The Effects of Reservations

The Supreme Court has given its verdict on the 27 per cent reservations and the government is all geared up to implement it from this session only. The much-debated other backward classes (OBC) quota will be implemented at prestigious educational institutions like IITs and IIMs nationwide. Why the reservation card was played by Arjun Singh is altogether a different matter and now let us concentrate on the impact of this extra reservations on higher education in India.

The faculty shortage:
The number of faculty hasn’t increased all that much with the subsequent rise in the number of students over the years, and this is because there’s a huge shortage of quality teachers. Latest survey says that the nation’s seven IITs need about 900 additional faculty members before the next academic session to counteract the shortfall. This survey was done when there was no provision for the OBC quotas. The government has said that the total number of seats belonging to general category wouldn’t come down. But can government tell us from where will they get the teachers? In a scenario where leading tech colleges across America and Britain offer 1:6 faculty student ratio, most IITs just manage to scrape up a 1:12 ratio while struggling to stem attrition and quality faculty. In some of IITs, it is hard to maintain a ratio of 1:14. The same is the story of the medical institutes. We recently saw the strike by medicos in Mumbai following the reduction in post graduate seats for need of the teachers. The seats, which were 1900 in 2001 have been reduced to 450 in the year 2008. The reservation is definitely going to impact on the quality of education.

The infrastructure:
Government announced recently that it’s going to open 10 more IITs and IIMs and the apparent reason is that it wants to promote higher technical education in the country, but won’t opening more IITs and IIMs dilute the brand of these institutions? Already these institutes are facing crunch of faculty members and it is yet to be seen how the government will manage to attract more faculty members for newer institutes. Secondly, do we have requisite infrastructure? The government has no solutions to the problems related to shortage of laboratories, playgrounds, staff, hostels and classrooms in existing institutes. Will they be able to sustain newer institutes or will it turn out as just another plan on paper? Do you remember, the government in 2003 planned to open six all India institute of medical sciences (AIIMS) in the country. The plan has yet not took off. What a pity!

The merit compromise:
The identity of any organization is its quality. Output depends on input of quality. Anything we do should not disturb the quality of input. Why today IIT or IIM or IISC stands so high in quality index, this is because the input quality is extraordinary. The whole idea of reservation, and that too in premier institutes such as IITs and IIMs and a medical institute such as AIIMS would reflect on the quality of graduates that these institutes would deliver. The deserving ones feel left out in the race despite spending a fortune and making all efforts to cope up with the pressure of admissions. We should focus on finding a solution to the issue ‘without diluting excellence’. The students of these institutes have made their country proud and created a brand in the global market. This is because they were few of the best brains in the country and won the fierce competition where there are 10,000 people for one seat. If now we will have 50 per cent seats where the merit is not the sole criteria, then it is bound to impact the ‘merit’ of these institutes. If OBC candidates manage to get admissions into IITs and IIMs, there is no doubt that the OBC candidates will get the skills required to get job offers that make media analysts drool. In the bargain, if some upper caste candidate is deprived of a seat; well, that is social justice in action!

Losing investors:
Many people argue that reserving seats at India’s few merit-based and uncorrupted institutes of higher learning will dilute standards, bring down student morale, and jump-start a brain drain that had just started to reverse. At a time when India is looking towards its youth population to take India to new heights it is of umpteen importance that we provide everyone with the best education possible. Till date, the government has failed miserably to maintain the standards of elite institutes and is definitely looking for private players to invest in the education sector. Many economists are worried about the effect of reservations on India’s competitiveness. Surjit Bhalla, an economist who often advises New Delhi, said in an interview that reservations would become a problem for investors. If there isn’t enough qualified talent available in India, they “will not hesitate to go to China, Vietnam, or even to Bangladesh and Pakistan.”

IITs, AIIMS and IIMs are temples of education that command international respect. Their students represent the face of modern India. Let us not ‘mandalise’ education and vandalise young lives. Perhaps Minister Arjun Singh would do well to recall the words: “Give a man food and he will be grateful yet poor. Give a man the means to earn his food and he will be grateful and financially independent.” He just needs to substitute food with education. We need to focus on the better primary education first. As I would like to sum it up. There are two cliffs – one is the student and the other is quality higher education. In order to bridge these two cliffs, we need quality primary education. But the government, instead of strengthening the bridge, is focusing on one cliff only. If that is the cast, then the bridge is weak and a student will fall into the pit joining the two cliffs.

Rishabh Srivastava

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