The tragic suicide of Jishnu Pranoy, a Computer Science student of Nehru College of Engineering and Research Centre in Thrissur last week, brought to light some shocking realities on the lopsided priorities and practices in the higher education sector in Kerala. 

 

What shook our conscience the most was the revelation that the college had a torture room and ‘discipline officers’ -read goons- to control students.  Sometimes the teachers would also wield the rod and do the policing.  
 

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Students alleged that Jishnu was a victim of mental harassment by the teachers and management. As the fury over the death of the 18-year-old was raging on, students from new generation colleges that exact huge fees by offering high class education in the 'wifi enabled 3G campuses' started leaking out with candid revelations on the goings on in each college.  


 
Some private engineering colleges do not allow girls and boys to mingle. They are not supposed to speak on their way to classrooms. A violation would invite fine up to Rs.500 and mental torture!  Students are always under surveillance cameras and would be punished even for a silly mistake. 

 

Students' politics is not allowed in colleges and discipline officers would threaten students and even 'handle' them for even a minor attempt to question teachers or management. 

 

The terms 'Jail' and 'concentration camp' recur in students' narrative on colleges and hostels. Students of a new generation college in Kottayam do not wish to call it a college. Instead, they only say 'the camp!'   

 
With the mushrooming of private and self-financing colleges after 2001, when the state government gave nod to self-financing colleges, the commercialization of higher education in the state gained momentum. And within 15 years, the self-financing colleges gained notoriety as institutions that extort money from students by giving false offers of 100% placement.  

 
Totoal enrolment in Higher education: 
1998-99.: 1.7 lakh 
2012-13: 7.2 lakh
Gross enrolment ratio:  
1972-73: 5.9%   
2012-13: 22.9%  

    
In the 1990s, the main worry in the higher education sector in Kerala was the lack of institutions and educational infrastructure. The new millennium saw a rapid expansion and growth in higher education infrastructure in Kerala. The enrolment of students also saw an uptick. In 2000-01 Kerala’s gross enrolment ratio was below the national level but in 2012-13, it improved its position and crossed the national average of 21%. Kerala has 34 colleges per one lakh people, while it is only 26 colleges per one lakh people at the national level.  The number of engineering colleges soared from just 12 in 2001 to 119 in 2016.  
 

Higher Education infrastructure in Kerala  
 18 university level institutions
 1100 colleges (including arts & sciences and professional/technical) 


The increasing number of institutions and facilities did not reflect a corresponding improvement in the quality of education and the much-needed mechanism to control their functioning. The self-financing colleges were out of the bounds of the government and the civil society. In a world of competition, the students had to shoulder the burden of the competition among colleges too, especially in the technical education sector. No one cared to take the issues of students seriously. 

 

The gradual withdrawal of student politics from campuses left a vacuum and the students of these ‘apolitical campuses,’ were crying for attention. They had no voice. Their muffled voices and repressed grievances burst out when Jishnu took the extreme step. The self-financing colleges faced the brunt of students’ ire. They termed it an institutional murder and the clamour for justice is louder than ever now.

 

But this rage would pass, and the ‘camps’ would be back to their routine business unless these commercial institutions are reigned in immediately.