"First ensure access to quality elementary education"

Supporting the government's policy of reservation in Central institutions of higher education in the country, a survey has said such an affirmative action will have to continue until the existing inequalities in terms of access to quality elementary education are removed. “The reservation policy compensates these inequalities faced by the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and the Muslim community,” it says.

An analysis of the OBC reservation policy for higher education in India carried out by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) for the National Academy of Sciences, however, impresses upon the government to fulfil its promise to make elementary education available and accessible to all, and improve quality of education in order to provide a level playing field to students from all communities.

Positive impact

Importantly, the study strongly recommends that compulsory universal elementary education and quality secondary education maximise the positive impact of reservation in higher education. “Reservation needs to be effectively implemented and complemented with several other measures — both short-term and long-term — to make it more effective,” the report suggests. Also, large scale privatisation in higher education is diluting the benefits of reservation, thus leaving a large proportion of SC, ST, OBC and Muslim youth at a disadvantage.

Pointing out that there was no conclusive evidence to suggest that the existing reservation has diluted merit or lowered quality of professional education, the report describes reservation to OBC without the creamy layer as an important step forward to make the poor and marginalised among the OBCs and Muslims access quality higher education

According to the report, evidence from Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, States with a strong history of reservation for OBCs in educational institutions, shows that students from the OBC category are as competitive as students from general categories in entrance exams to institutions and final grades.

The nature and quality of elementary and secondary education available to Hindu SCs and STs, Muslims and OBCs in tribal, rural and urban areas undermine the capabilities of the students to compete at these levels, and even if they compete they face serious impediments to compete for seats. Acute lack of access to remedial and coaching for students of these communities makes it difficult for them to compete with those having access to better endowments and opportunities in terms of social background, schooling and access to coaching.

Opportunity counts

“Given improved opportunity to better quality education at the elementary and secondary level will certainly make the children from Dalit, tribal, Muslim and OBC communities compete and gain access to higher education,” the study says.

The study attempts to analyse the OBC reservation policy in State-level institutes and tries to draw inference in the context of 27 per cent reservation for OBCs in higher educational institutes run by the government.

Conducted over a period of six months between January and September 2008, the study compiled and analysed status of enrolment and performance of OBC students as compared to SC, ST and general category students in both professional and non-professional courses from 9 universities across the three States and data collected from TISS, the Indian Institutes of Technology and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.