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AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

SEMINAR PAPER
XV TRIMESTER

Shadow of Affirmative action on


Indian Higher Education

Submitted to
Mr. Birpal Singh

By.
Anshul Chandra
2006 BALLB 17
NATIONAL LAW INSTITUTE UNIVERSITY, BHOPAL
Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. What is Affirmative Action?
3. Why Affirmative Action?
4. Structure and scale of Indian higher education
5. Myths and Realities
6. Caste and discrimination in higher education: Evidence from the National Sample
Surveys
7. Conclusion
8. Bibliography

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Introduction

Affirmative action comes in a variety of forms, but for present purposes I define it as
positive discrimination i.e., the provision of some amount of preference in processes of
selection to desirable positions in a society to members of groups that are under-
represented in those positions. The preference may be provided in various ways e.g.,
reserved seats in separate competitions or preferential boosts in a single competition but
it always has the effect of increasing the number of members of an under-represented
group selected to a desirable position.

Positive discrimination policies are most often oriented to identity groups defined by
characteristics that are physical or cultural such as race, caste, tribe, ethnicity, and
gender because such groups are most likely to perceive themselves and to be perceived
as meaningful communities.

Higher education in India has, of late, been at the heart of a tumultuous conflict of
interests threatening the very fabric of the societal egalitarianism that the Constitution
sought to weave since its adoption. The traditional disagreement in ideology between the
defenders of meritocracy and the champions of social justice, on issues ranging from the
Constitutional Amendment reserving seats in unaided non-minority educational
institutions to the introduction of caste-based quotas in all institutions funded by the
Central Government, reached dangerously volatile levels, as evidenced by vociferous
protests against the governments uncompromising stance by the student community last
year.

The topic at hand is complex and requires delicate handling- the proverbial prickly pear
to pick for a student of law or a legal practitioner. The argumentative Indian, however,
has thus far failed to appreciate the nuanced nature of the debate. What has been opined
in the media has largely been informed by a set of pre-conceived notions, acrimony, caste
stereotypes and a pathological mistrust of the system of reservations. It may be clarified
at the outset that this paper does not argue in favour of quotas for any particular caste or
class but looks at reservations in higher education as a tool for redressing the larger issue

3
of social disadvantage. In this regard, arguing in favour of the system of reservations in
Indian higher education, this paper exposes fallacies of the arguments of merit and
efficiency, rejects the import of American affirmative action into pluralist India and
examines the creamy-layer issue.

This paper examines the political economy of Indian higher (tertiary) education. The key
argument of this paper is that higher education in India is being de facto privatized on a
massive scale.But this privatization is not a result of changing ideological commitments
of the key actorsthe state, the judiciary or Indias propertied classes. Rather, this
privatization has resulted from a breakdown of the state system. As a result, it is a form of
privatization in which ideological and institutional underpinnings remain very weak.
Instead of being part of a comprehensive program of education reform, much of the
private initiative remains hostage to the discretionary actions of the state. Consequently,
the education system remains suspended between over-regulation by the state on the one
hand, and a discretionary privatization that is unable to mobilize private capital in
productive ways. The result is a sub-optimal structuring of higher education. The most
potent consequence of this is a secession of the middle classironically the very class
whose interests these institutions were supposed to servefrom a stake in public
institutions.

What is Affirmative Action?

Reservations or quotas can be methods for promoting affirmative action but are not
affirmative action per se. Affirmative action is different from a reservation or quota in
that it is open-ended and without any fixed number. Yet all such devices aim at serving as
a corrective for past governmental, social or individual bias against women, certain
individuals, groups or minorities based upon caste, class, creed or ethnicity. The
disadvantaged groups have often been subjected to unfair, derogatory or discriminatory
treatment for no fault of their own. Scope for affirmative action may or may not be
provided for in the constitution itself but it is common for the lawyers to speak of
affirmative action or positive discrimination in the sense of providing justice to those
who are ill-treated, discriminated against or under-represented due to inherent socio-

4
economic and cultural traits or of preventing those in power from doing any further
wrong to caste/class/creed-based minorities.

Though affirmative action has been in practice in India for a long time, it is only 45 years
old in the USA. Historically, it was associated only with race, gender or lower socio-
economic status but the civil rights movement in the early 1960s gave it a new meaning
and purpose. Today, it implies positive or reverse discrimination in favour of the
oppressed, whether the working class, women, minorities, immigrants, or people from
lower socio-economic strata or disadvantaged areas. Affirmative action is no longer
confined to either caste or class. In a paradigm shift from minority to diversity, it has
extended well beyond the concerns and actions of a particular interest group based on
caste, class, creed, ethnicity, gender or region. The human rights movement has also
given a new meaning and content to the notion of affirmative action based upon equity,
justice, accessibility, neutrality with respect to gender and/or to physical or mental
disability, fairness and other liberal democratic ideals.

By opening its gates to vast majorities of the youth with diverse socio-economic, cultural
and regional backgrounds, universities and research institutes have enhanced not only
accessibility but also equity. In fact, the very notion of equity encompasses access and the
rise in access has in turn led to diversity. In the era of globalization, diversity on
campuses is seen as a cardinal value in itself. It promotes cross-cultural understanding
among the students, faculty and administrators. Such an understanding is beneficial if one
has to succeed and survive in a multi-national work environment and highly
heterogeneous society. Whereas quotas and reservations help only those who get access
to higher education, affirmative action or positive discriminatory policies aiming at
promoting diversity help both the beneficiaries of affirmative action policies and others
who are not direct beneficiaries.

In the USA, affirmative action originated as a response to the civil rights movement
against discrimination in educational and job opportunities for the non-whites in general
and African Americans and women, in particular. The earliest use of the term affirmative
action appeared in an Executive Order 100925 in the USA in 1961. It declared

5
discrimination in employment practices based upon race, color, religion, sex or national
origin unlawful. Similarly, President Lyndon Johnsons Executive Order 11246 in 1965
made it mandatory for federal government and federal contractors with fifty or more
employees and a contract of the value of US $50,000 or more to ensure that minority
groups comprised of the Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and
women got adequate representation in their workforce.

In the USA, affirmative action programs are designed to benefit African Americans,
Hispanic Americans, Native Americans and women. Asian Americans are not amongst
the beneficiaries at most universities because of their higher performance rate at
universities and colleges than other racial groups. Affirmative action programs provided
some relaxation or bonus points for admission purposes and/or financial assistance or
scholarships. In the USA the courts ruled against using reservation or quota systems in
higher education. For instance, in the Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke
(1978), the Supreme Court held that the UC Davis Medical School violated the equal
protection clause of the XIV Amendment of the US Constitution by fixing quotas for
underrepresented minorities. According to this verdict, race and ethnicity could be
considered as one factor among many, but not as a dominant factor. One can give
some weight to race or gender or any other factor, but that cannot be the sole criteria for
admission to a college or university in the USA.

Similarly, in Gratz vs. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court ruled on the admission policy
of the University of Michigan which took race into account numerically, finding it to be
too mechanical and hence unconstitutional. It rejected the policy of granting a 20-point
bonus on a 150-point scale to blacks, Hispanic and American Indian applicants. But in
Grutter vs. Bollinger (2003), it gave a green flag to the policy of considering race as one
of the criteria for admission into the law schools in order to reap the benefits accruing
from a diverse student body. It held in a 5:4 decision that Michigans efforts to maintain a
critical mass of minority students did not amount to using an illegal quota, as it granted
admission based on individual considerations and not on a group basis. According to
Mark B. Cohen, an attorney who filed an amicus brief on behalf of Pennsylvania
legislators:

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The cumulative effect of the Bakke, Grutter, and Bollinger cases is that no
one has a legal right to have any demographic characteristic they possess
be considered a favorable point on their behalf, but an employer has a
right to take into account the goals of the organization and the interests of
American society in making decisions. This is a moderate, inclusive
opposition that ably balances the various legal interests involved.

In a paradigm shift from minority to diversity, the affirmative action policies in


higher education in the USA have created a new vision for universities. It has taken them
from promoting the equality of opportunity to a proactive role in selecting students from
the underrepresented strata in order to promote diversity. Diversity on the campuses is
seen as important for not only for the students and faculty, but also the entire nation per
se for three different reasons: (1) it makes the blending of ethnicities, cultures, races,
religions and genders possible in an enabling and inclusive environment of civility,
collegiality and mutual respect; (2) it makes good business sense to provide quality
education to the fastest growing segments of society if a nation wants to compete in the
global economy effectively; and (3) it helps the hitherto unrepresented and
underrepresented sections of society in realizing their best potential. Standardized testing
is not adequate to tap such a vast pool of human resource .

In the era of globalization and rapid technological innovations, it is economic politics that
dominates political markets. In an advanced economy like the USA, affirmative action
does not simply mean quotas or preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity, or sexual
orientation, but rather indicates a good personnel policy. In an ever-shrinking world,
where people of all races and genders are participating in a global community, a highly
qualified and diverse workforce is an absolute must. In todays multi- ethnic, multi-
linguistic and multi-cultural world, universities are duty-bound to prepare their students
not only for a seamless path to work but also for economic vulnerabilities and other
vicissitudes of life. The intermingling of students and faculty from diverse backgrounds
helps to inculcate a spirit of empathy, tolerance and mutual respect, so vital for social
justice in any given polity. Defending affirmative action in higher education, Mary Sue
Coleman, the President of the University of Iowa, held:

7
Affirmative action, as practiced in contemporary research universities, is
not the rigged system that our worst critics believe it is. It simply means
that institutions take positive action to diversify the pools of applicants
who compete for university positions, and to ensure that applicants of
different backgrounds are included in interview processes. Then the best
applicant is hiredI know why affirmative action is so important. I think
of richer diversity and inclusiveness that has made the University of Iowa
and so many other great American universities far stronger and vibrant
than they were when I was a graduate student. I know what affirmative
action has accomplished, and can continue to accomplish in the future.

In the same vein, Gerhard Casper, President of Stanford University, remarked:

Affirmative action is based on the judgment that a policy of true equal


opportunity needs to create opportunities for members of historically
underrepresented groups to be drawn into various walks of life from which
they might otherwise be shut out. Barriers continue to exist in society, and

The cumulative effect of the Bakke, Grutter, and Bollinger cases is that no
one has a legal right to have any demographic characteristic they possess
be considered a favorable point on their behalf, but an employer has a
right to take into account the goals of the organization and the interests of
American society in making decisions. This is a moderate, inclusive
opposition that ably balances the various legal interests involved.

In a paradigm shift from minority to diversity, the affirmative action policies in


higher education in the USA have created a new vision for universities. It has taken them
from promoting the equality of opportunity to a proactive role in selecting students from
the underrepresented strata in order to promote diversity. Diversity on the campuses is
seen as important for not only for the students and faculty, but also the entire nation per
se for three different reasons: (1) it makes the blending of ethnicities, cultures, races,
religions and genders possible in an enabling and inclusive environment of civility,

8
collegiality and mutual respect; (2) it makes good business sense to provide quality
education to the fastest growing segments of society if a nation wants to compete in the
global economy effectively; and (3) it helps the hitherto unrepresented and
underrepresented sections of society in realizing their best potential. Standardized testing
is not adequate to tap such a vast pool of human resource.

In the era of globalization and rapid technological innovations, it is economic politics that
dominates political markets. In an advanced economy like the USA, affirmative action
does not simply mean quotas or preferential treatment based on race, ethnicity, or sexual
orientation, but rather indicates a good personnel policy. In an ever-shrinking world,
where people of all races and genders are participating in a global community, a highly
qualified and diverse workforce is an absolute must. In todays multi- ethnic, multi-
linguistic and multi-cultural world, universities are duty-bound to prepare their students
not only for a seamless path to work but also for economic vulnerabilities and other
vicissitudes of life. The intermingling of students and faculty from diverse backgrounds
helps to inculcate a spirit of empathy, tolerance and mutual respect, so vital for social
justice in any given polity. Defending affirmative action in higher education, Mary Sue
Coleman, the President of the University of Iowa, held:

Affirmative action, as practiced in contemporary research universities, is


not the rigged system that our worst critics believe it is. It simply means
that institutions take positive action to diversify the pools of applicants
who compete for university positions, and to ensure that applicants of
different backgrounds are included in interview processes. Then the best
applicant is hiredI know why affirmative action is so important. I think
of richer diversity and inclusiveness that has made the University of Iowa
and so many other great American universities far stronger and vibrant
than they were when I was a graduate student. I know what affirmative
action has accomplished, and can continue to accomplish in the future.

In the same vein, Gerhard Casper, President of Stanford University, remarked:

9
Affirmative action is based on the judgment that a policy of true equal
opportunity needs to create opportunities for members of historically
underrepresented groups to be drawn into various walks of life from which
they might otherwise be shut out. Barriers continue to exist in society, and
therefore affirmative action asks us to cast our network widely to broaden
the competition and to engage in more active efforts for locating and
recruiting applicants.

It means taking into consideration students from diverse backgrounds. It also means
extending the definition of merit to include not only stringent academic grades and test
scores but also unquantifiable human qualities and capacities, including artistic or
musical talent, athletic ability, strength of character, leadership qualities, participation in
extracurricular activities and community service, as well as promoting geographical
diversity, etc. The Association of American Universities recognized these ideals in a
statement on the Importance of Diversity in University Admissions (The New York
Times, April 1997).

Revisiting the notion of merit, the Department for Education and Skills in London, in its
report on Widening Access in Higher Education in January 2003, also emphasized the
need for raising the academic attainment of underserved student population,
increasing the aspiration of students from these groups and influencing and
broadening university admissions to include an expanded notion of merit.

We should not forget that the continuance of affirmative action in higher education in the
USA is not only in the interest of the students and faculty but also in the wider interests of
business and society. That is why it has the tacit approval of the political elite in the
government and judiciary. It amounts to silent remixing of the mixed economy (Gupta,
2000). Not only academia but also the political elite in the USA understand very well that
without affirmative action in higher education, the country cannot compete in an
increasingly globalized and multicultural world dominated by non-whites. The US
leadership has to deal not only with the minorities and ethnic groups within the country

10
but also across its borders. They cannot win the trust and legitimacy of non-whites if
whites monopolize the highest and most crucial positions in the USA and abroad.

Why Affirmative Action?

The biggest problem of the 21st century is rapidly expanding diversity, along with
stubbornly persistent inequities in terms of status and power based upon caste, race,
ethnicity, class, language, citizenship or region. Though the economic integration and
breath-taking innovations in information technology and communication have
compressed the economic and learning space to some extent, they also have enhanced the
competition for wealth and power between the haves and have-nots, putting greater
pressures on higher education, both public and private, to deliver the goods by preparing
the ever-growing number of students not only for long-term employability and life but
also directly for immediate market needs and a seamless path to work. The universities
and colleges are under tremendous pressures from the students, faculty and
administration and others to transform themselves from elitist institutions to mass-
oriented in the shortest period of time.

Universities around the globe are required to play an increasingly vital role in bridging
the gaps between the students coming from diverse socio-cultural, economic and regional
backgrounds through student and faculty exchange programs and internationalization of
the curricula to serve global markets and world society. They play a critical role in the
harnessing of human resources through the personal development on the part of the
students as individuals and the socio-economic and civic development of their countries
through them. The higher education institutions provide the space where students coming
from diverse backgrounds interact, overlap, exchange and collaborate in preparedness for
the scarce resources in the knowledge-based and technology-driven economies of today.

No wonder, we find a sudden surge in the demand for higher education and technological
skills worldwide. The universities and research centers are passing through a difficult
time in view of conflicting demands and constant pressures on them to change or
transform. They are no longer the sole contributors to the creation and dissemination of

11
knowledge, as there are many other stakeholders and providers at the local, national and
global levels. This has unleashed corporate and market forces into the higher education
sector, converting it into a big market itself and transforming the students as future
citizens into prospective customers/clients. That is why universities worldwide are feeling
themselves under pressure to address the past problems of equity and access so as to
convert them into investment in human capital for future gains.

It is but natural that under the rapidly changing world scenario, the universities and
training centers are in greater demand than ever before. Quite surprisingly, higher
education is being castigated as a private, quasi-private or quasi-public good and
therefore not a fit case for merit-based subsidies. On the other hand, we also find
governments and the courts intervening in admission processes worldwide, either in the
name of protecting the interests of minorities or promoting diversity on campus.
Affirmative action today has taken universities beyond the stage of non-discrimination
on the basis of caste, class, creed, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status, to positive
discrimination or reverse discrimination in order to provide access to the vast number
of underrepresented sections of society to pursue higher education and training in an
enabling environment.

In the past, personal, social and economic development was seen as an end in itself in
which the state played a role as agent. The focus used to be on resource inputs as symbols
of progress and commitment to the neglect of outputs and performance. Today the
universities are required to promote equity, fairness and justice, on the one hand, and
maintain efficiency, quality and public accountability, on the other. Earlier,higher
education catered to the needs of the elite class with an eye towards social leadership.
Today with the massification, vocationalization and privatization of higher education,
universities are under pressures to deliver both public and private good by preparing their
students for a seamless transition to work and immediate market needs, local or global
though they may be.

Moreover, it makes business sense to provide access to higher education and skills to the
vast majority of youth if any nation today wants to compete in the global economy and

12
job markets. Therefore, higher education is not only the gateway to personal, social and
economic development, but also to tremendous business opportunities. Higher education
today has become a three to four trillion-dollar business in itself, second only to defense
and health. It is difficult to say whether business is promoting mass participation in
higher education or mass participation into higher education is promoting business in
education. But one thing is certainthat massification and internationalization of higher
education has transferred the power from the nation-state to the global consumer.

It is also true that the rise in demand for higher education and technological skills has
brought the issues of access and equity to the forefront. Affirmative action is being
promoted as an important means of enhancing both access and equity. In fact, it not only
serves the interests of the underprivileged but also those of the elite as well. It provides
legitimacy and justification to them in a democratic polity. We hardly find any examples
of affirmative action, positive discrimination, reverse discrimination, reservations or
quotas in any non-democratic system, whether past or present.

Affirmative action is usually deployed to win over the support of the marginalized or
under-represented sections of society. The public policies in support of affirmative action
are generally justified in the name of equity, justice or democracy. The underlying goals
said to be served by affirmative action policies in higher education generally are
compensation to the victims of past discrimination and maltreatment, redistribution of
resources and opportunities from the privileged sections of society to those worse off,
motivating students from lower socio-economic and disadvantaged classes to aspire for
better positions in society, better appraisal of students in terms of potentiality and
productivity, higher quality education and learning due to prevailing diversity on
campuses, better access to social capital in terms of useful contacts and networks for
improving career opportunities, improved chances of integrating the societal elite in
terms of race and ethnicity, fostering a more legitimate and vital democratic order, etc.

Affirmative action can be seen as a peculiar outcome of socio-cultural, ethnic,


geographical, historical, political, demographical circumstances rather than of common
psychological predispositions. In India we find caste and gender based discriminations

13
quite deeply entrenched in our socio-cultural, political and psychological upbringing. We
find Article 17 of the Indian constitution, prohibiting untouchability, under the category
of fundamental rights (Right to Equality). In rural India, those born into lower castes are
still looked down upon as achhuts (outcastes or untouchables) or scavengers. Today the
lower castes prefer to call themselves dalits, implying broken or reduced to pieces or
oppressed. Surprisingly, in modern India, many people belonging to other castes or
religions are also vying with one another to be included under the category of OBCs or
minorities in order to benefit from reservations or quotas in government jobs and
educational institutions (now, after the 93rd Amendment Act, in private higher education
as well).

In fact, the whole concept of reservations, quotas or affirmative action can be seen as a
social contract between the winners and the losers. It can be seen as an outcome of
the psychological mechanism towards reciprocal altruism amongst the non-kin. Under
this mechanism people are encouraged to extend certain benefits and services to non-kin
on the understanding that the benefactors would reciprocate those benefits at some time
in future. The target groups are those classes disadvantaged on the basis of socio-cultural
status, ethnicity, economics, education, geography or gender.

They may or may not be always visible like the blacks in the USA or the whites in
South Africa. But they may be found to be more segregated or ghettoized. Unless and
until there are direct links between costs and benefits, policies such as affirmative action
in higher education or redistribution under the welfare state cannot be sustained. These
days we find a lot of resentment of the free-loaders on the part of the taxpayers and of
mediocrity from the meritorious. In fact, the human mind can accept positive
discrimination only if it can be made to realize that altruism can also be in its self-interest
social contract algorithms are a set of programs designed for solving the intricate
computational problems inherent in adaptively engaging in social exchange behavior.
The essential characteristic of a social contract algorithm is reciprocity, which is a
foundation of ongoing social exchange relationships. The logic of reciprocity is based on
a conditional ruleif benefits are to be received, then costs should be paid, The
sentiments of right or wrong are natural in the case of affirmative action policies put

14
into practice worldwide. Most affirmative action policies emanate from an intimate desire
for justicethose discriminated against in the past should be compensated in future.
Those who are opposed to such policies find reverse discrimination unfair and
undemocratic.

For instance, whereas Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Science and Technology in the Union
Cabinet, is against all such policies that dilute excellence in Indian research and
educational institutions, Arjun Singh, the HRD Minister, seems bent on extending
reservations for the SCs, STCs and OBCs up to 49.5% in central and elitist universities
whichmay be due to the needs of the coalition government to reap political dividends.
Whereas Arjun Singh can be blamed for prematurely making public his governments
intentions, Sibal can be blamed from publicly airing his reservations against reservations in
higher education itself against the well-established norms and practices of parliamentary
democracy (The Times of India, April 27 and May 1, 2006).

Structure and scale of Indian higher education

In 1950-51 India had 27 universities, which included 370 colleges for general education and 208
colleges for professional education (engineering, medicine, education). At the beginning of the
2006/2007 academic year, India had 369 Universities (comprising 222 State Universities, 20 Central
Universities, 109 Deemed Universities, 5 Institutions established under state legislations and 13
Institutes of National Importance established by Central Legislation). In addition, there are 18,064
colleges. The total number of students enrolled in the universities and colleges was 11 million of
which 13 percent were in University Departments and the rest in affiliated colleges (MHRD 2007).
While we dont have data for the distribution of students by discipline, in 2003 of the 2 million-odd
graduates, engineering and medicine graduates accounted for 7 percent and 0.7 percent respectively.

Nearly two-thirds of the colleges in 2009 were classified by the University Grants Commission (UGC
the apex government regulatory body for higher education) as Arts, Science, and Commerce
Colleges. Recent growth is much greater in professional colleges (especially engineering,
management and medicine), as well as in private vocational courses catering especially to the IT
sector.

There has been a rapid expansion in higher education, with student enrollment growing at about 5
percent annually over the past two decades. This growth is about two-and-half times the population

15
growth rate, and results from both a population bulge in lower age cohorts as well as increased
demand for higher education. However, even todays gross enrollment ratio of Indians in institutions
of higher education is approximately 10 percent of the age cohort, which is considerably higher than
developing country averages, but lower than the average for Asia as a whole and much lower than
OECD countries. Enrollment ratios vary across Indian states, with the southern and western states
faring better than their eastern counterparts. Women now constitute about 40 percent of all student
enrollments, varying from a low of 20 percent in Orissa to a high of 58.8 percent in Kerala. The bulk
of students (nearly two-thirds) are enrolled in arts and science, with another 18 percent in
commerce/management. This is of some importance because most private investment in higher
education is concentrated in engineering, medicine and management, and consequently does little for
the majority of students. Notwithstanding the great hopes reposed by a spate of committee reports on
alternative sources of funding for higher education, the state will continue to have to occupy the
commanding heights of at least this sector of the economy.

Although total expenditure on higher education has risen since independence, from 483 crores to
2418.3 crores between 1980 and 1995, spending per pupil in real terms declined for nearly two
decades (Tilak, 1997), before recovering modestly. Higher education occupies a low priority in public
expenditure. Its share of GNP was nearly 1 percent during the 1970s, just 0.35 percent in the mid-
1990s, before increasing modestly to 0.6 by the end of the decade. After the formulation of the New
Policy of Education (NPE) in 1986, the central government gradually increased its contribution to the
funding of elementary education, and this trend continued in the 1990s. As a result, in total
expenditure on education, the share of higher education spending declined from 12.2 percent during
1982-92 to 11.4 percent for the states, and more dramatically, from 36.2 to 23.3 percent for the center.
Notwithstanding the high growth rate after economic liberalization, the real rate of growth of public
expenditure on higher education declined from about 5.5 percent during 1982-92 to 5.3 percent 1993-
2004, largely because of deceleration in spending by the states. The average real expenditure on higher
education per enrolled student declined at 2.4 percent annually during this period - from Rs 8,322 in
the period 1981-82 to 1991-92, to Rs 6,790 in the period 1992-93 to 2003-04 (at 1993-94 prices).

Until very recently, most state governments had virtually ceased to expand the list of government
aided institutions, thereby increasing the percentage of self-financed or private unaided
institutions, most noticeably in professional and technical education. In contrast to cashstrapped state
governments, in June 2007 the Center announced plans to set up and fund 30 new central universities
across the country. India has 20 central universities (18 funded by the UGC), spread over just 9 states,
Delhi and Puducherry. The remaining 19 states of India would receive first priority in getting central
universities. In addition, the central government announced that it would work with the states to

16
support the expansion of colleges to the 340 districts that have extremely low college enrolments. To
increase the likelihood of enrolment from these districts it also announced plans to set one high-
quality school in every block of the country (6000) which would also establish benchmarks for
excellence in public schooling.

Myths and Realities

Education has always been a great liberating force that has helped individuals elevate
themselves both intellectually and spiritually. It is considered to be an equaliser that
bridges the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. Education is believed to
imbibe in individuals the desire to respect fellow beings and indoctrinate the ability to
live and work together in the most peaceful manner. The central objective of Education is
knowledge and liberation. 'Knowledge is power' and the source of knowledge can be
traced back to Education which would inter alia include Primary Education, Secondary
and Higher Education. Education cannot be construed to be merely the instruction
received at school, or college but would include the whole course of training- moral,
intellectual and physical. Thus Higher Education in particular plays an extremely
important role in inculcating values.

Myths that engulf Affirmative Action in Higher Education

Myth: Affirmative Action would result in certain groups being given special
rights while the others are left out.

Reality: Affirmative Action tries to eliminate the exiting and continuing discrimination
and provides a level playing field for all sections of society. Although Affirmative Action
and Reservations are two ends of the spectrum and are not one and the same, the
consequences of implementing the two would remain uplifting the backward sections of
society. The Government has been trying to reserve seats in institutions of Higher
learning for the Other Backward Castes and this move, if implemented in letter and spirit
would certainly go a long way in providing the OBCs with access to Higher Education.

Let us think of a situation wherein a young man of about 25 years and a man of about 90
were to race against each other. It would not be in the interest of justice to let them start

17
from the same point and would only be reasonable to ask the elderly person to start from
a point which is slightly ahead of starting point demarcated for the young man. Thus
socially and educationally backward classes could be compared to the elderly person and
the rest of the population to the young man. The policy of Affirmative Action tries to
place backward sections of society, like in the above illustration, in a position which is
slightly ahead of the rest of the population. This does not imply that certain groups are
being given special rights while the others are left out; it only tries to instil a spirit of
healthy competition.

Myth: Affirmative Action is not necessary in countries like India where


reservations have been implemented for years.

Reality: Although the implementation of Reservations in countries like India in principle


is supposed to be of immense benefit to the backward sections, they continue to be
deprived of the opportunity to access Higher Education. Affirmative Action would be a
necessity until women and the weaker sections get equal pay and have access to
education.

Myth: Affirmative Action should be based only on economic backwardness


rather than on gender or race.

Reality: Affirmative Action is necessary in order to provide members belonging to every


economic class with the opportunity to access Higher Education. The recommendations
of the Second Backward Classes Commission (Mandal Commission) were based on
several criteria which inter alia included the economic criterion. The Government in the
year 1991 announced that within the 27% of the jobs in the Union Government, reserved
for socially and educationally backward classes, preference would be given to the poorer
sections of such classes. The Government also declared 10% reservation for the other
economically backward sections of the society who had not been covered by any of the
other existing schemes of reservation.

The implementation of the Mandal Commission Report was taken to the Honble
Supreme Court which upheld 27% reservation as was recommended but struck down the

18
Governments decision to reserve 10% jobs for the other economically backward
sections. Some of the important aspects of the judgement are:

Caste has been accepted as a basis for identifying the beneficiaries of


reservations.
The Creamy Layer has to be excluded from reservations.
The Union Government shall specify the socio-economic criteria to exclude
socially advanced persons among the backward classes.

It is not easy to isolate the creamy layer from the poor and the needy in a country as
diversified as India. Caste based reservations still continue to be in vogue as far as
education and jobs are concerned.

Myth: Affirmative Action would lead to lowering of the standard of Higher


Education.
Reality: The implementation of Affirmative Action does not mean providing access to
higher education to unqualified people belonging to the weaker sections. It would only
allow competent and qualified members to compete in areas in which they have been
under-represented as a group. If merit were to be sole criterion for providing
opportunities to the citizens, the country should have by now progressed to a great extent
under the leadership of the so called meritorious members of the society.

Myth: Affirmative Action in Higher Education would no longer be necessary for women.
Reality: Women in India were allowed access to Higher Education only as late as 1882.
According to the 2001 Census, the literacy rate among women was found to be only 64%.
Women constitute only a small percentage of students in institutions of Higher learning.
The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act stipulates that one-third of the seats are to be
reserved for women along with the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. This
would indeed go a long way in uplifting women. Promoting education among women is
the only way of empowering them.

Myth: Affirmative action would almost always result in Reverse Discrimination.


Reality: Reverse Discrimination is the effect that Affirmative Action would have on the

19
majority of the population. For example, in the U.S., the minorities are eager to obtain
equality of educational opportunities and the majority although being sympathetic to the
problems faced by the minorities in the past, do not want to lose the opportunity to access
education. Between 1990 and 1994, there were about 3000 cases filed in the Honble
Federal Court pertaining to discrimination, out of which about 100 cases involved claims
of Reverse Discrimination. Only 6 cases out of the 100 were found to be valid.
Only a small proportion of the members belonging to the socially and educationally
backward sections of the society have been given an opportunity through the means of
reservations when compared to their population in India. A vast majority of the seats in
institutions of higher learning are still open to the general merit category.

Myth: Affirmative Action has not succeeded in the uplifting the weaker sections.
Reality: A number of studies have indicated that Affirmative Action has gone a long way
in bringing about racial and gender equality in the U.S. It has worked in the U.S. and
chances are that it might work elsewhere too. In countries like India, a vast majority
belonging to the backward classes have been uplifted due to the policy of reservations. It
has created a level playing field for the deprived sections to compete with the forward
castes.

Myth: The implementation of Affirmative Action would mean preferential selection


procedures which would go against merit.

Reality: Affirmative Action does not mean that merit would not be taken into
consideration. The Association of American Universities has observed that Merit would
include not only stringent academic grades but also unquantifiable human qualities and
capacities. Even among seats that are reserved for the backward classes, only those
students who are competent and are meritorious are admitted. Affirmative Action does
not mean preferential selection procedures which go against merit.

The only means by which the socially and educationally backward sections of society can
be uplifted is by equipping them with quality education. Higher Education has been
monopolised by a privileged few and it is the duty of the State to ensure that the

20
backward classes are adequately represented. This calls for a clear cut policy by the
Government with respect to implementation of Affirmative Action. The myths that engulf
the implementation of Affirmative Action must be busted and it is imperative that there is
a level playing field for the backward classes to compete against the privileged few.

Caste and discrimination in higher education: Evidence from the National Sample
Surveys

The issue of reservations in higher education has always been a highly emotive one,
especially in India where it has been politically and socially fraught in recent times in
particular. It is also one that has direct implications not only for public policy but also for
the administration and functioning of academic institutions and of course the fate of large
numbers of students. Given all this, it is remarkable that, with a few important
exceptions2, the discussions and debates around this theme have been largely theoretical
rather than empirically based. Even when they have sought to include some empirical
content, these have typically been based on the results of micro studies and have rarely
relied upon the aggregative evidence provided by large sample surveys. This brief note is
an attempt to add to the literature by analysing the available evidence on the actual extent
of marginalisation and discrimination apparently faced by different categories in the
population, based on the results of the most recent large National Sample Survey.3

It is useful to begin with an assessment of the overall situation with respect to literacy.
The continuing inability of the Indian state to ensure universal literacy and basic
education must surely count among the most significant failures of the development
project in the country. As is evident from Charts 1 and 2, in addition to the overall failure
in average terms, there are substantial differences across different categories of
population, not only among rural and urban residents but also across social groups. While
around one-third of Indias population is illiterate according to this survey, the literacy
rate is clearly much higher in urban areas. Furthermore, there are very marked differences
across gender and caste. The literacy rate was the highest among the category others (78
per cent), which includes both upper caste Hindus as well as those of other religions.4
This was followed by the OBCs with a gap of nearly 13 percentage points, then

21
Scheduled Castes, and finally was the lowest among the STs (52 per cent). But it is to be
noted that gender gaps were very marked and typically even higher than differences
across social category, so that women among the socially deprived categories were the
most highly discriminated even in terms of literacy. Thus, the gap between the group with
the highest literacy rate urban males of the other category and the groups with the
lowest literacy rate rural females from Scheduled Tribes was as high as 52.4
percentage points, or well more than double the lower rate.

It is worth noting that males of the other category appear to have high rates of literacy
in both rural and urban areas, and the rural-urban gap (at just under 12 percentage points)
is lower for this group than for any other social category. This helps to explain why the
proportion of households with no literate member is also relatively low among the
other category less than 5 per cent in urban areas and around 15 per cent in rural
areas.

About 26 per cent of the households in the rural areas and 8 per cent in the urban areas,
had no literate adult member (of age 15 years and above). However, it is also evident
from Chart 3 that in general less than 15 per cent of all urban households, of whatever
social category, did not have a literate adult member. In rural areas, the position was
much worse, with nearly two-fifths of ST households with no literate adult member.

22
The significance of gender discrimination emerges from the much higher proportion of
households who continue not to have any female adult literate member, as shown in Chart

23
4. The proportion of households without any literate adult member or without any literate
adult female member was much higher among the households belonging to the STs and
SCs compared to the OBCs or others category households in both rural and urban India.
Among both STs and SCs, the proportion in rural areas was more than 60 per cent, while
in urban areas it was in excess of 30 per cent, and here SC families were worse off than
ST families. More than half of OBC households in rural areas did not have a literate adult
female member.

These overall household-level figures are confirmed by the distribution of population by


educational categories as shown in Charts 5 and 6 for rural and urban areas separately. It
is not just that illiteracy rates are high among the deprived social groups, but the spread
of higher education is also extremely low. Interestingly, the proportion of each rural
social group that is literate and/or has received up to primary education is around the
same between 27 and 29 per cent. This may indicate the push for school enrolment in
the age group 5-14 years through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. For those who have been
excluded from this intitiative, because they were already too old to be enrolled in school,
the gaps across cateogries remain very large in illiteracy as well as in the extent of
further education. Also dropout rates from schooling are significantly higher for deprived
social categories, and therefore educational distinctions become progressively more
marked across different social groups.

24
In urban areas the distinction is even sharper between certain categories. However, here it
should be noted that the ST group exhibits rather different characteristics relative to the
rural areas. Illiteracy rates among urban STs are lower than for urban SCs, and the
proportion that has been through higher secondary or graduate and above education is
higher for urban STs than for urban SCs or OBCs. Nevertheless, the gap between all three
of these relatively deprived categories and others remains large, with more than one-
fifth of the urban other population having been through graudate or higher education,
compared to 9 per cent or less for all other categories.

Chart 7 shows that in rural areas, among the male population only 1.7 per cent of STs and
2.2 per cent of SCs have received graduate or higher education, compared to 3.4 per cent
of OBCs and 6.5 per cent of others. Once again, gender gaps dominate over gaps across
social category, with females in the best off group of others faring worse than males
among OBCs, and the worst off rural emale category STs showing only 1.5 per cent
having had graduate or higher education. In urban areas, the gender gap is substnatially
reduced among the others, and urban females in this group show higher rates of higher
educarion than all other categories even among the males. Gender gaps do remain in the

25
other categories, but they are proportionately less significant than among the rural
population.

26
However, since these estimates are for the entire population, they may not provide
accurate estimates of social differentiation in higher education among the relevant age-
group.

Therefore, Table 1 provides data on the enrolment ratios among the age-cohort 20-24
years in both urban and rural areas. It can reasonably be supposed that this relates to
higher education of some variety, whether in colleges, universitiies, institutes of technical
training, etc. The data refer to the Usual Status of activity, which allows for both
principal and subsidiary involvement (in other words, enrolment in part-time and distance
learning courses is also included).

This confirms some of the conclusions from the earlier charts. In rural areas, gender gaps
in enrolment in higher education remain very high and dominate over social category
gaps, although the latter gaps are also very large. Among rural males, the basic gap is
between others and the rest; there appears to be relatively little distance between the
other three categories. Furthermore, enrolment among STs appears to have fallen slightly
(though this may be due to statistical error) and enrolment among SCs and OBC to have
increased slightly in the first five years of this decade.

Among rural females, STs show higher enrolment in higher education than either SCs
(who remain the lowest) and OBCs. There has been an improvement in the latter two, but
from very low bases. Among rural women, the gaps across social category do not appear
to be very large, further emphasising the point that gender gaps dominate in enrolment in
higher education in rural areas, and that young women are the most discriminated against
regardless of social group.

In urban areas, the picture is somewhat different. First it should be noted that enrolment
ratios appear to be reasonably high when compared to other developing countries at
similar levels of income. The situation across social categories is more complicated. The
other category has actually shown a slight decrease in enrolment for both urban males
and females. For urban males, the gap between STs and others is not very large, and

27
indeed has been reversed in the latest period consequent upon significant enrolment
increases among STs, such that male STs in the age group 20-24 years showing a higher
rate of enrolment in education than their other counterparts! However, there has been
no increase in enrolment ratios for SC urban males, and only a marginal increase for
OBCs.

Among urban females, also there was a significant increase in enrolment ratios of ST
women and a slight increase in enrolment ratios of OBC women. However, enrolment
ratios of both other and SC women actually declined. While these were small decreases
and could reflect statistical error, it is important in the case of SCs because enrolment
rates were already so low, especially when compared to the other categories.

What explains these patterns of enrolment in what must be some form of higher
education? There are obviously both demand and supply conditions, as well as social and
economic factors affecting the ability of different categories to access higher education.
In terms of the desire for higher education, many factors play a role, but it is fairly
obvious that perceptions of improved employment prospects are important. Therefore it is
worth considering what the survey data have to tell us about the extent to which the
probability of employment changes with higher education. Table 2 provides data on work
participation rates and unemployment rates for those with at least secondary education,
while Table 3 provides similar data for those with at least a graduate degree.

28
It is apparent from Table 2 that secondary education affects subsequent employment very
differently according to social category. It should be noted that the worker population rate
simply defines the proportion of people who have some gainful employment, whether in
a wage/salary relationship or through self-employment, and says nothing about the
quality of employment or whether the education and skills developed through secondary
education are either required or being used in the job. Even so, the data are quite striking.

For rural males with secondary education, there appears to be little difference across
social category in terms of either work participation rates or open unemployment rates.
For rural females, however, there are huge differences across social category. While
unemployment rates are high for all rural women secondary school graduates, they are
particularly high for women from ST and OBC groups. Indeed, for a rural secondary
school educated ST woman, the probability of being openly unemployed is higher than of
being employed! (It is important to bear in mind that unemployment is here defined as

29
being available and looking for work, and therefore excludes all voluntary or discouraged
withdrawal from the labour force, which is also likely to be high among women.)

In urban areas, the highest rate of open unemployment among secondary school educated
males is to be found among SCs. However, even here rates of open unemployment are
much higher among women, and the highest rate of open unemployment of rural females
with secondary schooling is to be found among OBCs, where once again it is higher than
the work participation rate for this group.

Table 3, which provides similar evidence for those with at least graduate degrees, shows
that somewhat similar tendencies are apparent for this subset. ST women graduates show
the highest open unemployment rate in rural areas, while for urban areas it is highest for

30
SC women graduates. Given these high open unemployment rates for women in
particular, even after receiving higher education, it may not be so surprising that there is
less enthusiasm for enrolment among these categories.

What insights do these data provide for strategies of affirmative action? First of all, it is
evident that very large differences in educational attainment and access continue to exist
and therefore must be addressed through public action. Such action must necessarily
include reservations, but there have to be other strategies in addition, to ensure wider and
more democratic access. These can include more public provision of higher educational
institutions in backward areas and for deprived groups, more scholarships and other
incentives for deprived categories, etc.

Second, the data provided here have shown that the social reality of discrimination and
marginalisation in higher education is a more complex mosaic than is often presented.
Such complexity needs to be noted and addressed when designing public policies. In
particular, some major gaps that are evident from these data need to be addressed. Most
significant among them are the rural-urban gap and the gender gap, which cut across
social categories especially in rural areas.

Third, it is also evident that higher education generates very different prospects of
employment across social categories, and therefore strategies of affirmative action also
have to incorporate actions designed to affect the labour market.

Conclusion

This paper thus examines the utility of all kinds of reservations in higher education as an
instrument for social empowerment, dispelling some of the mist that surrounds the
system to reach a conclusion that given the unique Indian situation, the judgment of our
Constitution makers can still make for sound practice. A few concluding remarks as to the
logical implications of the above discussion pertaining to reservation in higher education
in India, may be appropriate.

31
Firstly, the current exclusionary conception of merit and the importance being given to it
is completely divorced from the vision of an egalitarian India that our forefathers
nurtured. Merit, in order to gain universal legitimacy, must evolve from being a limited,
marks-oriented idea to a concept that contributes to the nations productivity and ensures
participation of emancipated communities.

Secondly, if the recent imbroglio regarding reservations for OBCs is to be viewed in


terms of their social disadvantage as argued in this paper, rather than being a contest
between the victimized rich and the scheming, political poor, it would take on a
completely different hue. It is acknowledged that reservations are influenced by votebank
politics and flaws with reservations, it is submitted, lie in implementation, not in
conceptualization. In this regard, given the current paucity of data, a systematic
Government survey of the social condition of backward classes, would go a long way in
forestalling claims of unjustified inclusion/exclusion. The exclusion of the creamy layer
as a policy decision would also be desirable in educational reservations.

However, although reservations are theoretically the most pragmatic method of achieving
substantive equality, they must be used cautiously and must necessarily be supplemented
by other methods of laying the foundation for an egalitarian society; such as measures of
agrarian reform, an improved public primary/secondary education system etc.

Therefore, rather than condemning reservations, Indians would be better served if they
acknowledged their expediency in higher education, rectified lacunae in their
implementation and worked towards making them successful -- paradoxically, the path
leading to eventual liberation from such measures.

32
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33