Two days a week, P. Ramraj is surrounded by all kinds of sumptuous food but that is when he goes hungry for most part of the day. This second-year student, who studies Chemistry at Government Arts College, Nandanam, works as a server for a catering firm on weekends. “I work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., or even later, till dinner time gets over. We get food only after everyone has eaten and the accounts have been settled.”

For this, Ramraj is paid Rs. 500 although according to him, this is not the best job on offer. That honour goes to work at the harbour on Saturday mornings. “We have to carry containers. It is tiring but we get paid much more.”

On a weekday, the schedule is simpler — college till 1 p.m. and work from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. For Ramraj and his friends who have come from different villages across the State to study here, working to sustain oneself is as important, if not more than getting good scores. “Clearing exams is not difficult. We just have to be regular in class,” he says.

The situation is not very different for students in other government colleges. For Murugesan, who works at Pothys in the evenings and studies economics at Presidency in the mornings, the money he earns from work is what sustains his family back home in Salem. “My parents are coolies and the money I send home, is used to send my brothers to school.”

Over 85 per cent of students in many government colleges come from villages and the rest from the peripheral areas of the city. Those from rural areas begin taking up jobs as soon as they enter college. “The Rs. 3,000 they get as scholarship is sent home. The parents of these children are mostly coolies or bonded labourers,” says Mujeera Fathima, who heads the botany department in the college.

Agents for different jobs often come to colleges and hire students for the weekend. “For distributing leaflets for four hours, you get about Rs. 150. It is quick money. If you have an email id, you can get more offers,” says Arockiaraj, who hails from Dharamapuri and studies here.

Data entry jobs are the most sought after, so are jobs in courier services — the former pays them a little more while the latter gives them transport allowance. “I earn about Rs. 3,000 for data entry work. And this is not like catering where they will hire you only if you come in a group. I don’t work during exams or when I go home,” says Arockiaraj.

Some skilled ones or those interested in sciences also work as assistants in clinics. Colleges too understand the need for students to find a job as soon as they get admitted into the college.

“There is nothing wrong in earning while you learn. They also learn the value of money but we encourage them to study further,” says S. Venkatraman, principal, Government Arts College Nandanam. Every Monday, there is a counselling meet held at the college where available jobs are discussed and students take the ones most suited to them.

From this year, the State government has initiated a special soft skills training for students in government colleges which will train them in spoken English. “We really look forward to it because with this, we can get recruited by voice BPOs too. Due to lack of communication skills, we are confined to desk jobs in call centres now,” said a student at Presidency College.

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