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More DUs, not more quotas PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 13 May 2019 04:33
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The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), in its manifesto for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, promises 85% quota in Delhi colleges for students who have completed their senior secondary level education from Delhi schools. The fact is the ‘war-cry’ is of little value—just rhetoric in the admission season, as Delhi students vie with aspirants from rest of the country for seats in the colleges under the prestigious Delhi University. The AAP knows that getting Delhi University colleges—even those that receive funding from the Delhi government—to reserve seats for locals can only happen if the Delhi University Act of 1922 is amended by Parliament. The AAP-led Delhi government passed a resolution in 2017 to demand the amendment. But, despite the Congress government under Sheila Dikshit having passed a similar resolution in 2013 and the Delhi unit of the BJP raising the demand for quota for Delhi students in DU, the AAP hasn’t been able to generate support in Parliament; there is little reason to expect things would be different this time around, even if the AAP registers a stronger presence in Parliament. Besides, regional parties will oppose attempts to dilute the prospects of students from their states.

The quota demand sidesteps the real issues afflicting higher education. While, ideally, a university/college should be serving the needs of the local student population—and that would mean a healthy university/college density in a geography—there is great disparity amongst states when it comes to higher education infrastructure. As per AISHE 2017-18 data, there are 903 universities in the country and nearly 40,000 colleges in the country serving 36.6 million students. This problem of inadequate higher education infrastructure is greatly exacerbated by both yawning gaps in quality of education between the institutions and the disparity between states in terms of infrastructure. For instance, while a Bihar has just 7 colleges per lakh of tertiary-education age population, Karnataka and Telangana have 51—against a national average of 28. Central universities thus become a lifeline for students from states like Bihar. Another, perhaps far more important, problem is the difference in the marking standards different boards, including the state boards, follow. In an ideal world, there would have been fair competition between a student from Bihar State Board and a student from Delhi Board, or even a CBSE student for a seat in, say, Delhi University. But, the students from the lenient boards are always at an advantage vis-a-vis the rest with university cut-offs being based on XII marks. Competitive leniency has led to the unhealthy practice of ‘moderation’ amongst boards where evaluation is deliberately made lax. Apart from impacting the quality of educational outcome at colleges, this has also meant cut-offs in a Delhi University remain astronomically high even in the slug overs of the admission season.

The solution lies in developing higher education infrastructure, perhaps with the private sector facilitated in playing a larger role. The AAP would be much wiser, thus, to look at fulfilling a different promise it made to Delhi voters in 2014—of setting up 20 news colleges—instead of demanding 85% quota. At the same time, a nationwide test for college admissions, like the American SAT, should be looked at. A National Testing Agency, which conducts four major national-level entrance exams, could do this easily.

 

 

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