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Private managements aggressive on starting medical colleges

By Feroze Ahmed

CHENNAI DEC. 25. While the Government insists it will not encourage more private medical colleges in the State, individual trusts and managements are aggressive about setting up such institutes, even if it means dragging the State to court.

Two private colleges — the Meenakshi Medical College and the Balaji Medical College — were started this year by moving courts to bypass State authority. A host of others, including the SRM Group and the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam Charitable Trust, have followed suit. They are also determined to get the Deemed University status for the colleges.

Citing recent Supreme Court judgments on privatisation of higher education, the managements argue that if they have the infrastructure to run medical colleges, the State should not refuse permission. It cannot interfere in their functioning either, they insist.

``Education is a business as anything else,'' says S.C. Purushothaman, dean, SRM Hospital. He argues that Governments should not demand seats in private colleges or interfere with their fee structures.

``Starting a medical college is a Rs. 100-crore project. How can the Government demand seats in private institutes for its merit-list students, when they do not spend a pie on the colleges?" he asks. ``Can the Government claim a similar share in any other industry?''

A way out, he suggests, would be for the Government to pay the fees for merit-list students in private colleges. ``Else, the Government will be forcing self-financing colleges to hike fees for other students.'' As for the annual fees for MBBS courses, the SRM dean says students will have to pay about Rs. 5 lakhs a year so the college can function on a non-profit basis. ``There is nothing wrong even if a college charges Rs. 10 lakhs a year (per student).''

It is precisely such aspects — exorbitant fees, lack of checks and quality of education — that the Government is wary of.

During the medical students' strike against private colleges early this year, the then Health Minister, S. Semmalai, had pointed to the threat of Deemed University status for private medical colleges.

The quality of education in these colleges, he said, could be ensured if they came under the Tamil Nadu Dr.MGR Medical University, but not if they were self-regulated.

The Government itself admits to a paucity in doctors in the State, especially in rural areas. In the Government Order 211, passed in 2001, it stated that the doctor-patient ratio in Tamil Nadu was 1:2000, whereas the target in the Ninth Plan was 1:1000.

The Government also admits that it would be ``prohibitively expensive'' for it to open more medical colleges, adding that it has thus decided to consider requests from private organisations to start medical and dental colleges in backward areas.

The private organisations, however, are not willing to foray into backward areas.

``If we are to attract students, we should be in or near the cities. Why would students want to pay so much and struggle in remote areas?'' asks a doctor.

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