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Transparency, the key

Print edition : Sep 10, 2004 T+T-

AT a time when higher education, particularly technical education, is becoming commercialised and the state is gradually withdrawing from the sector, it is heartening that genuine attempts are being made to protect at least some of the safeguards in the system and prevent them from being rendered ineffective by vested interests. One such safeguard in Tamil Nadu is the Single Window System (SWS) to admit students to a substantial number of seats available in nearly 250 engineering colleges, about 225 of which are privately run "self-financing" institutions.

Although those selected for the "government quota" seats in self-financing colleges have to pay higher fees than their counterparts in government-run and state-funded colleges, due recognition for merit, strict adherence to reservation norms and transparency in the admission process ensure justice and fair play.

Counselling under the SWS, designed, perfected and administered by Anna University, Chennai, has proved its trustworthiness over the years in making merit-based and equitable admission a reality. Transparency is the key feature of this automated system, and many participants and parents are convinced that it ensures that there is no room for injustice in the system.

With over 200 colleges offering a wide variety of courses and a complicated system of reservation to ensure justice to different social groups, the prospective students are a nonplussed lot. Counselling under the SWS clears their confusion.

On the basis of their ranks the students are called and briefed on the procedure. Every participant is led to a computer and a counsellor guides him or her through the choices, providing all information about the colleges and the courses offered. The seat is finally allocated on the basis of the candidate's rank and there is absolute transparency, with large screens displaying minute-to-minute changes in the four counselling centres - in Chennai, Tiruchi, Coimbatore and Madurai - where the procedure is undertaken simultaneously. The software that enables this has been created by Anna University and connectivity is established through a 64-kbps dedicated line provided by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited.

ANNA UNIVERSITY has been the nodal agency for the SWS ever since it was introduced nearly a decade ago, but it gained control over the self-financing colleges only three years ago, when all the engineering colleges, numbering over 200 and functioning under different universities, were affiliated to it. Since then, the university has initiated several steps to ensure transparency even in the functioning of the affiliated colleges. It brings to public notice complaints of malpractices and also takes action against erring institutions. The university also cautions students and parents about "the tall claims" made by self-financing colleges about the courses and facilities they offer. It also cautions parents against making payments over and above the government-fixed fees.

A university press release issued on August 16 states: "The university has been continuously monitoring and scrutinising the advertisements of various colleges. Some of them contain not only tall but also false claims such as 100 per cent results, well-qualified faculty, excellent infrastructure, best library and so on." The university wants students and parents to verify such claims "carefully through friends, old students and personal visits, if necessary". In its guidelines to help identify a good college, the university lists the infrastructure and basic facilities a college should have and wants students to peruse the past performance of the college and also look for "placement details of the previous years".

Another press release, issued on August 13, refers to complaints from students of some colleges that the managements have been harassing those who failed in the semester examinations and preventing them from taking the examinations in the subsequent semester. This is "illegal as per the promotion rules of the university", the release says. The university has also brought to public notice the action it has taken on complaints of malpractices in some engineering colleges during the last three years.

The university puts out on its web site periodically three alternate semesters' performance percentage of all its affiliated colleges in the last three years. It has also published the consolidated list of pass percentage in three semester (semester II, 1V and VI) examinations of the B.E. and B.Tech courses. While the documents show that only about 20 self-financing colleges have recorded a pass percentage of 50 and above, more than 150 of the 227 affiliated colleges score much below the university average of 41.3 per cent. In seven colleges, the pass percentage in the relevant examinations is less than 10.

Although the data may not be sufficient to assess the performance of these colleges in general, it is still a shocking expose of the goings-on in the education trade.