After excessive discussion on ranks, top scores and cut-offs with peers and parents, most students in urban centres, who are seeking college admissions, either join a college of their choice or one they landed in by chance. Invariably, they are admitted.
However, for a good number of students, particularly those in rural areas, college admission or higher education is elusive. Tamil Nadu's Higher Education Department has been working on increasing the enrolment to higher education, which has remained around 20 per cent for the last few years. Records of the Directorates of Technical Education and Collegiate Education may point to a gradual increase in the number of students enrolling in higher institutions of learning, but there is not much data available concerning those who terminate their formal education after school.
Most of the students who do not realise their dream of entering the portals of a good college come from government-run or aided schools, often in rural centres.
Heads of government schools across the State observe that while those students who score high in the Class XII examinations somehow go on to join college, many with not-so-high-scores, lose hope and end up beginning their hunt for jobs.
“There is no good follow-up mechanism. We see that children pass our school examinations, but they need more support while seeking admissions. Parents of children going to government schools cannot give them suggestions about colleges or courses. The School and Higher Education Departments should start orienting students at school-level about options in higher education,” says the head of a government higher secondary school in Chennai.
R. Vasantha, formerly a teacher in a government school, points to a trend of government school students seeking admissions only in government colleges, but emphasises that there are still many who are left out. “Their parents cannot afford the fees charged by private colleges. Moreover, admissions to a good number of seats in private colleges are driven by recommendation letters and money,” she notes.
Sources in private arts and science colleges say that for their regular admissions, they admit only top scorers or students who do well in the entrance examinations. But the managements would recommend candidates for another chunk of seats, most of whom scored around 70 per cent in Class XII.
As far as students are considered, most of them from modest backgrounds believe that engineering or medicine is not within their ambit. “Only Anna University or Madras Medical College are affordable to families like ours. One needs to have a very good cut-off to get in there. Even if the marks are slightly lower, students would have to be at the mercy of private institutions that charge more,” says R. Kannan who studies Chemistry at an arts and science college.
Adding that he was lucky as a family friend helped him get admission, he says: “I know that many of my friends chose to work soon after school because they had no hopes of making it to any college. Some did not even try.”
Access to higher education has to do with not jut affordability but also awareness, say experts. M. Ravichandran, Associate Professor of English at a government college in Chennai, says there is a lacuna from the time a student completes school education till the time he or she enters college.
“Private education consultants take advantage of this lacunae, and parents who can afford their services go to them. However, students in rural areas and their parents need to be oriented to the options in higher education, different courses, the scope for each of them,” he notes.
The School Education Department feeds into the Higher Education Department. While both Departments could evolve a system of raising awareness and providing guidance, only raising awareness at a larger level can help build the missing link. Prof. Ravichandran suggests that college professors should come forward to help the Higher Education Department in this.