CET losing steam in State

Professional courses

With education becoming a money-spinning business, Common Entrance Test (CET) for admission to professional courses in the State has turned out to be a farcical exercise. Social justice, the very bedrock of the CET concept has become a casualty in the tug of war between government and private educational institutions. 

Introduced in 1994, the CET was hailed as a panacea for all the ills plaguing admission procedures to professional courses in the State. In fact, the system had set some ground rules and some more states began to follow the model. However, just after eight years, there are all signs of the CET losing its relevance.

That the State government cannot even secure at least 50 per cent of the total seats speaks volumes on the hold of private institutions over the entire system. In the beginning, 85 per cent of the seats were under the government quota.

Prior to CET, the Technical Education Council and Directorate of Medical Education used to allot seats for professional courses in aided and government colleges. The Council conducted the entrance test from 1983 to 1993. But the system lacked transparency and a 'seat mafia' ensured medical seats only to the rich and influential candidates. There have been instances of sale of engineering and medical seats during 1980s. Complaints of irregularities and ad hoc procedures had become the hallmarks of the system.

Triggering factor

The verdict of the Supreme Court in the Unnikrishnan case in 1993 came as a triggering factor to streamline the admission process to professional courses. The Bench headed by Justice B P Jeevan Reddy ruled that all states should compulsorily conduct Common Entrance Test.

The court ruled that private educational institutions should give up 85 per cent of seats to government quota and fill up the rest under the management quota. The landmark judgment, guided by the principle of social justice, provided an access to professional education for the poor and middle-class candidates.

Then chief minister M Veerappa Moily set up the paraphernalia for the Common Entrance Test in Karnataka. He was ably supported by then principal secretary to Higher Education Department, Teresa Bhattacharya. Soon, CET cell came into existence and IAS officer Shivakumar Reddy was appointed its special officer. His successor Harish Gowda laid a strong foundation for the CET system and the first test was conducted in 1994.

The new system heralded transparency in the admission to engineering, medical and dental courses. Counselling put an end to all irregularities and nepotism in allotment of seats. The arrangement came in for praise from students and parents. The major benefit was that professional education became accessible and affordable to the economically weaker sections of society. Of the 85 per cent seats in the government quota, 15 per cent was reserved for non-Karnataka candidates and the balance of 70 per cent was equally divided as merit and payment seats (35 per cent each).  

Another Supreme Court verdict in 2003 overturned all the reforms. A 11-judge SC Bench in its judgment on the appeal against the 1993 order ruled by majority that governments have no control over private educational institutions. It said private institutions can conduct their own admission test. Post-verdict, the CET system began to lose its steam and a tussle ensued over sharing of seats. In 2004, the very first year after the judgment, the share of government quota came down to 60 per cent.

That was the beginning and the quota has been shrinking since then with a proportionate increase in the share of management seats. Last year the seats were equally divided while this year it is 40:60 between government and private institutions. In fact, the government traded seats with status quo on fees this year. It offered 60 per cent seats to managements with a condition that they should not seek any hike in fees. In case of dental courses, the managements have been given 80 per cent seats. Needless to say, social justice went for a toss.

However, private institutions have been demanding to fix Rs 50,000 fee for each seat and several rounds of talks on the issue have remained inconclusive. Whatever the outcome of the talks, the very act of ceding more seats to private players would no doubt deprive opportunity to students, particularly those from poor and weaker sections. In the neighbouring Tamil Nadu, government has control over 65 per cent of medical seats while it is 40 per cent in Karnataka.

Capitation lobby

All political parties have their share in enervating a fair and transparent Common Entrance Test system. Majority of the private educational institutions in the State are owned by politicians and it is this capitation lobby which went in appeal against the verdict in the Unnikrishnan case. There was no political will to infuse strength into CET through a constitutional amendment. With the government buckling to private managements every year, dilution seems to be a fait accompli for an otherwise efficient CET regime.

CET provided a fair entry into professional courses and the gradual dilution of the system with more private domination has come as a detriment to students from rural areas as well. The shrinking government quota has become a cause for worry for the student community. If the developments this year are any indicators, a repeat of the capitation era seems to be imminent. A strong political will is the only solution to stem the rot, which unfortunately is in short supply.

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