ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Backwardness and Fair Access to Higher Education

Against the backdrop of the policy of reservation of seats in higher education for the Other Backward Classes 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 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. It is also shown that for the OBCs as a group, and especially for over 70 per cent of them who are above the poverty line, the extent of their under-representation in enrolments at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels is less than 5 per cent. Therefore, a 27 per cent quota for the OBCs, which would effectively raise their share in enrolments to over 50 per cent when their share in the eligible population is 30 per cent or less, is totally unjustified.

On Backwardness and Fair Access to Higher Education

Results from NSS 55th Round Surveys, 1999-2000

Against the backdrop of the policy of reservation of seats in higher education for the Other Backward Classes 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 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. It is also shown that for the OBCs as a group, and especially for over 70 per cent of them who are above the poverty line, the extent of their under-representation in enrolments at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels is less than 5 per cent. Therefore, a 27 per cent quota for the OBCs, which would effectively raise their share in enrolments to over 50 per cent when their share in the eligible population is 30 per cent or less, is totally unjustified.

K SUNDARAM

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