A few months ago, I met S. Arun Senthilvelan at a bank. He had come with his grandfather from Dharmapuri to apply for a loan to meet the expenses for his engineering course.
“We have sold off our land,” he told me, quite cheerfully. “My grandfather wants me to study engineering and get a good job,” he added, as he helped the older man sign a number of sheets.
Last week, Arun called me, this time seeking my help. “The college wants me to pay Rs. 30,000 for a new canteen and Rs. 10,000 for a new auditorium. They are not giving us a receipt, without which the bank will not advance the next instalment,” he said.
Arun has not yet seen the new auditorium that his college claims to have built for its students, and neither does he use the canteen facility. The fact that Anna University has appointed a committee under the Tamil Nadu Educational Institutions Act, 1992 to enquire into complaints of collection of excess tuition fees is not known to him, nor is he aware of the All India Council for Technical Education’s forum to notify complaints against overcharging by college managements.
Arun studies in a college that is barely six years old and is one of the many that charge students under various heads that come under “other facilities.” This is despite the State government deciding the quantum of fees earlier this year – Rs. 40,000 for BE non-accredited courses, Rs. 45,000 for accredited courses and Rs. 70,000 for a management seat.
Last year, a State-appointed committee looked into complaints of excess fees. It inspected over 100 colleges and found that almost 70 of them were charging at least 30 per cent more than the stipulated amount. Though government officials say legal notices were sent to the offending colleges and in some cases, the money was refunded, the committee is disappointed with the lack of effective action taken. “We refused to participate in the inspection this year. Officials held negotiations with the college managements after which they were allowed to continue to function in the same way,” says an official associated with the committee. And so, colleges continue to find new ways to charge more.
A principal of a college in Avadi says his institution struggled for 12 years before attaining the status of a prominent institution in the city. “The running expenditure of a college is high. Many of our seats in postgraduate courses are vacant. But we have to keep the courses running to avoid de-notification,” he says — a possible indication towards where the Rs. 5,000 collected from every student for ‘maintenance fees’ goes.
Even as a new committee recently constituted by the government gets ready to collect complaints afresh, the fate of last year’s offenders, which include some of the most prominent colleges in the city, remains unknown. Perhaps, strict action against them would be a good place to start, so that those like Arun, who have invested generations of wealth in education, are not exploited.
Many colleges charge more than State-stipulated amount under various heads