More Reservation in higher education: affirmative or negative?

The swiftness with which the present NDA government made Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill for 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections in the general category a law, underscores the age-old saying ‘where there is will, there is a way’ in some sense. Its effect and impact on jobs is comparatively straight arithmetic but same doesn’t hold up true for higher education.

The vast and diverse Higher Education landscape in the country even after seven decades of independence and if we add 150 years of British colonial rule to it, isn’t aligned with socio-economic developmental goals or if studies to be believed with industry needs and job market as well. The quality of education in 903 universities, over 39,000 colleges and over 10,000 stand-alone institutions in the country is not anywhere close to best in the world.

Keeping aside the experts suggestion that the reservation announced may well not stand the constitutionality and judicial scrutiny, still hypothetically to implement it will  need a lot of homework and backend scientific statistical exploration. It will also remain to be seen as to how campus politics reacts and evolves to it once the actual roll out starts.  The government has announced that it is working out the modalities and not 10% but 25% additional seats will be created to absorb this reservation without disturbing the present distribution.

An institution of higher education is a breathing entity, it has a characteristic, it has a purpose and it shapes lives. For this, it has to have an organic growth and lot of life to mature. Now here comes the problem. Without corresponding increase in infrastructure, number of teachers, how do you justify cramming classrooms, reduce time for practical/experiments in sciences as more students will mean more equipment, lack of hostel facilities etc.

Had the ruling class a clear vision, the autonomy of universities would have become a norm than exception in the country. The government is interfering in appointments of VCs and other key positions wherever it can with mindset that it applies to its junior bureaucrats. The quality of leadership in HEIs is mediocre and that reflects in poor campus cultures be it governance or otherwise. The priority of making more financial available to HEIs sector is another glaring deficiency on its part.

Whatever miniscule institutional capability in research and excellence the country had managed after a lot of hard work by academics is being systematically eroded. Americanization is the new password. From Niti Ayog to large non-profits, the diligence in research papers has been extinguished and evidence-based intervention is taken up by choices backed by corporations. The Prathams of the country in order to raise their own resources and profiles are making children of the country as an unhappy lot.

The reservation that comes as a political exigency does have a place in the country. Poverty is a curse and indeed mars potential of millions of individuals, thrusts wrong choices and pulls down the societal advancement. And education indeed is the most appropriate tool to fight poverty but then this tool has to be most potent, most workable and desirable as well. Let’s hope, the debate and implementation will in a way help higher education agenda in the country.