Bengaluru: Kerala’s private medical education sector is set to plunge into a new crisis, right when the admission process is just about to begin.

The latest crisis stems from a government-appointed regulatory committee proposing a unified fees of Rs5.5 lakh per annum for 85% of the seats in all self-financed private medical colleges, and Rs20 lakh per annum for the remaining 15% seats allocated for non-resident Indians.

Though the committee’s decision, which came on Monday, is provisional, colleges have already rebelled against the move.

Colleges are demanding Rs15 lakh per annum in 85% of the seats and Rs20 lakh annually for the NRI quota, said Fazal Gafoor, a representative of private colleges and also the state president of Muslim Educational Society (MES), which runs a private medical college in Kerala, over the phone.

“It is totally unacceptable, and we are moving the high court on Tuesday against the decision," Fazal Gafoor.

In fact, the demand of Rs15 lakh annual fees was set aside by the chair of the committee, R. Rajendra Babu. He told The Hindu on Monday that agreeing to the demand of Rs15 lakh annual fees would mean subjecting to “pure profiteering", which is illegal.

A legal fight between the government and the management of private medical colleges could result in uncertainty on the fees structure and the admission process. The online counselling for seats in these colleges is set to begin on 3 July.

The present crisis is not the first for Kerala. Almost every year, there is a tussle between the government and managements of private colleges because of the unique way the sector is structured in the state. The issue is also compounded by societal and political stakes.

Medical courses are a much sought after higher education option in Kerala and about 80% of the seats are provided by private colleges. Each year the government in power asks private colleges to reserve 50% seats for the weaker sections of the society to ensure social justice (called “merit seats"). Colleges have been agreeing to the subsidized fees for the last two decades, often in response to the government allowing them to increase the fee for the remaining seats (called “management seats").

The admissions to merit seats can be secured through common entrance exams by central or state governments. The selection process for management seats, although based on entrance exams, have been a contentious one.

Last year, the government tried to come up with a unilateral fee and admission system, following a Supreme Court verdict on the issue, but the colleges didn’t agree.

The colleges refused to subsidize the fees for the poor anymore, demanding that the government should allow them to increase the fees substantially for all seats and allow them to take admissions on the basis of a test of their choice. The government agreed to the demand, after some initial disapproval, leading to a week-long adjournment of then state assembly, black flag protests and hunger strikes on the streets, and a war of words with the opposition.

Finally, the state government brought out an ordinance, wherein it made National Eligibility-Cum-Entrance Test (NEET) the sole criteria for admission to private medical colleges and also set up a regulatory committee to fix the fees for this year.

The panel’s recommendations may have also triggered a fresh political crisis for the ruling Left front government. Its recommendation of a unified fee signals an end to the practice of assuring “merit seats".

Last year, the annual fee in 20% out of the total 50% merit seats was fixed as Rs25,000, per annum in order to make them affordable for students from the poorest of the poor families. The fee in the remaining 30% merit seats was Rs2.5 lakh.

Compared to this, the panel’s recommendation of Rs5.5 lakh unified fees per annum is substantially higher and amounts to do away with the concept of merit seats, said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, over phone. The opposition will not agree to this, he said.

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