Do the students stand to benefit?

Do the students stand to benefit?
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Do the students stand to benefit?

Highlights

The AP government has taken the bold step of taking over all aided educational institutions into its fold.

The AP government has taken the bold step of taking over all aided educational institutions into its fold. It is said that there are 700 aided junior and degree colleges (about 137 in number) and about 2,300 aided schools in the state, catering to educational needs of about two lakh students.

Every year the government gives thousands of crores of rupees in the form of grants to these institutions towards the payment of salaries to their teaching and non-teaching staff.

In the case of aided degree colleges, the University Grants Commission has a share in the pie as it gives the State government hundreds of crores of rupees for payment of UGC scales to their teaching staff. Often the UGC also gives huge funds to eligible colleges for building infrastructure and other basic facilities for the benefit of students.

The question here is that what are the compelling reasons for the AP government to put forward two daunting options to the managements of these institutions? They have to either hand over their colleges and schools, lock, stock and barrel ie staff, students and premises or run them on their own, the Government will stop grant- in- aid and take over the staff and treat them on par with staff in Government colleges in all service matters.

It is true that this takeover idea hasn't cropped up overnight. For many years many State governments have been mulling over this rationalisation of educational institutions. The Government of Haryana had already taken over all aided schools and the takeover of colleges is in the process. The plan of taking over aided colleges in Andhra Pradesh was on the anvil even before my retirement in 2013.

Like thousands of other lecturers, I too waited for that day to dawn soon, but, alas, it didn't happen during my service period! One reason for the delay in materialising that idea is the fact that most of these colleges are owned by powerful politicians across the political spectrum and they have kept opposing the idea with all their will and might. Who will agree to give away the proverbial goose that laid golden eggs? The advantages of owning an aided college are many and varied.

The most alluring of the advantages is the fact that in the appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff, the Management will have the final say, in spite of the norm of a panel of members as a Selection Committee that includes the representatives of the Government and the affiliating university. The management usually ensures it that their kith and kin and close relatives are appointed.

Even in the appointment of staff as per reservation norms, the management hand picks their own candidates, often collecting huge amounts from them. To stop the rot, late NTR, as the CM in1980s,had constituted a College Service Commission to take up the recruitment of lecturers for appointment in aided and unaided Degree colleges. Luckily I belonged to the first batch of lecturers which the Commission sent out in 1991.But later the Managements had mounted pressure on the then Congress government and got back the appointing powers to them! It is therefore a small wonder that most of these colleges are run as a private company, to say the least.

The second advantage is that these colleges fix student fees at their will. Again the management gets handful of funds from the government in the form of scholarships to students. The amounts so collected are to be utilised for college development purposes, but this doesn't happen in most cases and it is a big sideline of income for the Management.

Another advantage, as I said earlier in the write-up, is that the UGC gives eligible colleges big funds for building class rooms, labs, libraries, and waiting rooms in the campus. Though it is not generally possible to divert these funds to other activities, the management lines its pockets by sending inflated and fake bills to the UGC.As it is not financially viable for the UGC to send a team to each and every college to inspect the quality of work done, it only expects a utilisation certificate from the college concerned. This practice broods fraud on the part of the management.

Most of these colleges are run under the aegis of an educational society or Committee which is mostly manned by the persons handpicked by the management. Such societies meant to serve a public cause enjoy a plethora of advantages. They don't pay income tax and they are not subject to any public audit. The greatest advantage they enjoy is that these societies are given huge parcels of lands for establishing of colleges.

Often these lands are given on lease or would have been allotted at small prices years ago and either way the management gets benefited. Now the value of these Government lands at the disposal of the college runs into crores of rupees. Many colleges make money by utilising these lands for commercial purposes. The Government is a big loser here.

Initially these aided colleges, mostly started by philanthropists and NGOs, were run well and they played the game as per rules in spreading education. Governments also started supporting them in the form of financial help. This must be the strongest factor in triggering the practice of seeking aid/grant from the government. But from 1980s onwards the bad times of these colleges started, thanks to the entry of politicians on the scene. With that aided colleges and schools started mush rooming at all places with the active support and participation of politicians. They run these institutions for their own political, financial, and communal aggrandisement. Most of these colleges have huge buildings, grounds, and unending sources of income.

But, alas, about the quality of education and the commitment of staff and the management in delivering the goods to the students and to the society, the less said, the better. Barring a dozen or a score, most of these colleges have become play grounds for politicians and breeding centres of all kinds of malpractices and isms. In most colleges malpractice during exams is the order of the day. One could see some colleges in the Rayalaseema region where gates are closed during the exams and students are openly allowed to shamelessly indulge in all kinds of malpractices. Even university observers sent to oversee the system are not given entry into these colleges during that period. The university to which these colleges are affiliated can only shift the exam center to another town, causing much inconvenience to students and to their parents. Even the Government is helpless in this regard and is compelled to continue the grant-in-aid system. To put it in one sentence, this culture of malpractice is found vertically and horizontally in every aspect of these colleges!

When viewed against this backdrop, the decision of the Government to take over these colleges appears to be a step in the right direction. In fact for years now, the Government has not filled in aided posts which have fallen vacant with the retirement of lecturers like me. The managements have already deployed all means of resistance against this move, but they are most unlikely to score a point against the Government.

As of now many of them have surrendered or agreed to surrender their staff to the Government rather than part with properties worth hundreds of crores of rupees(It is learnt that only 10 out of 137 Degree colleges have surrendered everything to the government).They fear that the Government may not stop with the takeover of the staff alone and one day it may also ask them to surrender the properties or ask them to pay through the nose for them at the present market value.

But the immediate challenge before them is to run their institutions as "Private Colleges"and survive the cut throat competition among themselves. One is tempted to see the entire takeover aspect as a positive development and to say that eventually students are the real beneficiaries. It is definitely a silver lining in the history of education system in the state.

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