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Wrangle over fees in Maharashtra

Anupama Katakam

Friday 16 July 2004, by KATAKAM*Anupama

in Mumbai

THE fees to be charged by private professional colleges continue to plague the admission scene in Maharashtra, with the college managements rejecting the recommendations of the committee appointed by the Supreme Court to decide the issue.

The Shikhshan Shulka Samiti (education fee committee) headed by A.R. Jahagirdar, a retired High Court Judge, fixed the annual fees in the various colleges in the range of Rs.7,500 to Rs.1.54 lakhs this year as against Rs.1.5 lakhs to Rs.3 lakhs last year. Each college has been given a specific fee structure, which would be uniform across all quotas and categories and applicable for three years. The committee, which announced its fee structure on June 1, arrived at its recommendations for the 126 medical colleges in the State on the basis of the responses to the questionnaires it sent them. Twenty-six colleges that did not respond to the questionnaires would charge fees on a par with the government colleges.

A member of the committee told Frontline that the costing took into account, besides the responses to the questionnaire, the net cost per student, the investments made in the institute and the facilities provided. The fees charged by private engineering colleges, colleges of education and other specialised colleges offering courses in hotel management and catering were being evaluated and would be announced soon, Jahagirdar told mediapersons.

The college managements appear shaken by the revised fees. "We cannot run establishments on this kind of fees," said Kamal Kishore Kadam, president of the Private Medical and Dental Colleges Management Association. "There is every possibility that several colleges will have to shut down because of this."

The Association has challenged the new fee structure in the Bombay High Court. According to Kadam, it costs approximately Rs.23 crores a year to run a college with the stipulated 500-bed hospital. The college spends about Rs.4.5 lakhs a student a year. "It is impossible to run colleges on the Jahagirdar Committee’s fee structure, which essentially will let us earn about Rs.5 to 6 crores a year. This is much below what we need," he said.

Demanding an impartial committee to look into the matter, Kadam said the managements would agree to a balanced fee structure. He said medical colleges fixed their fees to meet the norms prescribed by the Medical Council of India (MCI). "Relax those norms and we are prepared to bring down our fees," he said. For instance, the MCI says that there has to be a minimum of 270 teachers and 186 technical staff. The salaries of the faculty would cost us upwards of Rs.7 crores annually, he said.

Members of the Shikhshan Shulka Samiti have criticised the association for questioning their fairness and credibility. A respected retired judge, a well-known chartered accountant, a professor from a private professional college and a representative of the government, all of whom are highly qualified people for the job, constitute the committee, they point out.

Meanwhile, in order to soften the blow and placate the education barons in his Cabinet, Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde hiked the management quota from 35 per cent to 50 per cent for this year. He has allowed colleges to fill half the seats through their own procedure. Of the other half, 35 per cent of the students would be from Maharashtra selected through the Common Entrance Test (CET) and the remaining would be from outside the State.

Students, however, are worried that the managements will manipulate admissions by bargaining over the fees. Last year, the State followed the Karnataka formula, where 25 per cent of the seats were allotted to the management. "What Shinde has done is totally illegal," said a member of the Jahagirdar Committee. The Supreme Court had allowed managements to reserve a small percentage of seats for needy candidates. It is clear in the ruling that it cannot be such a high percentage, he said.

MAHARASHTRA has about 290 private professional colleges and every year one controversy or the other marks the admission season. Last July, just as the allotment of seats began, an expose in the media revealed that some colleges were auctioning seats, with bids beginning at Rs.27 lakhs for a five-year course. (The Supreme Court ruling in the T.M.A. Pai case in October 2002 had freed the colleges from government control on issues such as admissions and fees.)

Shinde promptly ordered a probe into the fee structure. The State government also announced that the colleges would have to submit their fee proposals to the Bombay High Court. The colleges did so in August and hiked their fees from Rs.1.26 lakhs to Rs.3.80 lakhs. Subsequently, the High Court asked the State government to set up a committee headed by a retired High Court Judge to approve the fees to be charged by individual colleges. Until early September when the colleges were to open for classes, the fees had still not been decided.

On the day of admissions, pent-up anger against the continuing uncertainty spilled on to the streets. Hundreds of students, parents, and union activists blocked roads at the Chhatrapati Shivaji bus terminus and threatened to go on a fast. When the Shiv Sena and the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), joined the protest, the State approached the Supreme Court to decide the matter. The apex court consequently appointed the Jahagirdar Committee to revise the fee structure. For last year the fees were fixed at Rs.1.50 lakhs, which could be adjusted against this year’s revised fees.

Education is a lucrative business and among the first to jump on to the gravy train in Maharashtra were politicians. They own almost 100 medical colleges, which are ostensibly run as charitable institutions. With the freedom to charge whatever fees they wanted for seats in the management quota, the colleges were big profit centres. The Comptroller and Auditor-General detailed recently how, in Navi Mumbai, large plots of land earmarked for primary and secondary schools of a State-run development body were used by education barons to build professional colleges. Former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was one of those on the list. Many of the colleges do not provide the facilities they are supposed to. For example, some colleges do not have the mandatory 500-bed hospital attached. Instead, they pay the government municipal hospitals to allow their students to visit patients and use their facilities.

It is still just the beginning of the season. The last of the CET results will be announced on June 25. The coming months will, in all likelihood, see more action, given the fact that the managements have challenged the revised fees and the State government has made declarations on seat quotas, which are clearly not legal. Besides, the fees for engineering and other professional courses are yet to be announced. It is hoped that come September, the deadline set by the MCI and the Technical Board to complete admissions, the dust will settle on the controversy, only perhaps to be kicked up again before the next admission season.

See online : Frontline


in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 14, Jul. 03 - 16, 2004.

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