SC/ST intake drops in departments across IITs, shows govt data

By, New Delhi
Feb 13, 2021 01:31 AM IST

When it came to enrolment of scheduled tribe (ST) students at the doctoral level, 19 departments at IIT-Delhi and five at IIT-Bombay didn’t admit any in 2020, according to the same dataset.

Fifteen of 31 departments at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi, and 16 of 26 in IIT-Bombay did not admit any scheduled caste (SC) student last year in their doctoral programmes as part of a broader trend of lower recruitment from marginalised communities at the PhD level in these prestigious institutions, data furnished by government in Parliament shows.

IIT Bombay in Powai, Mumbai. (HT Archive)
IIT Bombay in Powai, Mumbai. (HT Archive)

When it came to enrolment of scheduled tribe (ST) students at the doctoral level, 19 departments at IIT-Delhi and five at IIT-Bombay didn’t admit any in 2020, according to the same dataset.

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The data was part of a response by the Union education ministry to a question by CPI(M) Lok Sabha member S Venkatesan in the Lok Sabha. The answer covered 23 IITs and provided information on SC,ST, other backward class (OBC)and economically backward class (EWS) students at the PhD level.

At all levels, the numbers were lower than the designated level of representation fixed by the government’s reservation policy: 15% for SC, 7.5% for ST, 27% for OBC and 10% for EWS.

Data showed some of the newer IITs had very few doctoral students from marganisalised communities. In IIT-Tirupati and IIT-Palakkad, there were zero ST student admissions in any department at the PhD level in 2020, while in IIT-Bhilai, IIT-Goa and IIT-Dharwad, there was just one ST doctoral student admission in the entire institute last year.

Overall, the number of students stood far lower than the mandated quota. At IIT-Delhi, the percentage of SC doctoral student admission was around 7%, that of ST students around 2.5% and OBC students at 18%. These figures in 2019 stood at 6.4%, 1% and 15%, respectively, according to official data.

At IIT-Bombay, the percentage of SC doctoral student admission was around 5%, that of ST students was 11% and OBC around 3%. These numbers stood at 8%, 1% and 20% respectively in 2019.

At IIT-Madras, the percentage of SC doctoral admission was around 10%, ST around 3% and OBC around 23.5%. These figures stood at 8%, 4% and 24% in 2019.

Many of the institutes refused to officially comment on the data, but some officials connected with PhD recruitment pointed out that the 2020 admission process was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown imposed to arrest its spread, because the digital divide and poor internet access hurt poor and marginalised students in particular.

IIT-Bombay said the institute strictly followed the government’s reservation policy and undertook extra efforts and lower cut off marks to fulfil the quota criteria.

“IITs have very high expectations of our student input, which is needed to carry out research towards a PhD. While we do get sufficient candidates in certain departments, in some other departments, students of the required calibre tend to take up industry jobs rather than join for a PhD which has extra uncertainties and lower income levels during PhD and in some areas even post PhD. It is possible that the family background and economic level may have an impact on such candidates applying for a PhD,” it said in a statement.

IIT-Kharagpur refused to comment on the matter. IIT-Madras, too, didn’t respond officially but a senior faculty member at the institute said the low numbers was a general problem across IITs.

“A PhD research program is not like a curriculum where you can bring them up if they are weak by giving extra time and coaching. Research requires a certain level of academic credentials to even get started where these candidates often lack and so we have to consider this as a larger problem from its root,” he said.

He said IIT-Madras received 7000-8000 PhD applications annually. “We finally select 400 from that large pool so the competition is really tough. But we do care and go easy on the initial filtration so SC/ST candidates can come in for interviews and we work towards applying the government’s reservation,” he said.

IIT-Delhi refused to officially comment on the data but a senior official at the institute said the reason for no enrolment in certain categories of PhD courses was “unavailability” of eligible candidates. “In IIT-D we could not even fill all the seats in general category since we did not get enough eligible candidates. We could have admitted 200 more PhD students last year if we had candidates available. It’s not that IIT-D is discriminating or something,” the official added.

Experts said the problem of lower enrolment at the PhD level was a longstanding problem, especially at prestigious institutions such as IITs and pointed to more systemic problems such as poor access to high-quality school education.

“For first generation learners or Dalit students, we have to see how school education is. Also, science education in mofussil towns or villages is generally dismal. Government should try to strengthen school education and science learning to build a strong base,” said Vivek Kumar, a professor of sociology at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. “The problem is not of merit, it is of practice and access to quality education,” he added.

Hansraj Suman, the chairperson of Delhi University’s (DU) SC, ST, and OBC teachers’ association, demanded the Centre intervene to resolve the matter. “There is no dearth of candidates but these institutes don’t find them eligible. Even after passing the entrance exams, the SC/ST candidates face discrimination during the interviews. The government should immediately seek a report,” he said.

(With inputs from Fareeha Iftikhar in Delhi, Priyanka Sahoo in Mumbai, and Divya Chandrababu in Chennai)

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    Dhrubo works as an edit resource and writes at the intersection of caste, gender, sexuality and politics. Formerly trained in Physics, abandoned a study of the stars for the glitter of journalism. Fish out of digital water.

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