Calcutta, Nov. 14: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said his government would not invest scarce resources in setting up undergraduate colleges, signalling an about-turn in the state’s 25-year policy and leaving the field wide open to private players.
“We cannot shoulder the responsibility of setting up undergraduate colleges in the state like before. The financial implications are stupendous and the government cannot handle the job alone anymore,” the chief minister told teachers gathered for an All-Bengal Teachers’ Association (ABTA) meet.
The meeting was held to emphasise the teachers’ concern for quality education.
“We seek participation from the private sector in this segment — undergraduate institutions — of higher education. I am hopeful about their response because they (private sector) have already come forward to set up quality institutions in the medical and engineering fields,” Bhattacharjee said.
The chief minister added that only students living below the poverty line would get free education from school up to university, signalling the end of another socialist practice of the state underwriting the cost of education even for children from well-off families. “Only those with BPL cards would be entitled to free education,” he stressed.
Bhattacharjee’s new approach marks a reversal of the education policy Jyoti Basu’s first government had put in place at the behest of a conservative CPM, then led by Promode Dasgupta, a dogma-driven Stalinist.
Today’s announcement is seen as the first public confirmation from the chief minister of the extent to which his government will go to push its education reforms programme.
The private initiative was most needed in setting up undergraduate colleges that would impart quality education in emerging areas like bio-technology apart from the conventional science and humanities streams, Bhattacharjee said.
“Private promoters will now be allowed to set up undergraduate colleges for offering courses that will produce graduates equipped with knowledge of emerging scientific and technological areas,” he said.
On the state’s role in school education, the chief minister admitted that irregular supply of mid-day meals was one of the major causes of the government’s failure to check dropouts at the primary level.
The existing system of providing a mid-day meal once in a month was not enough to keep children from poor homes in school, he said. “We have to find some concrete measures to improve the mid-day meal facilities in order to check the dropout rate in the rural belts.”
The chief minister also admitted that standards in some schools were low because of poor infrastructure such as decrepit school buildings and the absence of libraries.