Class conflict

Updated: Mar 30 2007, 05:30am hrs
The Supreme Court stay order on the 27% reservation for other backward classes in higher education institutions should come as no surprise to those who championed the new rule. Politicians bludgeoned the change through, ignoring, among other things, questions about the validity of the data on which social quotas were being fixed. To say that affirmative action is necessary is not the same as saying an out-of-date census can be a basis for new legislation. The fallout of the Court decision is likely to be a lot of bickering. Can we, instead, have an agreementthat Indias higher education, even after the first steps at increasing supply that the Moily committee operationalised, is in a desperate state, and demand far outstrips quality supply by a woeful margin

Indias gross enrolment ratio in higher educationratio of students to the total number in the particular age groupis one of the lowest in the world. Numbers for 2004 show that those enrolled in higher educational institutions in India, a total of over 10 million, make up only about one-tenth of the total Indian population in that age group. That is less than half of the global average and sizeably less than the 60% share in the US and 82% in the UK. Social discrimination in higher education is also highlighted by the scandalously lower enrolment of the female child in India (9%), as compared to a high of 96% in the UK. But look at the supply side of the story, and the core of the problem makes itself apparent. Despite such low enrolment numbers, given the population size, an above-average Indian student finds it difficult, sometimes impossible, to secure admission in any higher education institution of repute. He or she has to settle for one of the many low-quality suppliers of education. A recent McKinsey study says that only about 25% of Indian engineers, 15% of accounting and finance professionals and 10% of those with general degrees are actually employable. And the results are beginning to show, with one sector after another facing problems in recruiting qualified workers. Thats the true crisis in Indias education sector.