October 6, 2016 1:29:05 am
A MONTH since it decided to raise the fees of private medical colleges in Kerala, the LDF government continues to be under relentless attack from the Congress-led Opposition.
After a Youth Congress agitation led to severe police action, the Opposition took the battle to the Assembly, where it stalled proceedings for seven consecutive days until Tuesday, with two of its legislators went on hunger-strike. The Opposition has called that off ahead of a week’s break in the Assembly. When the session resumes, the agitation would be held outside the House, said Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala.
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Amid the opposition, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has held talks Kerala Private Medical College Managements Association for a possible scaling down of the hike but these have inconclusive. Before winding up the day’s proceedings,Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the Assembly the government is working under limitations. No management has suggested a fee reduction, he said.
In Kerala, private medical colleges allot half their seats to the government for admission. Of these 50 per cent merit seats, the agreement this year is that 20 per cent would have no change in fees, currently Rs 25,000 a year. For the other 30 per cent merit seats as well as the 50 per cent with the management, fees have been hiked in various categories (see box).
“The practice of collecting capitation fee could be stopped with this hike,” said Health Minister K K Shylajia, justifying the decision. “The government has extended the agreement to more colleges, which has helped increase the number of merit seats. Last year, six medical colleges had signed the agreement with the government, this year 13 have agreed on fees. As a result, the number of merit seats in private colleges has gone up from 210 last year to 460 this time.’’
Matters have, however, got complicated with the government allowing three private medical colleges to charge much higher fees. Not being party to the agreement with the government, these three colleges can charge Rs 10 lakh a year for merit seats.
Chennithala compared the hike with what happened during the previous UDF regime. “In five years, the total fee hike in merit seats was Rs 47,000. This year, the LDF has allowed managements to raise fees by Rs 60,000 in a single sweep. The hike in the fee for merit seats is 35 per cent. What is happening under the guise of fee hike is looting.’’
Chennithala said the number of colleges that have agreed on the fee structure is nothing to brag about. “When the fee was hiked, more colleges wanted to gain from that hike. Hence they signed the agreement.’’
The growth of private, self-financing engineering and medical colleges is something encouraged by the Congress government led by A K Antony in 2001. Hundreds of students from Kerala used to move to other states for want of enough colleges in Kerala. Hence, Antony’s government opened the sector to for private investors.
The condition was that these private colleges should set apart half their seats as merit seats, with admission and fees as per government norms. Antony’s view was that any two private colleges would effectively serve the purpose of one government college, with two halves adding up to the seats of one government college.
The private colleges were given the freedom to fix the fees for seats in the management quota, which they would fill on the basis of the CEE or a separate common entrance test. Colleges were also allowed to set aside 15 per cent seats for the NRI quota.
Antony’s view changed later when he said the managements had “betrayed’’ the government by violating the understanding on merit seats and fees. Since then, fees and admission in private medical colleges have been a knotty problem for successive governments. Now every year, a fresh fee agreement is signed.
Kerala has 28 private medical colleges. Of them, four are under Christian managements and one is run by a CPM-controlled cooperative society. The four colleges under the Inter Church Council are not part of the current fee controversy. These managements had earlier moved the Supreme Court challenging the uniform fee structure and won a verdict. Last year, these four colleges struck a three-year agreement with the government, with a uniform Rs 4.20 lakh fee for all seats.
Of the 20 per cent seats where fees have not been hiked, 7 per cent are for students from BPL families and 13 per cent for the socially and educationally backward.
Private managements association president P Krishnadas said the managements are not ready to reduce the hike. “We cannot give any scholarship for economically backward students who get admission in merit seats.”
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