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Where are quota students?

Many in the academic world foresee a scenario where OBC seats will remain vacant, writes Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: May 18, 2006 14:25 IST

Union Human Resource Development (HRD) minister Arjun Singh has played his card by proposing 27 per cent reservation for OBC students in higher education institutions. But here's a question for him to chew on. Where will the students come from?

Many in the academic world foresee a scenario where a majority of the seats remains vacant.

There are a number of reasons they cite in favour of the claim. For one, the enrolment figure of OBC students in schools is just 29 per cent, says a study by National Institute of Education Planning and Administration.

"If we consider the drop-out rate in the country, one can presume that the enrolment will not be more than 15 per cent," said an educationist.

The figure, however, is increasing across the country except in Kerala and Maharashtra, where the enrolment is already high. Going by the figures, all OBC candidates who reach higher education level can get admission because of reservation.

The existing 22.5 reservation for SC/ST candidates is also a pointer to the times ahead, academics say. Even 50 years after reservation for the SC/ST was introduced, enrolment in higher education is not more than 16 per cent, even though the enrolment at school level is about 32 per cent.

Moreover, experience has shown that the higher the standards of an institute, the lower was the rate of admissions. In the seven IITs, the enrolment ratio is just about 15 per cent. In the premier management institutes, IIMs, the rate is close to 14.12 per cent, says the latest annual report of the HRD ministry.

Reservation has provided access to higher education for SC/ST students, academicians say, but the real problem lies in the school system.

"The drop-out rate for SC/ST students is as high as 70-80 per cent as compared to that of general category students," said a senior HRD ministry official.

This is amply demonstrated in the figures of enrolment in Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. Of the 12 crore SC/ST students enrolled in schools, just 16,000 odd reach higher education institutions. The highest drop-out rate is at the primary level itself.

But doesn't the Mandal Commission say that the OBC population in India is about 52 per cent? Surely, they have the youngsters to fill many colleges. Not really, say experts. The problem, again, starts at the basics.

"As most of the OBCs are from economically weaker sections, the drop rate is likely to be similar to scheduled caste and scheduled tribes," an official said.

Not a problem, says the government. "The government has taken note of this and special incentives including scholarship have been initiated to reduce the drop rate," an official said.

But even the most optimistic government official admits that filling seats in technical institutes like engineering and medical colleges — where entry is screened by a tough entrance examination — would be a challenge.

"We are thinking of giving financial incentives to deal with it," an official said.

The scenario could be slightly different in universities (for example, Delhi University) and colleges where an open admission system gives the OBCs a better chance.

"The proposed law provides for a separate admission procedure and subsidised fee structrure which will ensure that OBC students get admission," an official said.