A. Madhan Kumar wakes up at 2 a.m. That's the only way he can catch the bus around 3 a.m. By the time he rushes inside his classroom to take a seat beside his classmate, it's eight.
The second year student of Dr. Ambedkar Government Arts College in Vyasarpadi commutes to the city every day from a village in Uthukottai, in Tiruvallur district. “On several days, I am late to college because of the long journey and I miss my first few classes,” he says.
There is also little time left for daily lessons, says another student of the college who comes from Villupuram. She leaves home at 3 a.m. and returns only around 7 p.m. “I joined the city college in the hope that I can stay in the government hostel, but my application was turned down,” she says, on condition of anonymity.
However, students like them endure painfully long journeys and fatigue for the experience of studying in a “city college.” Some of them do not have arts and science colleges in their vicinity or face difficulty in getting buses from their locality.
City colleges have several students travelling every day from interior villages near Arakkonam, Thiruvannamalai and Padalam to reach their colleges. Loyola College, for instance, has around 400 such students, according to G.M. James, its Dean of Foundation Studies.
While institutions appreciate the spirit and enthusiasm of such students, there are other challenges they face. “Once I found a student sleeping in class. When I took him out and enquired, I learnt that he had to wake up at three in the morning to reach college on time from his house in Vellore. We are trying to accommodate him in the college hostel,” says Mr. James.
The travel time tends to affect their academics, according to G. Thiruvasagam, Vice-Chancellor, University of Madras. “This year, we have asked rural colleges under the university's purview to reserve 10 per cent of their seats for students in the locality,” he adds.
Prof. Thiruvasagam also admits that in most colleges, the hostel facilities are not sufficient to accommodate students. “This year the University of Madras is building two new hostels for boys, proportionate to the increase in the number of seats in every department,” he says.
Alternative accommodation in the city could be very expensive for students, and hence they are forced to go back home. Madhan Kumar is in the process of looking for a part-time job. “Then, I can stay here and study,” he says.
Such students are also forced to skip meals, particularly breakfast. When they leave, it is too early to pack lunch and some of the students, coming from modest backgrounds, cannot afford to buy lunch at the canteen and end up staying hungry all day, students note.
In their frenzied rush to the colleges, most of these students rarely find time for leisure, instead, they catch up on their sleep during their long hours of travel.