Partha Chatterjee’s first decision as education minister was to scrap the centralised online system for undergraduate admissions finalised two days ago, a move seen to benefit those whose offline influence it would have eliminated.
The reason cited for calling off the launch of a partially centralised online admission system this year was lack of computer preparedness. But sources alleged that the decision was taken because neither the Trinamul student union nor the party-affiliated teachers’ association approved of a system meant to keep them from interfering in college admissions.
“The higher education department’s notification dated 28/2/2014 on introduction of online admissions to undergraduate courses affiliated to state-aided universities for the academic session 2014-15 stands withdrawn with immediate effect,” said a notification issued by Chatterjee on Thursday.
A senior official of the higher education department said preparations to implement the centralised admission system were “almost ready”, contradicting the official reason for calling it off.
“The portal was supposed to go live on June 10 at 10am,” he said. “We wonder what happened in 48 hours that prompted the government to backtrack and scrap online admissions.”
The new education minister, who convened a meeting of senior officials on Thursday morning, had said immediately after assuming office on Wednesday that he would ensure the state’s education policy went hand in hand with the ruling party’s policy.
It is open to interpretation whether that means chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s promise to introduce a centralised online system for undergraduate admissions was at variance with party policy.
Shanku Deb Panda, state president of the Trinamul Congress Chhatra Parishad, 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 said: “Ours is a student organisation and we don’t interfere in government decisions. We will act according to the government order.”
The online system had threatened to prevent unions such as Panda’s from using their influence at admission time as a tool to increase membership.
Last year, in colleges across Calcutta, there were allegations about student leaders disrupting the admission process. In one institution, teachers had refused to work until the students backtracked. Many students and parents had complained that student leaders were virtually controlling the entire system, from distribution of forms to submission and publication of merit lists.
The Trinamul student union is in power in most colleges in the city.
For decades, the CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street had taken all decisions regarding education. The party’s student wing, the SFI, was the dominant force in most colleges then.
“It is a return to that era,” a university teacher said on Thursday of the decision to withdraw the online system just before its launch.
The online system was to be introduced this year in all affiliating universities, including West Bengal State University, Burdwan University, Kalyani University and North Bengal University.
Chatterjee said the decision to stall centralised online admissions was taken on Thursday because of unspecified constraints in several colleges, particularly those in the rural belt. He said these problems were detected during a review on Wednesday.
“After considering all aspects of the matter, the higher education department has taken a view that it will not be prudent to start the university-based online system until the systemic deficiencies are addressed and resolved in a time-bound manner,” the notification said.
Chatterjee admitted that the government had taken the decision to introduce online admissions as part of the chief minister’s e-governance plan. “But we will be in a position to implement centralised online admissions for colleges only after addressing the deficiencies,” he said.
What has raised eyebrows is how these deficiencies were spotted within 48 hours of his predecessor Bratya Basu finalising a partially online system during a meeting with university heads and officials of the department.
Chatterjee said the government would consider implementing centralised online admissions from the 2015-16 academic session.
The Left had exercised control over every sphere of education for more than three decades. When the Mamata Banerjee government passed the West Bengal University Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2011, to transform higher education, many had hailed it as a bold step because it aimed to rid higher education of political meddling.
“When the government introduced the bill, we thought it was a big step in the right direction. But the way the government today scrapped the centralised online admission process suggests Trinamul is following in the footsteps of the erstwhile Left Front regime,” a Calcutta University professor said.