Bangalore: Karnataka, home to the largest number of nursing colleges in the country, has found itself in the unusual position of an oversupply of the institutions even as the nation faces an acute shortage of healthcare professionals.
At least one institution — New Royal College of Nursing in rural Bangalore — has been shut and a state official says many more closures are planned; up to one-fifth of nursing colleges risk losing affiliation over the next year.
And even as the closures loom and complaints pile up about the quality of education these colleges impart, the state still gave some 150 nursing institutions permission to start graduate, or postgraduate courses in recent months.
About two-thirds of Karnataka’s nursing college seats are taken by students from outside the state, mostly neighbouring Kerala and to a lesser extent Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. South India contributes 80% of the country’s nurses, with Kerala in the lead, followed by Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
India produces about 35,000 nursing degree holders and 55,000 nursing diploma holders every year.
Nursing education boomed in Karnataka when the Congress government in 2002 approved 300 new institutions at one go.
In 2006, following several complaints from students, the Karnataka governor set up a task force to examine the state of paramedical education. The panel was headed by C.M. Gurumurthy, an ear, nose and throat surgeon and the then-special officer at the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS), which governs all medical institutions in the state.
The task force found many institutions existed only on paper, with fake teachers and students.
It also found 180 nursing colleges and 352 nursing schools to be unsatisfactory and recommended a three-year ban on starting new institutions.
Following the Gurumurthy panel report, the Indian Nursing Council’s (INC) president and vice-president were charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation for approving 23 nursing colleges in southern India. Three of these colleges were in Karnataka, which were approved overlooking several deficiencies.
Growing demand for education and a shortage of skilled workers in an expanding economy has prompted many states, including Karnataka, to sanction private engineering and medical colleges, business schools and even aviation academies.
India has a shortage of two million nurses based on the global average of nurses required proportionate to the population, according to Mumbai-based Wockhardt Hospitals India. The World Health Organization says the global standard is 2.56 nurses for every 1,000 people; India’s average is 0.8.
Still, 84% of government nursing seats in Karnataka, available on merit, have gone vacant in the academic year of 2007-08.
Some nursing colleges operate from two-room premises lacking rudimentary infrastructure, including toilets for students, and with little, or no access to clinical facilities.
“Parents and students are realizing the gross deficiencies and have stopped coming to Karnataka,” says Gurumurthy, who is currently pro-chancellor at Sri Devaraj Urs Medical College in Kolar, a southern district of Karnataka once known for its gold mines.
The closure of New Royal College of Nursing has hassled students, who are now finding themselves in a transfer shuffle.
It started a few months ago when the parents and students filed a case against New Royal management in the Karnataka high court, alleging cheating. The four-year-old college is not recognized by INC, an autonomous body under the Union ministry of health and family welfare that monitors nursing education in the country.
In July, the court ordered all 60-odd nursing students to be transferred to other INC-recognized colleges in Bangalore. And New Royal decided to roll down its shutters.
Students there have been asked to move to INC-recognized Goldfinch College and School of Nursing in north Bangalore and Spurthy College of Nursing in rural Bangalore.
“I’m fed up and I don’t want anything more than to just pass out and escape from here,” says a distraught 21-year-old final-year nursing student of New Royal College, who is busy with the admission formalities at Goldfinch now.
As is another 21-year-old woman, who has joined Goldfinch College.
“We have been staying in Bangalore for the past 26 days trying to sort out this issue. Our children’s futures are at stake here,” said her harried father, who came here from Idukki in Kerala.
The nursing students interviewed and their families requested anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their future, or chances of gaining admission elsewhere.
“I do not blame the students for taking us to court,” says S.M. Venkatpathi, chairman of MG Charitable Trust, which runs the East Point Group of nine educational institutions, including New Royal, in a 75-acre campus in Bidarahalli in rural Bangalore, some 20km from the city.
“Last fours years we have been trying for INC approval, but it has cited some silly reasons,” says Sunder Raj Francis, secretary of the MG Charitable Trust.
They are hardly silly, according to INC president T. Dileep Kumar. “We have listed six deficiencies, one of which was inadequate access to clinical facilities. If an institution is closing down, it means that it does not have the minimum requirements,” he said.
New Royal, for example, does not have a hospital of its own for teaching its nursing students. As per INC norms, a nursing college is supposed to build its own hospital within three years.
To clear the glut, RGUHS plans to close several private nursing colleges. “Some 20% of the 334 nursing colleges in the state will be disaffiliated ahead of the next academic year (2009-10),” said a syndicate member of the university, who did not wish to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
The syndicate of RGUHS is a 17-member executive body that governs the functioning of the university.
While the grounds for disaffiliation are yet to be worked out, “colleges which are yet to start even after getting the go-ahead two years back and colleges that have a large proportion of vacant seats are likely to be disaffiliated”, the syndicate member said.