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Waiting for regulatory legislation in education

V. Jayanth

Will the Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Bill, 2005 be passed in the winter session of Parliament?

THE WINTER session of Parliament started on Wednesday, and it has a heavy agenda of business. State Governments as well as the student community are only hoping that it will become possible for the Union Government and Members of Parliament to enact the Bill meant to regulate private professional colleges — the Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Bill, 2005. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) had circulated the draft Bill, inviting comments and responses. Several States responded; so did associations of private professional colleges, and deemed universities. The Centre had given a commitment to enact the Bill during this session. Time is running out for students seeking admission to the colleges in the next academic year, and they expect the Government to keep its word. Unless the legislation is passed in this session, it may be too late for academic year 2006-07.

Such a piece of legislation became necessary following a chain of Supreme Court judgments on admissions to private self-financing professional colleges. As the very basis for special reservation to the socially and educationally backward classes came into question, State Governments and political parties stepped up pressure on the Centre to legislate for reservation in private educational institutions and the regulation of their fees. The apex court has repeatedly ruled that the colleges could make admissions in the management quota on their own, on the basis of a Common Entrance Test (CET) conducted by an association of colleges, and directed that the fees should be "reasonable." Earlier rulings had directed State Governments to set up permanent committees to monitor the admissions process and a panel to determine the fee structure. These directions are being followed by some States. The draft Bill has several features. The key issues relate to the admissions process, the reservation of seats and the fee structure.

Most colleges have come forward to earmark 50 per cent of the seats to a "Government quota," admissions to which can be made through a single window system (SWS), based on a CET conducted by the State or an agency designated by it. But the colleges do not want "any interference" in admissions to the remaining 50 per cent of seats under the "management quota." They are ready to offer seats to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes on their own, without a prescribed quota system. In other words, they want "complete freedom" with regard to their quota.

Sensitive issue

The issue of admissions is particularly sensitive in the southern States, which account for more than half the number of professional colleges in the country — especially in engineering. Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh account for close to 500 private engineering colleges. In the past couple of years, filling up seats has itself become a problem.

College managements want to be left alone to meet this basic objective. The chairman of a private college near Chennai said: "For the huge investments we have made and the recurring costs of running the institution, we must be allowed at least these two fundamental rights, if we may call it so — freedom of admission to 50 per cent of the seats and a flexible fee structure.''

Many academics, officials and political leaders have a different point of view. They concede that there are more seats than there are students in some States. But they want a regulatory framework that can rein in the private institutions, which they insist are "commercial undertakings." They have several suggestions. These include that 50 per cent of the seats must be left to the Government quota; that the State or its agency alone must conduct the CET and all colleges must accept it; and that there must be a uniform reservation policy for admissions to all colleges according to the quota formula in a State. Their other suggestions are that capitation fee by any name should be banned and that there must be a prescribed fee structure for courses, depending on the type of course and the laboratory facilities required, as also the kind of accreditation available for the college and the course. They also suggest basic eligibility criteria for admission, beyond a mere pass in Plus Two as some colleges want, and the deemed universities being brought under some form of regulation, without their losing their autonomy.

Besides, some State Governments have pressed the HRD Ministry, the All India Council for Technical Education and the Medical Council of India to take them into confidence and consult them before granting recognition to institutions.

Unless they work together, the proliferation of colleges will continue. The time has come to enunciate a uniform policy on higher professional education and put in place a solid regulatory framework to take care of the private sector in education.

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