On Backwardness And Fair Access To Higher Education In India: Some Results From Nss 55th Round Surveys 1999-2000
Against the backdrop of policy of reservation of seats in Higher Education for the Other Backward Castes in India, this paper examines two inter-related yet distinct issues: (i) the use of economic criteria for assessing the backwardness of different social groups and (ii) assessment of fairness of access to higher education of an identified “backward” social group. On an analysis of the NSS 55th Round Surveys for 1999-2000 we show that on a range of economic criteria there is a clear hierarchy across (essentially) caste-based social groups with the Scheduled Castes (in Urban India) and the Scheduled Tribes (in Rural India) at the bottom, the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in the middle and the non-SC/ST Others at the top. However, for the poor among them, there is more of a continuum across caste-groups with surprisingly small differences between the OBCs and the non-SC/ST Others. On the issue of fair access to higher education, it is argued that the extent of under-(or over-) representation of a social group can only be judged by a comparison of a social group’s share in enrollments in a given level of education with its share in the population eligible for entry into that level of education. And it is shown that for the OBCs as a group, and especially for over 70 percent of them who are above the poverty line, the extent of under-representation of the OBCs in enrollments at the under-graduate and post-graduate levels is less than 5 percent. We conclude, therefore, that a 27 percent quota for the OBCs, which would effectively raise their share in enrollments to over 50 percent when their share in the eligible population is 30 percent or less, is totally unjustified.
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