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Quota row spurs rush to foreign univs

Call it a coincidence, but there appears to be an upsurge in applicants for universities abroad, writes Navneeta.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2006 02:45 IST

As an aspiring Nidhi Anand appeared for the IIT-JEE on Sunday, the one thing that was buzzing on her mind was "this time or never".

With the Government's new proposal to reserve another 27 per cent seats in IIMs, IITs and central universities, taking the overall reservation seats to 50 per cent, Nidhi is apprehensive about her selection next year.

The new policy, if implemented, would take the overall reservation in the Central Government-funded higher education institutions from the current 22.5 per cent(for SC and ST students) to 49.5 per cent.

The limited number of seats available may mar her chances.

"I am not doubting my calibre, but when it comes to quota system, there is a chance that meritorious candidates may have to sit out," fears Nidhi.

This year's entrance examination could be the last one before the new quota system comes into effect.

What if the Government implements it? Probably then Nidhi will have to look for other options like moving out of the country or settle for a second grade institute or give capitation and join a tech school in Manipal.

Nidhi could be just one example. There are many others like her who are graduating this year and are fluttered by the proposal. They may have no choice but to look for greener pastures.

Call it a coincidence, but there appears to be a surge in the number of applicants for universities abroad especially to institutes in the US and the UK.

Students and some observers feel that the new proposal is indicating towards students leaving the country not by choice but because of limited options.

"Of course, the students will be compelled to resort to other options like taking up correspondence courses or depending on foreign scholarships, thereby moving out of the country and wasting a huge amount of money on such courses," says Lavanya, a student of Amity Business School.

“It’s not sure whether the needy would be benefited, (the policy has done little over the last 58 years) but it’s indisputable that the meritorious would have to suffer. What options do they have now? Their despair is sufficiently conspicuous. Instead of warring out for limited seats they would prefer to explore options overseas because there is going to be an inverse relationship between efforts and opportunities available in India. Succinctly then our general category students are being pushed out of India,” says
Kamal Agarwal, an IAS aspirant.

"It will definitely be a step backwards from the position of meritocracy for which Indian education system is held in high esteem all over the world," says All India Management Association (AIMA) President Sudhir Jalan.

At a time when the world's attention is focused on India and is viewed as a pool of valuable talent, this policy would spell disaster, he warns.

Government should instead carry on a bottom-up approach by emphasising more on quality primary and secondary education, he points out.

According to Washington-based Council of Graduate Schools, the applications from foreign students have increased by 11 per cent from 2005 to 2006. Large gains in the volume of applications have been from India with 23 per cent.

If the rush to the US is high, can the flow to the UK be far behind.

Officials at he British High Commission in New Delhi informed that in 2005 around 24,053 students applied for visa and this year the figure has increased by 39 per cent. This is in comparison to about 16,000 student visas issued in 2004.

"With the number of visa applicants increasing each year and students finding foreign countries more accessible, the proposed quota would act as a catalyst to various other reasons to leave the country," says a senior faculty member at IIT, Delhi.

Reservation proposal has left a large number of general category students with a sense of betrayal. They feel unwanted in their own country.

"If students feel unwanted in their own country, they would be left with no option but to immigrate both for education and employment. Policies like these can lead to mass exodus of bright students to places like the US, the UK and Australia," says Prof Subodh Agarwal who teaches English literature in DAV College, Dehradun.

However, not many agree that the reservation issue can lead to the clichéd term called "brain drain".

"If you find anything wrong in reservation that means you believe that the intelligentsia is just confined to upper classes, which is not so," says Jayati Ghose, Professor of Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

"I don't buy this argument that reservation could lead to brain drain," she adds.

Some feel that a separate exam and institutions for SCs, STs and OBCs can be an alternative to reservation. This will solve the problem for both general category and OBC students.

"We should have a separate all-India examination for SC/ST/OBC students, provide them with a kind of scholarship that should be an independent funding to study anywhere in India… they can take this scholarship and get admission in any private or Govt college, institution or university to pursue their higher studies," says Amit Kumar Singh, who is doing his doctorate in Philosophy from University of Oxford.

Others opine that there is nothing wrong in students who cannot make it to top institutes in India trying their luck in foreign universities.

But, "we should not lose good people for a reason like reservation. If students have to go out, it should be by their own choice and not by force," says Professor Jagdeep Chhokar of IIM-A.

First Published: Apr 13, 2006 12:25 IST