A panel set up by the Joint Admission Board has recommended reservation for girl students in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to address the issue of decline in the number of female candidates entering the premier engineering institutes.
The panel, under the chairmanship of professor Timothy Gonsalves, has suggested the creation of up to 20 per cent supernumerary (surplus) seats for girls out of the total number.
The number of seats for male candidates will not be affected and this will help IITs achieve the one lakh target by 2020. Also, only candidates who have already qualified in JEE-Advanced will be considered.
The idea of reservation for girls in IITs is a profoundly progressive one and needs to be urgently and sincerely brought to fruition for multiple reasons.
Unacceptable level of disparity
IITs have abysmally low number of girl students. In 2015, of the 9,974 students allocated undergraduate seats in the first joint allocation process, only 900 were girls (a poor nine per cent of the total intake).
|IITs have abysmally low number of girl students. (Photo: IIT Gandhinagar/Facebook)|
The number of girls entering IITs has remained below 10 per cent for many years now. This extreme gender disparity is disappointing for any progressive institute that promotes causes of equality and distributive justice.
Women are not any less capable to be in these institutes and the lack of their presence in IITs only indicates the failure to be more inclusive and equal towards girls.
Thus, the prevailing disparity calls for some form of urgent affirmative action. While reservation is one of the main forms of affirmative action India has adopted to deal with socio-economic inequalities, it's only natural that gender disparity should also be addressed through this instrument.
Living up to image of role models
The craze for IITs in Indian society and the respect their students command (regarded as role models) make the move even more desirable.
|IITs have been envisioned as institutions of excellence.|
IITs can't command the same respect unless they overcome this gender disparity. In fact, they can lead by example and provide a model for other institutes to emulate and redress gender inequality.
Diversity and enduring excellence
IITs have been envisioned as institutions of excellence which could be India's response to global giants like Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But to meaningfully attain excellence, diversity is critical.
The importance of gender diversity can hardly be overstated. It’s linked with increasing competitiveness and innovation. Simply put, if half our population is excluded from any institution, it is losing a lot of potential.
Creating more seats for women will also help lessen the feeling of isolation that many women suffer at IIT campuses for being in such hopeless minority.
Women education and empowerment
Engineering is a preferred higher education choice and adequate presence of women in premier institutes like IITs will only encourage parents to take the career of their girls more seriously, thereby changing the attitude that the society takes to a girl’s education.
Secondly, the move will also address the problem of inadequate presence of women in corporate settings as a significant portion of the recruits are from IITs. Thus, the move will also meaningfully take forward the cause of women empowerment and gender equality at workplace.
Thirdly, it will go a long way in addressing stereotypes like girls are not good at science and math. More representation in IITs will provide a bigger platform for many brighter minds among girls to prove their technological excellence.
The argument becomes stronger if we take into account that institutions like JNU and IIMs too are working proactively to address the existing gender disparity.
Two decades ago, the MIT faced a similar problem of fewer women joining the institute. Considered one of the top science schools, it saw far more men than women apply to enter the MIT every year. But the gap has considerably reduced now after two decades of sustained efforts. Today, the MIT student population is almost 50 per cent women.
Hopefully, the IITs too will embark on a similar route to ensure gender equality on and off their campuses.