After controlling it for five years, the state government has decided to throw open the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) door to students from outside Bengal.
“We have taken the decision to open up our institutions to quality students. It will not be possible for us to implement the decision in 2003, as the forms have already been printed,” member-secretary of the JEE board Alok Das said on Wednesday. “But a committee has been set up to work out the modalities of the implementation in 2004,” he added.
The decision, which reverses the step taken five years ago by the ruling communists, is a sign of desperation, say officials. Then, students were leaving for other states to pursue higher tech studies as there were only a handful of colleges to accommodate them here.
Now, the need to attract students is acute, as private engineering colleges have mushroomed in the state, while medical institutions will also multiply in the coming months.
“So many private engineering colleges in the city and elsewhere in the state are being forced to continue with empty seats,” pointed out an official. “A similar fate awaits the private medical colleges set to be commissioned in the future.”
This has, apparently, prompted the government to reverse the earlier policy and lift the domicile restrictions, which allow only students who are either permanent residents of Bengal or have been staying here continuously for the past 10 years to vie for a place in the engineering and medical colleges, via the annual JEE route.
The situation which, according to Bikash Bhavan and Writers’ Buildings officials, was “quite grim”, forced state higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty to convene an emergency meeting recently.
Those invited for the discussions included senior officials of the department and principals of some of the private engineering colleges. They were all encouraged to voice their views “frankly”.
The government restrictions on students from outside the state, enforced about five years ago, have actually backfired, admit officials.
“We needed such a system then, as many students were leaving West Bengal, forced by the paucity of seats for technical education here,” a senior Bikash Bhavan official told Metro. “Now, however, things have undergone a sea-change, forcing the government into the rethink.”
With privatisation changing every equation in the engineering education set-up and medical studies poised to follow suit, the government had to act. The last five years have seen as many as 43 new engineering colleges coming up in the state. The number of seats, consequently, has risen from just 1,800 to 24,000.
Matters have come to such a pass that many students, who barely managed to scrape through the Higher Secondary examination, have succeeded in bagging seats in the private engineering colleges. This has placed a huge question mark over the quality being churned out by these colleges.
The lifting of the domicile restrictions could, however, have one fallout that students from the state may not welcome. With over 45,000 students appearing for what is often considered to be the make-or-break JEE every year and only the top 10,000 managing to get seats in the more reputed colleges, competition in the form of students from neighbouring states may push Bengal’s not-so-meritorious students out of the ‘Joint’ race.
The principals of some private engineering colleges have welcomed the move, saying it would trigger a qualitative improvement. “The move should work out well,” said Kishor Nager, principal of MCKV Institute of Engineering College.