-rung private engineering colleges,” says D. Victor, director Academy for Quality and Excellence in Higher Education, Chennai.
 
Some educationists believe the obstinate practice of levying capitation fees can be abolished only if national entrance exams as recommended by the National Educational Policy, 1986 and Programme of Action, 1992 become the norm. “Though there are various legislative enactments and statutory provisions to prohibit the capitation fee menace, the deafening silence of regulatory bodies and inaction of the state government is very suspect. The Union HRD ministry should implement  national entrance exams supported by strong regulatory frameworks to tackle the growing menace of capitation fees which are reducing professional college admissions to a tradable commodity,” says S. Vaidhyasubramaniam, dean (planning and development), Sastra University, Thanjavur.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai) 

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