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

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

10

Reservation policies and enrollments in Indian universities

In this chapter I review evidence available from India pertaining to the impact of its reservation policies (RP) on the student body of higher educational institutions. First I compile data on enrollments in higher education of members of the two primary under-represented ethnic groups (UREGs)-Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). 1 Then I consider the impact of reservation policies on SC and ST enrollment as well as the reasons for the low representation of SC and ST students, despite their access to reserved seats. I go on to explore how reservation policies have affected the relationship between the academic qualifications of reserved-seat and other students. Finally, I examine the oft-raised issue of whether RP beneficiaries represent a socio-economically privileged "creamy layer" of UREG members.


SC and ST enrollments in higher education

Total student enrollment in higher educational institutions in India has been increasing rapidly over the past half-century, from less than 200,000 in 1950 to almost 7 million by the year 2000. 2 During this time the proportionate representation of SC and ST students in total higher educational enrollment has been slowly rising. From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, the SC proportion rose from 7 to 7.8 per cent and the ST proportion rose from 1.6 to 2.7 per cent. 3 These percentage figures should be compared to the corresponding SC and ST shares of the total population of India: roughly 16 and 8 per cent, respectively. 4 Thus, by the end of the century, SC and ST student representation in higher educational institutions had reached roughly one-half and one-third of their representation in the population as a whole.

SC and ST students are distributed quite unevenly across the various degree programs offered at Indian colleges and universities. 5 "Arts" programs (encompassing the humanities and most social sciences) have the lowest prestige, and a Bachelor of Arts degree offers the least favorable job prospects, as compared with degrees in programs such as commerce, science, engineering, law, and medicine. Roughly 40 per cent of all higher education students in India are enrolled in arts programs, but the corresponding figure for SC students is over 60 per cent and for ST students roughly 75 per cent.

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