The government of Tamil Nadu had instructed private schools and colleges to not compel parents to pay fees during the pandemic.

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Coronavirus Education Friday, June 26, 2020 - 08:13

Even as Tamil Nadu continues to see a steep rise in COVID-19 numbers, college-going students and their parents are facing issues from educational institutions. Many private colleges in the state have demanded that parents pay the fees for the upcoming academic year and have also announced the schedule for the pending semester exams.

While private schools have started online classes for students, colleges are yet to begin classes as the semester exams are pending. Recently, many engineering and medicine colleges announced that the model semester exams and semester exams will be held in July. For instance, students pursuing MBBS in Chettinad Academy of Research and Education (CARE) have been told that their examinations for first, second and final year students will begin on July 20.

However, students are concerned about the technicalities involved in taking these exams online. Adding to the stress, colleges also have started demanding fees for the academic year 2020-21.

From scrambling to source funds to pay the college fees to ensuring a good internet connection to access classes as well as to scan and submit answer papers online, students are raising questions on the legal and ethical aspects behind this move by colleges.

‘Conducting exams to prepare students for jobs’

Anna University recently announced that the final semester exams for its students will be held in July. Justifying the decision, MK Surappa, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, told TNM that the university’s focus is now on helping final-year students complete their exams and be ready for their employment. “The dates for the final semester exams will be announced shortly. Discussions are on to conduct the exams for students in the first, second and third years,” he added.

While students of Anna University are hoping for the best, students pursuing engineering in autonomous institutions are in a fix.

For instance, SSN College of Engineering in Chennai, which is an autonomous college affiliated with Anna University, had announced that a model semester exam will be conducted from July 9 to help students gear up for the semester exams. Around 1,900 students of the college vehemently opposed conducting the exams amid COVID-19.

Many took to social media to protest this, with hashtag #CancelSSNExams trending on Twitter. 

An internal communique sent by one of the Heads of the Departments of the college urged students to ‘start diverting their attention towards studies to reduce stress’.

When TNM asked about the autonomous institutions under it, the Anna University Vice-Chancellor said that SSN College of Engineering is an autonomous institution and hence it cannot interfere in their examination schedule. “Only if the transgression is extreme will Anna University interfere,” he said.

A group of students then drafted a detailed email to the college authorities, explaining why it is unfair to expect them to write exams at this juncture. They listed out their concerns ranging from the professors not completing the required syllabus for the exams to patchy internet connections.

Following strong opposition from students, the college management, on Wednesday, made the model semester exams completely optional for the students.

Illegal to demand fees: TN government

Another issue that several students and parents have flagged is that private colleges are demanding fees during the pandemic. During the early period of lockdown, the government of Tamil Nadu had ordered private schools and colleges to not compel parents to pay fees for the next academic year. This has been reiterated by the government often.

However, Chennai’s Sri Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education and Research sent a letter to parents, giving them time till July 10 to pay the fees for the academic year 2020-21. The letter, dated April 24, 2020 and signed by the Dean of Students, stated that “further extension of time will not be granted under any circumstances.”

It is not known whether there was any change in the college’s stance. TNM’s attempts to reach the college authorities and get a response did not succeed.

However, S Apoorva, Principal Secretary to the Tamil Nadu government, told TNM that it is illegal for the colleges to demand fees from the parents or impose a deadline to pay the fee.

Regarding the announcement of the exam schedules, Apoorva said that it was a decision to be taken by the respective councils and not the state government. “For engineering courses, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) is the appropriate authority to issue orders on whether colleges can announce exams, while for medical colleges, it is the Medical Council of India (MCI). Hence we cannot issue an order or intervene in this,” she added. 

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