Tirunelveli is known for its educational institutions, many of which are located at Palayamkottai (east of Tirunelveli). For this reason, Palayamkottai is known as the “Oxford of South India”. The district has a literacy rate of 76.97%, which is above the state average. As of 2005–2006, the district had a total of 2,494 schools. It has one university, the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. There are also four government colleges, eleven government-sponsored colleges and seven private colleges.
Tirunelveli has the following educational institutions:
- Universities: 1
- Arts and science colleges: 25
- Medical College: 1
- Siddha medical college: 1
- Veterinary College and Research institute
- Engineering colleges: More than 20
- Law school: 1
- Pre-kindergartens: 241
- Primary schools: 1,501
- Middle schools: 431
- High schools: 114
- Higher secondary schools: 185
- Teacher-training institutes: 28
Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
Manonmaniam Sundaranar University (MSU) was established in 1990. Named after poet Sundaram Pillai, the university has a network of 102 affiliated colleges. Many of these colleges have contributed to higher education for decades; five colleges are more than 100 years old. The University campus is located at Abishekapatti, nine km from Tirunelveli town. Advanced studies are offered in a number of departments, and postgraduate programmes in Tamil, Management studies, Chemistry, Communications, Computer science, English, Environmental studies, History, Mathematics, Physics, Sociology, Criminology studies, Psychology and Statistics are offered.
The university has introduced compulsory core courses in Indian studies. The curriculum includes “History of Freedom Movement in India”, “Gandhian Thought”, “Ecology, Environment and Pollution Studies”, “Status of Women in India”, “History of Science”, “Indian Economy Since Independence”, “Rural India”, “Consumer Protection and Social Responsibility in Business” and “Secularism”. It has set up a centre for environmental studies at Alwarkurichi in collaboration with the Amalgamations corporation. Eco-friendly ventures in aquaculture and fishing are encouraged. The centre has developed an organic manure, “Mano compost”.
In 1878, there were two colleges in the district: the Madurai Diraviam Thayumanavar Hindu College and St. John’s College. The first college for women (and third college of the district), Sarah Tucker College, began in 1895. The fourth and fifth colleges, St. Xavier’s and St. Ignatius Colleges of Education, were established in 1923 and 1957, respectively. In 1963–64, two more colleges, the Paramakalyani and Parasakthi Colleges, were added. The Ambai Arts and Thiruvalluvar Colleges (1969), Muthuramalinga Thevar College and Government Arts College for Women (1970), and the Sadaktathullah Appa and T.D.M.N.S. Colleges (1971) followed. Except for the Government Arts College for Women, all of the schools are private colleges run by educational trusts. There are three self-financing colleges: Saratha College for Women (1986), Sattanathakarayalar College (1994–1995) and Jayaraj Annabakkiam College (1997–1998).
Of the 17 arts colleges in the district, eight are coeducational institutions, five are for women and four for men. The colleges in Tirunelveli district were originally affiliated with the University of Madras. Upon the creation of Madurai Kamaraj University in 1966, they were affiliated with MKU from 1966 to 1990. In 1990, their affiliation transferred to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University. The university has granted autonomous status to St. Xavier’s College in Palayamkotti and Sri Parasakthi College for Women in Courtallam.
In 1986, the Revenue District of Tirunelveli was divided into Tirunelveli and Thoothukkudi districts. A new post, District Educational Officer at Tenkasi, was created. The office of “District Educational Officer, Tirunelveli Central” was changed to “District Education Officer, Tirunelveli”; the “District Educational Officer, Tirunelveli South” was redesignated “District Educational Officer, Cheranmahadevi”. The three District Education Officers serve under the Chief Education Officer.
In 1996, the Government Law College, Tirunelveli was established to meet the requirements of the people of the southernmost part of Tamil Nadu. It opened on 14 October 1996 with 80 students in its three-year law course affiliated to Manonmaniam Sundaranar University as the fifth institution of its kind in the state. Since the academic year 1997–98, the college is affiliated with the Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, Chennai. At first, classes were held at the Ponnusamy Pillai Bungalow on Tiruchendur Road in Palayamcottai before its new building was constructed. The College has functioned in its own new building in an area of 15 acres adjacent to District Court Buildings on the Tiruchendur High Road since October 2000.
Another milestone in the history of this college when M.L Degree in Constitutional Law and Human Rights was started in 1997. A five-year B.L. course was introduced in the academic year 2000–01. As directed by the Bar Council of India, a semester system was introduced for both (three years and five years) Law Courses, beginning with the academic year 2002–2003.
The Tirunelveli Medical College and its teaching hospital are located on about 280 acres of land at High Grounds, Palayamcottai. It was established in 1965 and affiliated with the University of Madras, with 75 students for the academic year 1965–1966. These students took their first-year courses at local arts and science colleges. In July 1966, the first group of second-year MBBS students attended the classes in the newly constructed Anatomy Block. Other departments (such as pharmacology, pathology, microbiology and social and preventive medicine) began in subsequent years and the district-headquarters hospital was converted to Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital. The college was affiliated with Madurai Kamaraj University after its inception in 1967. Since 1988, upon the formation of The TN Dr MGR Medical University, Chennai, it has been affiliated with that university. The college was recognised by the Medical Council of India, New Delhi in 1978. The number of seats for the MBBS course was increased from 75 to 100 in 1980, and that year the state government also authorised postgraduate courses. The college celebrated its silver jubilee in 1990. The number of MBBS seats offered was increased to 150 seats in 2003 and was recognised in 2008 (like Madras Medical College, Government Stanley Medical College, and Madurai Medical College).
The Government Siddha Medical College was established at Palayamkottai on 30 November 1964. This was an affiliated College of the University of Madras until March 1966; from then until 1988 it was an affiliate of Madurai Kamaraj University, and since March 1989 of Dr. MGR Medical University.
Technical education in the district dates to 1844, when Mrs. Caldwell (wife of Bishop Robert Caldwell) began a school to teach girls lace-making at Idyangudi. The government of Tamil Nadu set up a State Board of Technical Education and Training and a separate Directorate of Technical Education, effective 1 October 1957. Since then, the Directorate of Technical Education has assumed the administration of both engineering colleges and polytechnics.
The Government College of Engineering was established in October 1981 to fulfill the needs of people in the southern region. At first, the college met in a bungalow near Tirunelveli Medical College, while new buildings were under construction. In 1984, the college moved into the new buildings on its 25-hectare (62-acre) campus, about 8 km from Tirunelveli Junction on the Tirunelveli-Trivandrum Highway. From its inception, the College admitted students in three undergraduate departments: civil, electronics and communication and mechanical engineering; electrical and electronics engineering was introduced during 1986–1987, and computer science and engineering was added in 1989–1990. A postgraduate course in computer science and engineering was introduced in 1994–1995.