Reservations vs class PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 12 October 2016 05:02
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Can’t have reservations and world-class universities


The government’s policy towards creating world-class educational institutions continues to astound. At one level, as the draft policy on this points out, the fact that India does not have even one college in the world’s top 100, is shameful – the country has over 700 universities and 35,000 colleges while Singapore, which has a tenth the number of universities, has two in the top-100. To that extent, the plan to create 20 world-class institutions – 10 each in the public and private sector – is a good one. While it does not formally say the current UGC system is killing India’s higher education sector, the fact that the plan to create top-class institutions explicitly talks of “complete flexibility in fixing of curriculum and syllabus, with no UGC mandated curriculum structure” and UGC regulations “relating to inspection shall not apply” to them makes it clear the plan is to start removing UGC’s chokehold in a few places to begin with; the government planning to select these institutions based on their academic and research plan, among others, is a welcome break from the past. Other serious pain points like government interference in deciding fees or faculty remuneration are also to be done away with – of course, the fact that the a limit of 30% has been put for students who can be from overseas, and 25% for faculty, makes it clear the government is ready to cede full control.


Even more worrying, after all the talk of the only criterion being that admissions be need-blind – if a student qualifies on merit, adequate scholarships have to be available for the needy – the government brings in the issue of reservations and says these need to be implemented by these institutions. There is some confusion over whether this applies to privately-owned institutions since the discussion paper talks of “World Class Public Institutions” that need to implement this – but the section that talks of this appears in the part of the paper that deals with private institutions. In any case, the fact that this will apply to government-owned institutions is worrying enough, and should settle the debate over whether the government intends to push for faculty reservations in the IIMs, a subject of confusion over the past few months. Given the costs of setting up a truly world-class institution, the draft policy does well to talk of how they must have a corpus of Rs 200 crore, a guaranteed pipeline of another Rs 500 crore and a plan to raise Rs 1,000 crore, but it is odd to insist the sponsoring organization must have members whose total net worth is Rs 8,000 crore with at least one member having a net worth of Rs 2,000 crore – that could tilt the field in favour of rich industrialists. And it is surely galling to know the privately-funded institutions vying to be in the list of the top-10 are not going to be allowed to use the word “university” but “may mention the words ‘World Class Institutions Deemed to be University’ within parenthesis suffixed thereto”. Hopefully these issues, especially that of reservation – the antithesis of merit – will be sorted out during the consultation process.



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