On June 14 the Cabinet sub-committee on self-financing colleges is scheduled to meet in Thiruvananthapuram to hold talks with groups of managements on the PG medical courses admission imbroglio.
This problem could not have come at a worse time for the fledgling United Democratic Front government. Both the health and education ministers were only beginning to come to grips with the complex issues in their departments. Both the ministers are still hesitant to make bold assertions relating to the self-financing question. To make matters worse they had a personal involvement — as parents — in this whole issue.
Not that there is no problem with the regular engineering and medical admissions this year; as usual parents and students have absolutely no clue as to how much they would have to pay to get admitted in self-financing colleges.
Till the second week of June, they also do not know for sure whether all self-financing colleges would adhere to the 50:50 seat sharing formula which has been the norm for the last five years.
The PG medical issue
The PG medical problem spans two governments. To be fair to both the previous LDF government and to the new UDF government this issue ‘began' during the dying days of the LDF regime.
According to the former Health Minister P. K. Sreemathy she had signed and sewn up a pact with self-financing colleges for the surrender of half their seats to the government. “The agreement was signed and I had also given instructions to the Director of Medical Education to proceed with the matter as required,” she told The Hindu-EducationPlus.
As it turned out, the administration did little by way of ‘proceeding' on the PG medical admissions. True, it was election time and the model code of conduct was in force. Also, officials tend to be very cautious during that time. However, all this does not explain why the government could not have sent a letter to the managements asking them to put on hold admissions to the 50 per cent government seats for PG medical courses.
In the line of fire on this issue is the Christian Management Federation which went ahead with admissions to all seats. Their argument is that had they not done so, their seats would have ‘lapsed.'
According to federation spokesperson George Paul the managements did all they could, running first to the government and later to the Medical Council of India, to get some directions on the question on admitting students to the government seats.
“Even after the new Health Minister Adoor Prakash took office we told the government to send us the list of candidates. There was no response. When we approached the Medical Council of India that body too expressed its helplessness in the matter. The Supreme Court directive of May 13 extending the deadline for admissions till June-end only pertains to the all India quota. There is no such quota for our colleges. So it is not applicable to us,” he explained.
The government contends that it could not have prepared the rank-list till the allotments to the All India quota are completed.
Health Minister Adoor Prakash told The Hindu-EducationPlus that he was angered over the fact that the federation representatives told him that they had admitted students to all the seats for PG courses only towards the end of the very first meeting with him.
Now, though the government has issued an order cancelling the allotments made to government seats by private managements, the latter are getting ready to challenge that in court. Also, it remains to be seen what these managements would do if the government goes ahead with its own allotment to the government seats.
One thing is clear. As usual, it is the students who are being made the scapegoats. If the government makes it own allotments to the 60-plus PG seats in self-financing colleges, what will happen to the students who have already been admitted and for whom classes have already begun at the colleges of the federation? Surely, they may explore a legal option to retain their seats? For the ‘nth' time therefore, the ‘self-financing question' would be dragged to the courts; maybe even all the way to the Supreme Court.
Then again the fact remains that only the federation went ahead with admissions to PG courses. The Association of Self-financing Medical Colleges admitted students to only select seats. The MES was upfront in keeping the government seats in its colleges vacant.
To its credit the UDF government was able to bring the federation to the negotiating table. The good news stops there. All the managements have now demanded uniform fee for all seats. In other words no one seems to want the differential fee agreement that was signed for five years between the managements and the LDF government.
But what happened to the ‘some meritorious students would get to study for reduce fee in self-financing colleges' concept? The federation has already taken a hard-line stand on any fee reduction.
According to Dr. Paul there is no point in giving fee subsidy to a student who comes from a family that can afford to pay regular fee. Concessions, if any, should be given only to those students who come from families below the income tax threshold, he argues.
Straightaway this seems to indicate that the number of students who get to study on a reduced fee in private self-financing colleges is going to be very less this year. To be sure this would not go down well with the Opposition which is already readying for a barrage of criticism against any formula which it sees as a sell-out to managements.
The federation has floated the idea of a scholarship fund; to be set up by the government and to be partly financed by managements. Any scholarship or ‘freeship' given to candidates admitted in professional colleges would come out of this fund. So, the federation's reasoning is that the managements would be able to run their colleges without financial loss and students would also get to study with reduced fee.
One body which has been totally sidelined in this process is the Fee Regulatory Committee. It has almost become a ritual in Kerala for managements to vehemently disagree with and subsequently challenge in court almost all fee prescriptions made by the P. A. Mohammed Committee.
Many managements have the grouse that the committee does not arrive at the fee in a fair and transparent manner. There are many who feel that a quasi-judicial committee should have a better method to arrive at a fee for colleges than just the operating accounts statements submitted by the colleges themselves.
This year too there is every likelihood that any agreement signed by the government and the managements would have to be ratified — post fact — by the committee. Things should have worked the other way round; the committee and the managements should be the ones doing the negotiations and talks. The government should come in only if there is an issue which cannot be tackled by both these parties. This model of annual talks between managements and a small army of ministers is patently unsustainable.
The coming days will reveal who blinks first; the government or the managements. Many parents and students have already closed their eyes in despair, unable to take anymore the ‘self-financing circus' that comes to town every June.