81% seats reserved for ST students in PhD courses vacant in 16 IITs
Almost 81% of the total PhD seats reserved for candidates from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category on an average in the past two years at 16 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) across the country, shows data released by the ministry of Education in Lok Sabha.
In 2020-21, 82% seats reserved for STs were vacant in these IITs, whereas 80 seats were vacant in 2019-20. Of the seats reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) category students, 61% were vacant in 2020-21 and 62% in 2019-20. Almost half the seats reserved for Other Backward Classes (OBC) were vacant in both the years.
Of the 23 IITs in India, data for Tirupati, Mandi, Indore, Bhubaneswar, Jodhpur, Ropar and Kharagpur IITs were unavailable as the campuses do not have a fixed intake capacity, minister of education Ramesh Pokhriyal said in Lok Sabha.
The data also shows that five candidates had applied for each seat in ST category, nine SC candidates applied to each seat and nine for each OBC seat.
S Sudarshan, IIT-Bombay’s deputy director for academic and infrastructure affairs, said that not enough research scholars from all categories were applying for PhD courses. “The vacancies are also dependent on the departments — some get a good number of applications while some don’t get enough. This is across all categories, including general category,” said Sudarshan.
In 2020-21, IIT Bombay saw 52 seats go vacant in general category, 28 in SC, 21 in ST and 21 in OBC category.
N Sukumar, professor, department of political sciences, Delhi University, said systemic issues prevented SC, ST and OBC students from accessing IITs. “These students are forced to study in government schools, where the teaching-learning process is very haphazard. They also do not have access to quality coaching centres to help them prepare for IIT entrance exam. They lack socio-cultural capital to encroach into ‘meritorious’ institutions. Despite all these issues, if students do get qualified as the data reveals, one needs to reflect on the reasons as to why the seats are still vacant.”
City-based economist Ajit Ranade, who has served in the board of governors of IIT-Bombay in the past, said, “The lack of representation of SC and ST category students cuts across various fields of education as well as professions. Subconscious biases not only affect the way selections work, but also extend to the curriculum. There is also a need to monitor how many students are graduating at the end of the programme to see if any candidates fell through the system.”
Sudarshan said that each department of the institute conducts an entrance exam and cut-offs are then decided. “We follow the reservation policy in our selection process. Necessary relaxations are given to each category for both written and interview marks,” he said.
However, Sukumar added that the interview process was highly subjective as the students are judged on the basis of caste, language, gender, region, etc biases. “Caste discrimination is blatant as many IIT directors have openly claimed that they will not implement reservations in faculty positions as ‘merit’ will be diluted. Such mentalities are part of the SC/ST/OBC students’ everyday experiences. When there is no enabling environment to complete their education, how will they proceed to attain faculty positions,” he said.
Ranade said institutes must intensify their efforts to improve representation of SC and ST category students. “It is also the responsibility of the system to make resources, remedial classes and support, in terms of mental health, available to researchers so they can cope,” added Ranade.