Fend for yourselves is the message from the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government as it begins to turn off the funds tap to at least a dozen prominent private under-graduate colleges in Calcutta.
Education officials made it clear that the colleges would shortly be asked to brace for a steep slash in government grants to meet the salary requirements of their teachers and non-teaching employees.
This, hinted officials, was the first step to a full stop (as far as grants go) in the long run.
Steps are expected to be initiated soon to amend the Payment of Salaries Act guiding the teachers of state-aided colleges.
“We are going to progressively turn off the taps, covering a few colleges at a time,” said a senior official close to higher education minister Satyasadhan Chakraborty. “The funds saved can be spent on developing the infrastructure for primary education.”
Officials explained that Bhattacharjee’s government has decided to take the fund-slash step for two reasons — the ballooning expenditure on higher education and Delhi’s refusal to provide the states with a financial cushion in this sector.
The latest move comes in the wake of a meeting chief minister Bhattacharjee held a few weeks ago with education secretary Jawhar Sircar and other senior education officials, where he reportedly asked the department to start slashing assistance to colleges drawing students from affluent families. The deadline: post-poll.
Given the sensitive nature of the task, the government remained tight-lipped, but officials, on condition of anonymity, admitted that the aim was to gradually wriggle out of an annual committed expenditure of Rs 350 crore on a total 240 general-degree colleges run by private bodies.
“We cannot deny the fact that a large chunk of our students come from established families and we do charge relatively high tuition fees,” said Deepak Sarkar, principal of Bhawanipur Gujarati Education Society. “But we offer various modern facilities to the students. The government’s latest move makes us somewhat jittery.”
Officials have, apparently, already begun to explain to the private colleges identified for the first round of grants slash that they could consider raising their tuition fees, as a bulk of their students could afford it.
“Do not expect us to go on helping you because we have some genuine concerns to address. Besides, your students can pay for their studies,” said the officials.
The present move is in tune with the central policy to gradually reduce allocation of funds in higher education and invest more in the primary education sector, officials added.
Seth Anandram Jaipuria College gets Rs 15 lakh a month and the institution will be in a spot if the government reduces grants. “We certainly have students coming from wealthy families, but a large number also come middle-class and lower middle-class families. We will not be able to charge high tuition fees from them,” said Jayanta Acharya, principal of Jaipuria.