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Door opens half for online college entry

The government on Tuesday finalised a watered-down version of the centralised online system for undergraduate admissions promised by Mamata Banerjee and notified by the education department last February.

What was to be a “hassle-free, transparent and merit-based” process, as mentioned in the notification published on February 28, will now be a halfway house at best that leaves the door ajar for meddling by student unions as usual after the first round of admissions.

Bengal has a history of student unions influencing college admissions, benefiting those who owe allegiance to them and robbing many deserving students of the seats that should have been theirs.

The centralised online admission process being introduced this year will be limited to publication of admission criteria and submission of applications, based on which the first merit list for each subject will be generated.

Unlike what had been promised, students won’t be able to change their options online after the first round, based on availability of seats. Since subsequent merit lists won’t be generated online, the coast will be clear for student unions to go back to influencing admission to vacant seats.

The decision to introduce a partially centralised online admission system was taken at the last meeting chaired by Bratya Basu as education minister. A ministry reshuffle on Tuesday afternoon saw Basu being named tourism minister and Partha Chatterjee getting his portfolio.

“We have introduced online admissions as part of the e-governance initiative by the Mamata Banerjee government. Under the new system, candidates would be required to apply for seats through a centralised online format. The university will draw up a merit list and counselling and admission will be conducted by the colleges,” he said.

Basu said the centralised online admission system had been modelled on that of Burdwan University, where candidates are required to go to the colleges only to take admission. Burdwan University, which introduced the system in 2013, oversees the process.

On whether the Burdwan model couldn’t have been replicated in its entirety, Basu said: “There is no hard and fast rule that we have to follow the model in its entirety. We have taken the best parts and tried to improve on them.”

Sources said the decision to settle for a partially online admission system was taken under pressure from Trinamul-affiliated student unions. “We have decided to partially implement online admissions this year. From next year, we will try to go fully online,” a senior official of the education department said.

In its notification last February, the department had said that it “desires to streamline the admission procedure to undergraduate courses in such a manner that the admission process becomes hassle-free and transparent and offers convenience to students, their parents/guardians and renders the college/ university authorities more accountable in completing a merit-based admission process in a time-bound manner”.

A Calcutta University official said the “modified” online process was a compromise. “This isn’t enough to clean up the system. The stages in which manipulation occurs remain offline.”

Union leaders in many colleges ensure seats for students at the bottom of the merit list by stopping those above them from taking admission. “Students who make it to the first merit list usually do not face problems in admission. Trouble starts in subsequent rounds of admission. In exchange for donation, union leaders promise to secure berths for students who otherwise would not have got seats,” the official said.

Union leaders are known to also disrupt counselling by making dummy candidates stand in the queues at different colleges. “The idea is to force those supposed to take admission to go away. When the chosen candidates fail to take admission at the appointed time, those below them on the merit list get the chance,” an official said.

The Trinamul Congress Chhatra Parishad currently controls the student unions in more than 90 per cent of the colleges under Calcutta University and in the majority of the institutions affiliated to other universities.

Shanku Deb Panda, state president of the Trinamul student union, had allegedly met party leaders on several occasions recently to request them to get the proposed centralised online admission system scrapped. When Metro contacted Panda, he declined to comment on it, saying he knew nothing about online admissions.

The online system is to be introduced this year in all affiliating universities, including West Bengal State University, Burdwan University, Kalyani University and North Bengal University.