At a time, when almost every private college in the city is trying to increase the number of seats allotted to all their courses, most government Arts and Sciences colleges seem to be content with the existing number of seats.

Officials at the University of Madras note that most autonomous colleges have asked for an increase of at least 10 per cent in their seats for popular courses such as B. Com and B. Sc Computer Science. “However many government colleges have maintained the same number of seats for the last ten years,” an official said.

Heads of government colleges reveal another side to the story. “We will increase seats only for courses that are in demand. Students, urban or rural, now only want courses that have placement prospects. Many of our courses, including geography and psychology are filled up only at the last moment with people with the least marks,” says a senior professor at Presidency College, justifying the lack of increase in seats.

“The infrastructure has improved only last year. Earlier, even classes used to be held outside, because of a lack of proper facilities,” said a former principal of Bharathi Women’s College.

“We also find a problem getting skilled, qualified teachers now, because the UGC norms for the appointment of teachers demand standards. Most young graduates prefer to join engineering colleges to teach maths and physics,” she adds. Additional seats also mean the need for extra infrastructure which colleges don’t have. “It is only recently that we got a lab with sufficient computers,” she adds.

Experts however disagree with this reason. “You don’t need extra infrastructure to teach commerce or literature. There has been no pressure on them so they don’t ask for extra seats because it means more work and responsibility,” said a university official.

With facilities such as hostels and tuitions offered for very minimal rates in government colleges in addition to various scholarships, there is a wide demand for them, especially from students from rural areas. Sources say that there are nearly 4,000 applications for just about 90 seats for every top course in most government colleges.

Besides, while private colleges have almost doubled the number of their seats, they have also significantly hiked their fees too, making government colleges the only option for students from economically weaker backgrounds.

Experts say that if the State government wants to achieve its target of a Gross Enrolment Ratio of 25 per cent by 2025, then the issue of stagnancy in the number of seats in government colleges needs to be addressed immediately.

However, S. Venkatraman, principal, Government Arts College Nandanam, thinks it is unfair to compare government and private colleges based on the number of seats, as the backgrounds of students are different. “Our students come from less-privileged backgrounds and have minimum marks or understanding of subjects. The effort put in by teachers here is much more than that in private colleges where students are motivated.”

The University of Madras has expressed its willingness to increase seats in government colleges. Vice-Chancellor G. Thiruvasagam says, “We will be happy to increase their seats. These colleges are here for social inclusion and for the greater good of the society. It would be nice if the seats are increased, because then, at least 1,000 more students, particularly from rural backgrounds, will get access to higher education.”

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