The All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) is toying with the idea of merging two colleges which are in the vicinity of each other or even accepting proposals of buyouts, to resolve the lingering issue of vacant seats in technical colleges. Some of the 800 colleges in the country, which are facing closure+ for having poor enrolment, have requested the council to defer the decision on shutdown for two years or to allow 'mergers'. The council is currently seeking advice on the legal implications of such mergers and buyouts.

In all 4,633 courses and 527 institutes have shut shop in the last five years in the country. In Maharashtra alone, 921 courses were shut down in the last five years and 69 institutes have shut shop in the same period. These include colleges offering engineering, management, architecture, polytechnic, hotel management courses, etc.

The council had recently decided to shut down 800 colleges in the country which have less than 30% enrolment consecutively for the last five years. The problem has been plaguing technical institutes for almost a decade. To promote employability and to allow only the good institutes to function, the government has decided to shut down the non-performing ones. "On receiving news of the closure, the colleges have put forth two suggestions. One is to consider the enrolment data for last three years and defer the decision for the next two years and then reconsider it based on the enrolment data. Second, these colleges will request the council to permit mergers or allow buyouts by other trusts," said Anil Sahastrabuddhe, chairman, AICTE.

"Based on their suggestions we are considering pros and cons of such an arrangement. We have to discuss the plan not only with such private colleges but also take legal counsel given their background and likely complications in sharing facilities, revenues, etc," added Sahastrabuddhe.The council plans to review all the inspection reports of these 800 colleges, give them an opportunity of hearing. If there are enough sources of revenue other than the fees and the college is able to maintain the faculty-student ratio and also pay the faculty according to the norms, the council will not shut them. Sahastrabuddhe said, "But if the quality is suffering and students are not employable despite paying high fees, there is no point in allowing the colleges to run."

Principal of Thadomal Shahani Engineering College, G T Thampi, said that such mergers could be financially viable. "Currently, even when colleges have full strength, their facilities such as the laboratories are underutilised. Such common facilities can be shared and expenses can be cut down, thereby reducing the cost of education too. But there should be a holistic approach and the policies should be more liberal," he said. But he added that the feasibility of such mergers should be studied before giving sanctions.