Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has again demanded, amid the ongoing college admission season, that there should be a quota for Delhi residents in the University of Delhi. In a tweet Mr Kejriwal characterised the university’s admission process as “most bizarre” as it does not “have either quota for locals or normalisation of marks or entrance tests”. His party has pointed out that of the 2.65 lakh students that pass out of schools in Delhi only 90,000 manage to get into colleges in the capital. The Delhi government thus wants a separate entrance test for DU – and argues that in the 28 colleges that receive funds from the Delhi government, students from the capital should be given priority by allotting five percentage points.
This is an imaginative but a flawed argument to address a severe supply deficit. The proposal to grant Delhi’s residents priority in colleges paid for by the Delhi taxpayer has a certain logical appeal but it risks changing the very character of the university. In a scenario where Class 12 students are ritually given high marks by examiners, even a small advantage can tip the scales overwhelmingly in favour of Delhi residents. This works against the purpose of a central university like DU which are meant to enrol students from all over India. One of the great attributes of central universities is that they enable India’s diversity to be miniaturised in a variety of demographic combinations in walled campuses and city universities across the country. It is in such settings that the idea of India is subliminally conveyed, explicitly articulated, debated and renewed by India’s young. Mixed universities extend human possibility in unfathomable ways and thus social engineering instruments that have potentially homogenous outcomes should thus be treated with suspicion by policymakers.
There is a slippery slope element to be mindful of this quotas-for-Delhi idea, in that once regulators yield on principle politicians are likely to want an increase in the quantum of quotas. This could generate similar demands from other states. There are unfortunately no easy answers. Mr Kejriwal’s demand points to the pressures that politicians now face on the education front. The Delhi CM has pointed to a part of the solution in his tweet. The new HRD minister Prakash Javadekar should urgently tackle issue of excessive marking in examinations, which undermines the credibility of India’s evaluation system and perpetuates the problem by facilitating the passage of unworthy candidates into colleges. In the final analysis, there is no substitute for improving quality, filling faculty vacancies and granting universities autonomy. But the idea of an entrance test for DU to replace a flawed cut-off system may be a useful short-term step to pacify some constituents.