A fact-finding study into reservation for other backward classes (OBCs) in higher education in three states by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has concluded that there is no evidence to show that such a reservation policy is “diluting merit or lowering the quality of professional education”.
The National Academy of Sciences, a research body of scientists, commissioned the study in March 2008, when debates over expanding reservation were roiling medical, management and engineering campuses across India.
Professor P. Tandon of the academy said, “We had commissioned the study because so much uninformed debate was creating bitterness and dividing the country. We decided to study the actual performance of OBC reservations in states which had already implemented it in their institutions, and put the findings to the public and policymakers.”
The year-long study titled ‘Impact of OBC reservation in higher education in India’ visited nine engineering and medical campuses in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, spoke to over 600 students and faculty members, and analysed institutional data at entry and exit levels.
“But to me, the most important finding”, said Tandon, “are the factors responsible for persistent backwardness, ranging from poor education in India’s government schools to a student’s place of residence. Those are the things we must address, without which reservations cannot be effective.”
The report concludes that the poor school education, and increased privatisation in higher education are the biggest barriers to higher education today among India’s disadvantaged groups.
The irony is that there are no definitive numbers on the OBC population but only estimates from National Sample Surveys, which puts it around 40 per cent.
The study points to “an urgent need to include caste in Census 2011 to ascertain the (OBC) population and their social, economic and educational status for effective targeting of the affirmative action policies.”