An unfinished task

Print edition : September 10, 2004

The admission process for government quota seats under the single window system resumes in Tamil Nadu, while that for the management quota in self-financing colleges awaits a court verdict over the procedure to be adopted.

in Chennai

The vacancy position on huge screens in a counselling centre at the Government College of Technology in Coimbatore, on August 10.-S. SIVA SARAVANAN

THE process of admission to professional colleges in Tamil Nadu for the current academic year, stalled by litigation, resumed on August 10, a week after the Madras High Court passed orders in a couple of cases and the Supreme Court refused to stay the counselling for medical college admissions in the State (Frontline, July 30). Over 50,000 aspirants for engineering seats in 240 colleges - government-run, government-aided private, and self-financing - in the State were called for simultaneous counselling in Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore and Tiruchi under the Single Window System (SWS), as has been done for the past 10 years or so in the State .

The SWS, which was set in motion after a 40-day delay and is expected to last for about three weeks, would help students to choose the course, after which seats would be allotted on the basis of the rank in the Tamil Nadu Professional Colleges Entrance Examinations (TNPCEE) held in April. Every day between 1,500 and 2,000 candidates get admission. At the end of the day's proceedings, the seats yet to be filled under the different categories are notified.

A total of 42,000 seats in the 240 colleges affiliated to Anna University will be filled through the SWS. The colleges include the four that constitute Anna University - College of Engineering, Guindy; Madras Institute of Technology; Alagappa College of Technology; and the School of Architecture and Planning - six government-run colleges, three government-aided private colleges and 228 self-financing colleges. (In the case of self-financing colleges, 70 per cent of the seats come under the "government quota" in minority-run colleges; in non-minority colleges it is 50 per cent. A few colleges have offered more seats to be filled by the government through the SWS. These institutions can fill the rest of the seats in accordance with a separate procedure stipulated by the Supreme Court.)

As for admissions to undergraduate courses in medicine, dentistry and paramedical disciplines, the State Directorate of Medical Education conducted counselling between August 7 and 16. A little over 1,500 seats, available for the various courses in the government-run colleges, were filled. (The counselling held in the last week of June became infructuous after the court ordered revaluation of answer papers of the TNPCEE.) The self-financing colleges would have to fill their seats through a different procedure.

There was uncertainty about the counselling for medical seats taking place on August 7, but the Supreme Court cleared the way the previous day by refusing to stay the counselling. The court, however, ordered notice to the Health Secretary of the Tamil Nadu government and the Secretary, MBBS/BDS Selection Committee, on a Special Leave Petition (SLP) by a student against a judgment of the Madras High Court on August 2.

The High Court, while passing orders on a batch of petitions, had rejected the petitioners' contention that candidates who take the entrance examination after writing "improvement examinations" of their qualifying examinations and those taking it in the regular course cannot be treated on a par for selection to fill seats in medical and paramedical courses. The appellant contended in the SLP that an "improvement candidate" took more than one academic year to prepare for the entrance examination, while a regular candidate had to do it within one academic year. Treating both on a par was arbitrary and against the interests of regular candidates, the SLP argued.

In the High Court the Judges held that they saw force in the contention of the "improvement candidates" that the scheme was available only for those who were ready to "spend time, money and labour" to prepare for the examination and added that the moment such a student took the examination, he/she ipso facto surrendered the marks obtained in the previous examination. Referring to "these risks" the "improvement candidates" had to take, the Judges said that so long as the provision for writing improvement examinations was operational, "improvement candidates" were entitled to compete with fresh, regular candidates "for admission to courses, be it medical or otherwise". The Judges, however, ruled that "improvement candidates" could not claim the advantage of seniority in age because it violated "the clause of equal protection of law".

Another legal battle, in respect of both engineering and medical colleges, related to the valuation of certain questions in the TNPCEE conducted by Anna University. Disposing of a batch of appeals against an earlier judgment, the High Court on August 2 ordered revaluation of the answers to certain questions, in addition to the ones suggested in the earlier judgment of the same court. The TNPCEE organisers arranged for the revaluation immediately and came out with a new rank list, on the basis of which counselling under the SWS resumed.

The SWS in the first 10 days covered only 50 to 60 per cent of the available seats for medical and engineering courses in government-run, aided, unaided minorities-administered and self-financing colleges. Admissions to the "management seats" in the last two categories are officially yet to take place, although many of these colleges are said to have already admitted a large number of candidates after collecting huge amounts taking advantage of the fluid situation caused by the legal battles over the entrance examination, the SWS and the fee fixed by a government-appointed committee. But legally since they have to follow certain norms in filling even the "management seats", they are looking for a way out. Although, after challenging the S.S. Subramani Committee's guidelines for the conduct of the entrance examination, the Consortium of Self-financing Arts, Science and Professional Colleges conducted its own entrance examination, it had not taken any follow-up measures. The examination was held after the High Court upheld, on July 12, the consortium's plea against admitting students under an SWS as proposed by the Subramani Committee. The State government has appealed against the judgment, contending that the SWS alone could ensure merit-based admissions and strict adherence to reservation norms. The hearing on the appeal is over and the judgment reserved.

Only after this judgment a clear picture will emerge about admissions involving nearly 30,000 seats in the "management quota" of the self-financing colleges. Also awaiting a judicial decision is an appeal by the managements of minorities-run unaided colleges against a High Court judgment that seats under the management quota in these institutions should be filled only with children of the relevant minority communities, religious or linguistic, and the seats remaining unfilled under this norm should be surrendered to the government for allotment under the SWS.

Apart from the 240 colleges under Anna University, there are also 10 deemed universities - all self-financing engineering colleges until a few years ago - accounting for a substantial number of seats. They follow their own admission guidelines and systems. Interestingly, the administrators of a few of these universities run one or two self-financing colleges of their own, which have been affiliated to Anna University and have to fall in line with other self-financing colleges.

The confusion and delay over the admissions to professional colleges, particularly engineering colleges, have raised issues ranging from the need to evolve a national policy on admissions to these institutions and the fees they can levy to the need for disciplining the self-financing colleges, which now are not transparent in their operations. Experts raise serious doubts about the quality of education that most of the self-financing colleges offer at prohibitive costs and their capacity to produce graduates with high employability.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor