Odisha's Private engineering colleges flooded with fee relief requests, stare at crisis
As a result of declining enrolment and low realisation of fees, institutions are caught in a precarious situation, having to either take excess loans or tap into surplus funds to meet salary payments.
BHUBANESWAR: Hit by a pandemic that has had a cascading effect on lives and livelihood, private professional colleges are being flooded with requests for fee reduction or deferred payment from students in the State. The institutions are, resultantly, caught in a precarious situation - declining enrolment and low realisation of fees.
Around 80,000 students pursue technical courses in different engineering colleges and institutions in the State. With classes moving to online mode, a large number of students are yet to deposit their semester fees, primary source of revenue for technical institutes. To manage the crisis, some colleges have reduced staff strength; many scaled down staff salary and delayed loan repayment to banks as well as contribution to employees’ provident fund as a temporary measure.
At National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), Berhampur where the student strength is around 3,500, close to 52 per cent fees have remained uncollected, authorities claim. “Fees are normally collected at beginning of odd and even semesters. However, with institute remaining shut and classes in online mode, fees are yet to be paid by a number of students,” said NIST Director Prof Sangram Mudali.
The promoter of a Bhubaneswar-based engineering institute which has close to 250 students on rolls of its diploma engineering classes said, just one has made the payment in the last one year and a half. For a college of NIST’s scale, with 150 teaching staff and an equal number of non-teaching staff, salary and other fixed overheads have to be paid by the management of the autonomous institute.
“Even if classes continue in online mode, it is not free. We need to pay the teachers who have continued the learning process during the challenging times. At the same time, we have a large number of Class IV employees who are sitting idle due to the pandemic. We cannot remove them as they have been with us for over 15-20 years,” said the NIST director. Instead of removing any employee, the management had to scale down the remuneration of the staff to deal with the crisis.
For technical colleges having lesser enrolment, the plight is worse and some are depending on Covid loans. Einstein Academy of Technology and Management authorities say requests for deferment of fees despite a 15 per reduction has put them on a slippery track.
“A number of students are yet to deposit their fees due to various reasons but there are at least 10 of them who are not in a position to pay at all due to death of earning members in their family during the pandemic. We cannot ask them on humanitarian grounds. In such a situation we have been forced to depend on Covid loan to pay salary and meet other expenses,” Chairman Basant Kumar Bisoi said.
Odisha has around 34,000 B Tech seats of which around 29,700 are with 88 private engineering colleges. However, a staggering 25,000 seats, about 84 per cent of the total intake of private engineering colleges, remained vacant in 2020-21 after completion of admission by Odisha Joint Entrance Committee (OJEE) in November last year. Later, the seats were handed over to the colleges for enrollment at their level.
Most colleges have infrastructure to maintain, unlike government colleges which are funded by the state. Then there are fleets of buses, electricity, water, internet, telephone bills to be paid. Secretary of Odisha Private Engineering College Association (OPECA) Binod Das said, most universities have availed 20 per cent additional loan on their total amount to be paid with interest at a later stage to sustain the crisis, while others are utilising surplus funds to tide over the crisis.
The Biju Patnaik University of Technology (BPUT) to which the engineering colleges are affiliated, says it has little role to play. Vice-Chancellor CR Tripathy said BPUT has limited role in financial matters of constituent colleges. OPECA, however, claims that the university is not returning the pledge money colleges had deposited a decade back.