The Union human resource development (HRD) ministry plans to set up 8,000 hostels across the country for students from the scheduled castes (SC), scheduled tribes (ST) and other weaker sections to improve their access to higher education, according to a senior official.It also plans to provide scholarships to needy students to meet their hostel expenses under the ministry’s five-year vision plan – Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP).The hostels would provide quality accommodation for 1.6 million students with no access to higher education institutions in their areas of residence to help them continue their studies, according to the official.“Traditionally, there are many among the weaker sections which still struggle to acquire quality education. Even those who get enrolled need handholding as they often have to cope with a weak foundation,” the official said. EQUIP has been prepared on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directions to his ministries to put in place five-year vision plans.Ten expert groups have prepared EQUIP. The ministry included the plan of building 8,000 Samras (harmony) hostels based on the group’s recommendation. The plan is expected to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in the higher education sector, which is the government’s key focus area.The official cited above said a number of SC/ST students come from school education with a handicap in languages, mathematics, and computing skills. “Higher skill levels in these three subjects are also a precursor to higher employability later,” the official said.