Affirmative Action in the United States and India: A Comparative Perspective

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

Part II

An empirical analysis of positive discrimination in admissions to higher educational institutions in the US and India

In the second part of this book I focus attention on one of the most important arenas in which affirmative action and reservation policies have been implemented: admissions to higher educational institutions. Preferential admission of students from under-represented ethnic groups1into colleges and universities, like positive discrimination (PD) policies in other spheres, has become an increasingly controversial issue in both the US and India. It is an issue that elicits high passion among both proponents and opponents, and it has given rise to at least as much polemical as scholarly writing, plenty of lively public debates, many demonstrations, and myriad lawsuits.2These are contexts in which a good deal more heat than light tends to be generated. My objective in this part of the book is to show how careful empirical analysis of the consequences of PD policies in higher education can lead to more reasoned evaluation of the overall impact of such policies.

Empirical analysis of any given PD policy must begin with an understanding of the various possible benefits or costs of such a policy. My first task is therefore to adapt the list of claims of beneficial or costly consequences of positive discrimination, generated in Part I and displayed in Tables 3.1 and 3.2, to the sphere of admissions to higher educational institutions. My second-and far more difficult-task is to compile and analyze empirical evidence that will shed light on the magnitudes of the potential positive and negative consequences of PD policies carried out in the concrete historical circumstances of the US and India. I propose to review relevant evidence on the consequences of positive discrimination in admissions to US and Indian universities3as practiced over most of the past four decades in each country.

Until the 1990s there was relatively little empirical evidence available in the US on the consequences of affirmative action in admissions to higher educational institutions. Within the last decade, however, the number and scope of relevant studies has grown significantly. As one would expect from a much wealthier nation, the volume of empirical evidence on positive discrimination in the US is now much larger-and more comprehensive in scope-than in India. Yet over the last three decades in India there has been a slow accretion of evidence on the consequences of reservation policies in admissions to higher educational institutions. I believe that a review of the available

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