Dakshina Kannada and Udupi are considered to be two of the most developed districts in the State with extraordinary human development indicators such as average income, health and literacy. Proponents of this success story often attribute it to what they call proliferation of excellent institutions of higher education.

Perhaps, the most enduring cliché used to describe these two districts — largely on the basis of the numerous private medical, engineering and management colleges here — is “buddhivantara nadu” or land of the intelligent people.

But statistics reveal that in a region where the literacy percentage hovers around the high 90s, an astounding number of people do not go beyond middle school. According to a study conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in 2007, only nine out of every 100 persons in these two districts are graduates.

The study says that a whopping 31 per cent in Dakshina Kannada and 33 per cent in Udupi dropped out after middle school (classes five, six and seven). In fact, the inverted V-shaped statistical graph compiled by the TISS researchers shows an almost vertical drop in the number of persons opting to study beyond middle school. Over 26 per cent of students in Udupi and 17 per cent in Dakshina Kannada discontinue studies during high school (classes eight, nine and ten).

District president of Ahinda Lolaksha says that the problem lies with the withdrawal of the Government from higher education. He blames the high degree of privatisation in higher education for the problem.

Only 30 of the 157 degree colleges in the two districts are government-owned. Of the 30-plus engineering, medical and dental colleges, only one is government-owned. In contrast, nearly 1,000 of the 1,400 primary schools in Dakshina Kannada district are run by the Government.

Mr. Lolaksha believes that there is a direct relation between the fewer number of people opting for higher education and the number of government colleges. “The prohibitive fee-structure and cultural elitism in private colleges ensure that a majority of students here are from upper classes and upper castes,” he says. A first year postgraduate student of ophthalmology at a reputed medical college here says that the average cost of an MBBS seat is Rs. 28 lakh. The student, who procured a rough rate card from an agent, reveals that the cheapest specialisation at the PG-level is anaesthesia, which is priced at Rs. 45 lakh. A specialisation in ophthalmology costs Rs. 65 lakh, orthopaedics Rs. 90 lakh and radiology Rs. 1.3 crore.

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