Chennai@2019: The year in retrospect

TN's higher education in need of course correction on many fronts

DMK president and party MLAs stage a walk out from Assembly protesting against the way government handled NEET.

DMK president and party MLAs stage a walk out from Assembly protesting against the way government handled NEET.   | Photo Credit: R.Ragu

The year 2019 highlighted the need for course corrections in higher education in Tamil Nadu on many fronts, including in institutes known for their academic excellence such as IIT Madras.

The year also witnessed considerable opposition from Tamil Nadu for the National Education Policy (NEP) proposed by the Union government.

Apart from showing once again how admissions to medical colleges through National Eligibility-cum Entrance Test (NEET) remained elusive for students from underprivileged sections, the Directorate of Medical Education stood exposed in 2019 for failing to have fool-proof measures in admissions, which in turn led to cheating.

At least six candidates were suspected to have used proxy to write NEET, the qualifier for medical seats. A fresher in Theni Government Medical College has since quit the course. His father, a government doctor in a position of power got a person to impersonate his son in NEET by allegedly paying ₹20 lakh. The DME received flak for not relying on technology to cross-verify the candidates' credentials scrupulously. It led to suspicion that there could be a whole cartel functioning across the country.

Fathima Latheef, a post-graduate student from Kerala, studying in IIT Madras, ended her life in the hostel, leading to allegations of discrimination and lack of adequate mechanisms to address grievances of students. The death is being investigated by the police to find whether harassment or discrimination by faculty led to it. It has also reignited the debate of lack of diversity among students and faculty members in IITs with poor representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Class communities.

There seems to be uncertainty surrounding the realisation of Institute of Eminence status granted to Anna University by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). Despite assurances from MHRD, Tamil Nadu government has expressed concerns in particular over the continuation of its 69 % reservation policy in student admissions and faculty appointments.

Discussions have also been initiated about dividing Anna University into two, with the four colleges that are part of the university campus as one unitary institution with the IoE tag while creating another new university as an affiliating institution of other engineering colleges. State government has formed a five-member committee to study the modalities. However, concerns have been raised over non-representation of academicians in the committee.

The burden of conducting counselling for admission was taken off Anna University this year. After initial glitches, it was a fairly smooth run for Directorate of Technical Education that conducted the counselling. Government engineering college deans and professors now visit neighbourhood schools to educate aspiring students on online counselling process, said a professor. But it would be a while before they can trust aspirants to make a sound choice, they said.

Online counselling has somewhat curbed the menace of luring ignorant aspirants to ill-equipped colleges. But in the last two days of counselling when SC seat conversion was in progress, three candidates, including a girl, whose cut off ranged from 85 to 97 said they were advised by the colleges in their neighbourhood to approach the counselling officials and ask for admission to their colleges. The candidates were unaware of the facilities available in these colleges.

There appears to be some momentum over bringing in a single-window counseling system to regulate admissions to government arts and science colleges, which has been discussed for a while now. However, officials say that it is unlikely to happen in the coming academic year.

Although there is no clarity on when the Union government is likely to bring NEP, the move is likely to face strong opposition from Tamil Nadu if the reaction to the draft policy is anything to go by.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 8:02:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/in-need-of-course-correction-on-many-fronts/article30402700.ece

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