If 43% of all Indian households that have at least one graduate in them are OBCs, based on PRICE’s 2015-16 all-India survey, does this mean reservations are working—after all, the same data shows that 43% of all households in the country are also OBCs? And does it mean SCs are getting the short shrift despite SC reservation being much older than that for OBCs—while 23% of all households in the country are SCs, only 18% of households that have at least one graduate are SCs. An article by Rakesh Basant of IIM, Ahmedabad—in Mint—points out that this is the wrong metric; since you can get into college only after you have passed out of school, Basant says, “measures of participation should also consider the segment that has crossed the threshold of higher secondary education and is thus eligible to go to college”; Basant’s article draws upon research done along with Gitanjali Sen of Shiv Nadar University. Since only 19% of all households who have at least one person who has passed out of school are SCs, the 18% number for graduates suggests the solution lies in setting up more schools to ensure more SCs complete their schooling. As Basant puts it, “the supply of schools positively affects the participation of various groups in higher education … therefore policy needs to focus on the factors relating to school education that adversely affect the completion of schooling”.
More interesting, Basant/Sen say “parent’s education is found to be highly correlated to children’s participation in higher education”. In other words, more than the reservation policy itself, the chances of going to college increase if at least one parent is educated, preferably at the college level. Thus, a more effective reservations policy should focus on increasing completion of school—this means more access to schools, tuition and financial support, for instance. If it is true that children of parents who have finished school/college are more likely to go to college—the reservation then helps them get into a better college—then a more effective reservations policy will be one that is based on the parents’ education; children of OBCs who have not gone to school will get top preference, and then those who have not gone to college. The policy, as Basant points out, also has the advantage of being self-limiting since only one generation can benefit from it.