There is a certain educational conservatism in Kerala today, says Cooperation Minister G. Sudhakaran in an interview. He goes on to say that the cooperative sector needs the help of universities because it is they who have to approve courses and grant affiliation.

In an interview with The Hindu-EducationPlus, the Cooperation Minister, G. Sudhakaran, assesses the impact of the cooperation sector in Kerala's education , speaks about the educational conservatism that has gripped the State and points to the need for universities to change their mode of operations. Excerpts from an interview:

On the impact of the cooperative sector in the education sector in Kerala

The LDF government under Mr. V. S. Achuthanandan assumed office on May 18, 2006. The Cooperation Department was seen by many as one whose only job was to dispense loans. The LDF government was able to bring about diversification, professionalism and modernisation to the department. This philosophy was first put in place by Pinarayi Vijayan when he was the Cooperation Minister in the E. K. Nayanar government of 1996. He was the first person to introduce industrial production and systematic marketing in this sector.

Around that time he also put forward the idea that public sector undertakings should produce their own engineers by setting up their own colleges. The KSRTC did set up one. Institutions such as the Kerala Water Authority chose not to. It was also as part of this philosophy that five engineering colleges and one medical college were set up under the Cooperative Academy of Professional Education.

Soon after taking charge I announced the Sahakaranam Navarathnam Keraleeyam scheme; the entire sector was divided into nine portfolios. Education was one of them.

On his declared aim to set up one professional college in each Assembly constituency.

I had wanted professional colleges to be set up, not just engineering and medical colleges. Unfortunately in Kerala professional education has come to mean just engineering and medical education. This is because people have been taught these are two sectors in which you can make a lot of money and get a lot of bribes.

Not even five percent of students see engineering and medicine as a calling, as a service. The rest are there because they want to make good money, marry well and live a posh life. This is nothing but a feudalistic mindset.

My idea was that institutes of fashion technology should come, courses in tourism… in fact I procured the names and details of courses offered in American universities. But not a single Vice-Chancellor was willing to respond to my initiative. I need the help of universities because it is they who have to approve my course and grant affiliation. Our universities have not diversified their courses.

If I had been able to do that at least a section of our students would have had access to the most modern of courses. In fact our entire education system would have been modernised. But the educational leadership in Kerala is not ready to think along those lines. There is a certain educational conservatism in Kerala today. CAPE was set up because of the unstinting support of many MLAs.

However, in this case many MLAs backed out when faced with the question of acquiring land for setting up colleges.

Now CAPE itself has set up more colleges. There were only six colleges under it when I became Minister; now there are 11. This sector now has an MBA college and even a finishing school. In fact the situation in Kerala is that the State does not even pay adequate attention to finishing schools. The State cooperative union has set up an MCA and MBA institute at Neyyattinkara, the State cooperative bank has set up an MBA college and that is into its first year.

The primary cooperative society at Peroorkada is running an MBA institute and an institution offering B.Sc. nursing. The EMS hospital has set up a B.Sc. nursing institute and an educational complex where 1,000 para-medical students can live. All told there are about 30 institutions in the cooperative sector offering professional education.

On the need for change in universities

Universities should keep on designing one course after the other. They need not offer these courses directly. But there is no mechanism to do that.

When I was a syndicate member at the University of Kerala there were only 24 departments there. There was not even a commerce department, no law, Hindi or biotechnology department. We in the syndicate created many more departments and today there are 40-odd departments in the varsity.

On the impact of professional education in cooperative sector on the health care scenario.

The establishment of professional colleges has had a huge impact on health care. The Pariyaram Medical College and the EMS College at Perinthalmanna are examples. Here a dialysis costs less than Rs.500.

The Perinthalmanna institution employs close to 1,200 staff. Such kind of staffing is not there even in a regular medical college. Even so, that institution is running on a profit. So the reality is that no one really knows the actual income of a private hospital where the rates are much higher. There are 125 cooperative hospitals in Kerala.

On the lack of professionals to serve in the cooperative sector

The ideas that a government formulates should be implemented by professionals. There is an acute shortage of professionals willing to come and work in this sector. I wanted to start a heart surgery unit at a hospital. I had a person from the Hridayalaya project at Pariyaram who said we can go ahead and begin one unit. We could not get any doctors there. This in general is the problem with CAPE. Even the ones we do get are mostly corrupt and many do not do their job properly. Even though we are ready to fund the purchase of library books, there is no one to oversee the scheme in an effective manner.

On the need for medical education to become ethical

The government is spending crores of rupees of public money in educating students in cooperative medical colleges. Very few students have the commitment to go afterwards and work in places such as Idukki or Wayanad.

If any student of medicine has some ethics it is only what he or she picked up from the family or society. There is no ethics to be picked up today from medical education in Kerala. This should change.