Affordability, the worry

Print edition : September 09, 2005
R. RAVIKANTH REDDY in Hyderabad

In Hyderabad, at the counselling for engineering admissions this year.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

IN Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court judgment has left students aspiring for higher education and their parents stunned. Affordability is the main worry in a State where nearly 11,000 engineering seats lay vacant last year. Paradoxically, the management quota for the next academic year in some of the better-known colleges has already been filled, of course at a premium.

The 238 engineering colleges in the State offered a total of 86,000 seats, of which the government filled up 66,000-odd seats, including 1,800 in the university colleges. The rest were in the management quota in non-minority and minority colleges. So, getting a seat was no great effort for ambitious parents and their pushy children, and successive governments only helped their cause with a fair admission procedure and an affordable fee structure. This situation could now change. Going by the Supreme Court's verdict, from the next academic year the government can allot only the 1,800 engineering seats available in the university colleges. Similarly, there would be only 1,000-odd medical and dental seats for the university to fill up with merit candidates. The 2,550 medical and 1,600 dental seats in private colleges would be under the total control of the managements. In the MBA and MCA colleges, the government would lose control over 18,000-odd seats, keeping just 1,000-odd seats with it. The two streams together offer around 30,000 seats, with the majority in minority-run colleges. In the sought-after pharmacy course, the government would be left with only 100 seats in the two colleges under its control.

The fears of parents and students are understandable in a situation where managements of many private colleges are known to fleece them. "Our worry is whether professional education will remain affordable," said Narender Reddy, whose daughter is preparing to join an engineering college next year. "The fee factor is going to play an important role. I have to compete for one of the 1,800-odd government seats," said Arun, who is preparing for the engineering entrance examination.

Aspirants for medical seats could be the worst sufferers, given the limited number of seats and the heavy demand. In fact, to check the fleecing in medical courses, last year the government came up with a compromise formula, allowing only 25 per cent seats for the private college managements and that too with a condition that they be filled on merit though with a higher fee. Fifty per cent of the seats would be filled by charging the government fee and another 25 per cent would be filled with a bit higher fee as per the merit.

But there were complaints galore about the management quota, more so in the minority colleges. For instance, this year Shadan Institute of Medical Sciences, a private college that was granted minority status after the admission process began, refused to admit government-allotted students by raising the minority issue. Despite government warnings of disaffiliation it is yet to admit some students apparently because those seats have been "sold" for hefty sums. "Such high-handedness is what we fear if there is no government control," said a government official.

Government officials could not digest the fact that the government would have no say in the admissions and felt that managements could misuse the freedom to further their financial interests. Prof. K.C. Reddy, Chairman, A.P. State Council of Higher Education, said the judgment gave managements an unfair advantage, though he favoured some autonomy for the colleges. Autonomy helped strengthen colleges but the situation still called for some control on admissions in view of the social issues involved, he said.

The managements, however, are elated with the judgment. "It has given autonomy to the institutions and is very clear on the whole admission process," said T. Ram Mohan Reddy, organising secretary, A.P. Rural Engineering Colleges Association. He rejected the argument that private colleges would misuse the new powers. "The court has fixed responsibility to fix affordable fees and is also very strict about capitation fee being collected," he said, arguing that the step would help the colleges to grow professionally. He said one had to pay for quality education. "Colleges without quality will not attract students and they will not be able to charge high fees as is being feared by parents," he argued

Another aspect of the judgment that is viewed critically is the abolition of reservation. A situation in which the government would lose control and there would be no room for reservation - annoyed student and social organisations. They have already organised protests despite the government's decision to go in appeal.

Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy promised to protect reservation at any cost. But the issue of reservation in the State is slightly different from that in other States with a Presidential Order in vogue. Apart from reservation for socially backward groups, there is the added element of quotas for the Andhra, Rayalseema and Telangana regions, which could not be done away with in view of the Presidential Order.

Student organisations felt that the judgment had opened a Pandora's box. When the government spoke about reservation in the private sector, how could one think of leaving out the benefit in the education sector, they asked. The Students Federation of India sought Central legislation to protect reservation and to restore government control over admissions. "In the absence of government checks, professional education will be just a dream for poor and middle-class people. And this judgment will further drive away these sections," said Chandra Mohan, State vice-president of the SFI.

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) organised protest programmes across the State. Its State secretary, M. Mahesh Kumar, felt the private colleges were the only beneficiaries of the judgment. He said the colleges would use the opportunity to commercialise education instead of taking note of the positive observations made by the court.

Interestingly, no one is willing to believe that private institutions will respect the Supreme Court's judgment on aspects such as honouring merit and avoiding capitation fee. Said a teacher: "They will use the opportunity to sell seats to make a fast buck."

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