For Tiju, who came from Kottayam to pursue a degree in nursing in the State, the four-year course encompassed periods of fear, uncertainty, depression, anger, desperation and hopelessness. Having been cheated by the college management, Tiju said that he even reached a point when he approached a local gang leader to coerce the management to let him and his classmates leave the college.
It all began when an agent approached him with an offer of a seat at a private nursing college in Bangalore. Tiju, who was taken around the college, said he was impressed by the infrastructure, laboratory and faculty and was reassured by the institution's college's Indian Nursing Council (INC) accreditation. However, on admission after paying Rs. 4 lakh, the con became evident.
There were over 360 students as against an intake of 60. Each was promised admission to the college first shown, but was furtively admitted to 14 sub-colleges, most without accreditation, run by the charitable trust. Tiju found himself in a small set-up in a coffee plantation outside Sakleshpur in Hassan district, over 220 km from Bangalore.
The result was that the student strength reduced from 360 to just 13 by the end of third year. Agents played a part here too, with students having to pay hefty amounts to them to retrieve their certificates or obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to join other colleges. “I had paid so much as fees, and my family could not afford to pay any more. I had to continue,” said Cyril.
Studying in the Sakleshpur college, which had no faculty or facilities, meant that the students studied through books borrowed from friends. For the practical classes, they used the laboratories of a nearby college in Hassan, a privilege they had to beg for, he said.
Soon desperation turned into resolve. After hectic parleying, a criminal case lodged against the college and a counter-case against the students, but they were given certificates and an NOC, allowing them to continue in another college.
Not an isolated case
With the mushrooming of nursing colleges in the State — 324 colleges were approved by Rajiv Gandhi University Health Sciences (RGUHS) for admissions in the academic year 2011-12 — agents have helped the business proliferate. After admission, the student has to relinquish all certificates to the college, thus becoming a target for more exploitation.
Money, more money
Joy (name changed) found admission into a private college here through an “education consultant” at an education fair in Kottayam. The agent and the college had quoted Rs. 2.25 lakh for the four-year course.
However, after enrolment, the college started demanding more — either as hefty penalties for the student's supposed lack of attendance, or by changing the fee structure midway.
The use of agents to “recruit” students is so widespread a senior nurse at a college said: “Many private colleges use outgoing students to enrol others from Kerala. They even give them a cut when a student is admitted.”
Though admitting the presence of agents, RGUHS officials blamed the students. “When colleges put up their stalls at these [fairs], what is the need for students to use agents?” asked an official.
As for students being taken for a ride, the official said: “Students should get details of fees in writing from the college. They should also take the responsibility of finding out the certification and accreditation of the college instead of relying on an agent.”