TECH TALK: Education and Reservation: Other Comments

Shekhar Gupta had a scathing attack in the Indian Express. In an article entitled My seat, mai baap, he wrote:

A total of 4,000 seats in all our IITs, just around 1,500 in all our IIMs, a mere 50 MBBS seats per year in AIIMS, a ridiculous total of 235 for graduate diploma and post-graduates put together at the National Institute for Design, only 480 students at National Law School, and so on. That is why todays spectacle of a mere three to four per cent of all eligible applicants making it to these institutions, of 90-percenters failing to find decent courses in Delhi University colleges, is todays equivalent of the pre-1991 fifteen-year wait for scooters, gas connections, telephones. The anger you see on the streets of your cities, the bitterness that motivates normally pampered and softie medical students to endure hunger strikes to rival Medha Patkars, comes out of this frustration.

An MP can still give you a coupon or a letter for admitting your child to a Kendriya Vidayalaya. Please go and stand outside the HRD ministers house next month and you will find hordes of ordinary people waiting for help in getting their children some reasonable education unmindful of the signboard that firmly tells those seeking Kendriya Vidayala admissions not to crowd the entrance.
Why would the minister now use a part of his hoard (particularly after the education cess) to build a couple of hundred more Kendriya and Narvodaya Vidyalayas, to expand and build new IITs and IIMs? He wont because he will then lose the power of the coupon and the quota. And his bureaucrats wont allow it because this is by far the most important area of our economy they can still fully control. The power of keeping an IIM director waiting for weeks for his joint secretarys clearance to attend a prestigious foreign conference is heady. More institutions, more seats, private investments all add up to the loss of that power.

This is the last but perhaps the most destructive relic of the licence quota raj. The quota crisis, and the fortuitous arrival of higher education on the political centrestage is in many ways similar to the other crisis that led to India mortgaging its gold to escape payment defaults. Finance Minister Manmohan Singh managed to convert that crisis into an opportunity that changed our lives. Can he similarly in todays crisis in higher education do the same for our children? Surely, this situation is no less daunting in its risks and complexities. But the rewards of expansion, opening up, private investment, genuine administrative and intellectual freedoms in a society that lays such a premium on education and scholarship will be no less significant.

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar wrote in the Times of India:

We need to experiment with new, fairer systems. Let me suggest one. The government spends Rs 110,000 crore a year on education. Let Rs 10,000 crore of this be channelled through business federations like the CII and Ficci to run quality schools with 80% reservation for lower castes and tribals.

Technical assistance can come from Delhi Public School, which has already created a chain of quality schools in India and abroad.

Within five years, let us create two quality schools in every district headquarters. In the next five years, let us cover every tehsil headquarters, and give scholarships to needy students for school for college.

This will create a meritorious society only slowly. Not even quality schools will give poor geniuses the advantages enjoyed by the elite: highly educated parents, access to books and media, contacts and connections.

Tomorrow: Other Comments (continued)

TECH TALK Education and Reservation+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.