The Karnataka government's draft rules concerning admissions to unaided professional colleges and their fee structure have put college managements and the government on a collision course.in Bangalore
EVEN after two months of mutual discussions with regard to the rules that should govern admissions to and the fee structure in unaided professional colleges, the Karnataka government and the college managements have failed to reach an understanding. While the managements are still to decide whether to approach the Supreme Court yet again or initiate a fresh round of talks, the government has given them time until May 11 to file their comments, suggestions and objections on a notification of draft rules it issued on April 26.
Called the Karnataka Selection of Candidates for Admission to Engineering, Medical, Dental and Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy Course Rules, 2003, the regulations have been drawn up in exercise of powers conferred on the government by the Karnataka Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Capitation Fee) Act, 1984 and the Karnataka Education Act, 1983. The regulations are expected to come into force once they are gazetted, and when that happens the managements are certain to go to court.
On April 22, the State Cabinet decided that the government would insist on students who qualify in the entrance test conducted by it being granted 75 per cent of the total number of seats in private professional (medical, dental and engineering) colleges, leaving the remaining 25 per cent of seats (up from 15 per cent under the rules framed after the 1993 Supreme Court judgment in Unnikrishnan J.P. vs State of Andhra Pradesh) to be filled by candidates chosen by the managements. A majority of the managements, especially those running medical and dental colleges, have rejected this formula. The decision, which came after a Cabinet subcommittee and two other committees discussed the matter, ended the semblance of agreement that the two sides had tried to project (`The Karnataka conundrum', Frontline, April 11, 2003).
While the professional college admissions scene is currently in turmoil in several States of the country, a fallout of the October 31, 2002 judgment of a Constitution Bench in the T.M.A. Pai case, the stakes appear to be higher in Karnataka than elsewhere, and the heat of contention is therefore higher here. Among the other States that are currently witnessing a tussle between college managements and governments are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.
According to Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister D.B. Chandre Gowda, Karnataka has 3,207 seats in 27 medical colleges (four of these are government-owned), 2,155 seats in 35 dental colleges (one is government-owned) and 35,863 seats in 107 engineering colleges (13 are government/aided institutions). Over 5,300 engineering and nearly 40 dental seats found no takers last year.
As per the Cabinet decision, in the case of unaided and linguistic minority-run engineering, medical and dental colleges 50 per cent of the total intake will be merit-cum-reservation seats (called free seats earlier and now called government seats). Fifteen per cent will be merit-cum-higher payment seats (earlier called payment seats) for Karnataka students, and the remaining 10 per cent will be merit-cum-higher payment seats for `non-Karnataka' students. For the record, the government will keep for itself all the sanctioned seats in government and university colleges, 95 per cent of the seats in aided courses in aided engineering colleges, 80 and 30 per cent of the seats in aided and unaided Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy colleges respectively and 50 per cent of the seats in colleges run by religious minorities. The government has also proposed a differential fee structure, similar to what exists under the free and payment category seats, and involves amounts that are way below what the managements have demanded.
The annual fees for government seats (50 per cent of the total seats) for the medical course in government, university and regional colleges will be Rs.16,200 (Rs.9,200 as tuition fee and Rs.7,000 as other fees); for the dental course Rs.13,900 (Rs.6,900 as tuition fee and Rs.7,000 as other fees); and for the engineering course Rs.8,590 (Rs.6,000 as tuition fee and Rs.2,590 as other fees). In aided, unaided and minority-run private colleges, the fees for the medical and dental courses are the same as above, but students admitted to government engineering seats under the merit-cum-reservation category will have to pay an additional and recurring development fee of Rs.4,000.
For Indian Systems of Medicine and Homeopathy, the tuition fee shall be Rs.5,000, other fees Rs.4,090 and development fee Rs.3,000 and Rs.5,000 respectively for aided and unaided colleges.
In the case of merit-cum-higher payment seats, for the medical course the annual fee will be Rs.1.22 lakhs (Rs.1.15 lakhs as tuition fee and Rs.7,000 as other fees) for candidates domiciled in Karnataka and Rs.2.07 lakhs (Rs.2 lakhs as tuition fee and Rs.7,000 as other fees) for those from outside Karnataka. For the dental course, the annual fees will be Rs.87,500 (Rs.80,500 as tuition fee and Rs.7,000 as other fees) for students from Karnataka and Rs.1.47 lakhs (Rs.1.40 lakhs as tuition fee and Rs.7,000 as other fees) for students from outside the State. For the engineering course, the annual fee will be Rs.47,590 (Rs.36,000 as tuition fee, Rs.2,590 as other fees and Rs.9,000 as development fee) for students from Karnataka and Rs.75,590 (Rs.64,000 as tuition fee, Rs.2,590 as other fees and Rs.9,000 as development fee) for those from outside Karnataka.
THE draft rules also state that for the 25 per cent management seats, the managements shall determine a fee structure that "shall be reasonable and fair without any element of profiteering". The government also reiterated its resolve to draw up the merit list on the basis of the common entrance test (CET). It also decided to lower the qualifying marks for an engineering seat by 25 per cent. The draft rules state that if a college refuses to admit a candidate who has the requisite admission order issued by the Special Officer, CET, the university to which the college is affiliated shall enforce the admission order. Failing this the university shall take action as deemed fit against the college.
The draft rules have irked a majority of the managements, which were euphoric after the Supreme Court judgment of October 2002, which they interpret as having given them a free hand in making admissions and deciding on the fee structure. They are against the CET in its present form, and want an autonomous body to administer the CET with nominees of both the government and the private managements on its board. If this cannot be done, they say, they would prefer to allot seats on the basis of marks obtained in the Class 12 or equivalent examination. (The government has asked the universities not to approve admissions made by managements on the basis of marks obtained in the pre-university or equivalent examination.)
On April 24, a consortium of private managements resolved not to admit students sent by the Special Officer, CET. They would themselves issue a common application form, prepare a common merit list based on Class 12 marks, fill seats in a transparent manner through a single independent agency at a single location and allow an expenditure-based fee structure for every institution. They would also make available scholarships to meritorious students from poor families. According to informed sources, 31 engineering, 14 medical and 22 dental colleges have indicated their willingness to be part of this consortium.
As many as eight Ministers in the S.M. Krishna government are directly connected with running private professional colleges in Karnataka. They are: Dr G. Parameshwar (Higher Education), Mallikarjun Kharge (Home), H.C. Srikantaiah (Revenue), D.K. Shivakumar (Urban Development), S.S. Mallikarjuna (Sports and Youth Services), Qamarul Islam (Labour), T. John (Infrastructure Development and Civil Aviation) and V. Muniyappa (Mines and Geology). A number of senior Congress leaders like Member of Parliament R.L. Jalappa, Jaffer Sharief, S. Bangarappa, and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) treasurer Shammanur Shivashankarappa, besides a host of legislators are also involved in running such colleges.
Said Krishna: "Politics and running professional colleges are two different things. I am defending the CET as the leader of the government and representatives of private colleges are expressing their opinions." KPCC president Janardhana Poojary explained that though the partymen who were connected with private colleges had been told to go by the Cabinet decision on admissions, they had decided to chart their own course.
"Give us a fee structure that takes into account the actual expenditure and a certain percentage, say 10 per cent, for development. Let the government allot all the candidates, but let us fix the fees," said Jalappa, who is a senior member of the Karnataka Private Medical Colleges Association and a trustee of an engineering college and a medical college. "The government's own Chandrashekar Shetty Committee, which went into the admissions issue, in its report said that for the medical and dental (undergraduate) courses it cost Rs.2 lakhs and Rs.1.25 lakhs respectively per student per year. We have asked only a little more than this. To a question of mine in Parliament I got a written reply that between 1994 and 1997 it cost Rs 3.15 lakhs per year per student for the medical course. A study done by A.F. Ferguson & Co for the Medical Council of India in 1994 said the realistic cost of imparting medical education was Rs.3.18 lakhs a student a year. When that is the case, how can the Karnataka government expect us to collect Rs.9,000 from 50 per cent of the total intake and still run an institution?"
According to Jalappa, each candidate admitted under the government category will fetch on an average Rs.55,800 a year. "How do we make good the remaining amount? Why should the 25 per cent management seat candidates pay for the other 75 per cent? Higher education is not a charitable business, one has to pay for it. Otherwise let the government arrange for low interest loans by being the guarantor."
According to Jalappa, the government's decision to implement a differential fee structure within a college is flawed since the Supreme Court in its October order had removed this concept. "By having a differential system of fees within a college the government is encouraging us to collect capitation fees under the table. We will be filing our objections to the draft rules. These rules are not tenable in the light of the Supreme Court orders.
Said Prof M.R. Doreswamy, Chairman of the PES institutions: "The fee structure is defective. The Court order never spoke of a differential system of fees. It only said there can be different sets of fees for different colleges, depending on the location, cost of imparting education and so on."
While it is true that the cost of providing medical education is much higher (even the MCI has said this) than what the government has envisaged in its draft rules, it is equally true that the cost per student, whether it is according to the A.F. Ferguson study or the Chandrashekar Shetty Committee report, factors in certain parameters. For example, the Ferguson report stated that the number of teaching doctors for a college with an annual intake of 100 students should be 215. This ratio is not maintained. A college near Bangalore which has an annual intake of 150 students has a teaching faculty of around 90. This college produced a statement of accounts in the Karnataka High Court (as did others, to the Shetty Committee), where the cost of medical education included such things as legal fees and garden maintenance. Sources say that many colleges claim falsely that they have spent huge amounts of money subscribing to foreign journals and even show X-ray and ECG equipment as consumables. All this adds up, making medical education unnecessarily expensive for students.
Informed sources say that contrary to what the managements claim, their revenues are sufficient as it is. Asked an academic: "When they were able to run a medical college controlling only 15 per cent of the intake why can't they do so now with 25 per cent of the seats?"
MANAGEMENTS of most of the engineering colleges, especially the newer ones and those located in semi-urban and rural areas, have supported the draft rules. Said C.M. Lingappa, a Congress MLA and chairman of the Forum of Unaided Private New Engineering Colleges, which represents 54 engineering colleges: "We stand by the government's decision in the interests of social justice. But we want the government to increase the fees for all categories of seats: Rs.30,000 for merit-cum-reservation, Rs.60,000 and Rs.90,000 respectively for merit-cum-higher payment seats for candidates from Karnataka and outside Karnataka."
According to Doreswamy, the draft rule gives one the impression that the government is not keen on solving the issues. The Krishna government seems to be trying to balance its own political compulsions (Assembly elections are due next year) and promises to uphold social justice with the freedom that the court order gives the managements in determining the admission procedure and the fee structure. The draft rules indicate that the government has decided to take the populist path and confront the managements, but will the government order that will come in May stand up to legal scrutiny? No, say experts, who question the government's wisdom in framing regulations that fly in the face of the Supreme Court's directions in October that managements of unaided professional colleges should be given sufficient discretion in matters concerning admissions and fee structure. In the event, the government's defence would be that the court prevented it from fulfilling its social justice commitments.
While the managements are getting ready to go to court, there has been no move as yet by the government to file a caveat so that it can be heard before an order is passed. Academics like Dr. R.R. Patil, a former college principal who has taken up successfully cases of meritorious students against private managements, worry that an ex-parte order by the Supreme Court against the still-to-be-issued Karnataka government order (to be based on the draft rules) could end for many a student the aspirations of a professional career. Some of the affected students, though, are planning to file a caveat so that orders cannot be passed without hearing them.