India needs to allow reservation, not red tape

Subhash Kak
Subhash KakSep 20, 2015 | 00:14

India needs to allow reservation, not red tape

Hardik Patel has touched upon a raw nerve in Gujarat. He had nearly half a million attend his rally in Surat. He wants to go national with the grievance related to admission in schools and colleges. He wants the OBC status for the Patidar community.

There are stories going around that a student with 90 per cent in the examinations has not got into a college whereas some other student in the reserved category has been admitted with only 50 per cent marks. If true, this is unacceptable and no wonder people are outraged.


What is the government to do? The maximum that the OBCs are allowed under the present reservation regime is 50 per cent. If powerful communities like the Patidars are given the OBC status, the currently listed communities will have their share reduced in the current zero-sum game. This could lead to the next round of protests. On the other hand, if the OBC quota is increased, then the general quota will shrink to an unacceptable level.

If one thinks outside of the box, one can see a simple solution to this seemingly insoluble problem. One doesn’t even have to do original, creative thought to arrive at this solution for this is how the United States, another diverse country, has dealt with similar demands.

The public universities in the US have an open admission policy for most programs including computer science and engineering. The exceptions are the law and the medical programmes that require students to take a national entrance examination with universities picking different cut-off points for admission. Once admitted, the students are expected to pass the specified sequence of courses. In other words, admission doesn’t imply graduation.

The Indian education bureaucrat will shudder at the thought of open admission in engineering. Unlike India, American universities do not have fixed number of slots for specific programmes. I remember in the late 1990s, during the IT bubble days, at one time 95 per cent of the freshman class at MIT picked electrical engineering and computer science.


The Indian system has problems because it is driven by outdated bureaucratic ideas. Its devotion to some imagined perfection is what takes it away from reasonable, commonsense solutions. College intakes in different programmes are set in stone, based on some ideal student-faculty ratio, without any elasticity built in to deal with the demand. This is done for the convenience of the bureaucrats and not as effective policy. We need less government control but better governance that requires oversight.

An open admission policy does not mean that any college should be able to admit all the students that apply. However, the intake should be correlated with the demand as it changes from year to year and the government college system should ensure that no one with a good record is denied admission. An open admission policy means that students will be admitted to some college, not necessarily the college of the student’s choice, in the state.

The Indian bureaucrat will say but won’t we then have too many engineers or computer scientists? They will be fearful that the standards will go down.

The market place will deal with the first problem and very soon some kind of equilibrium will be reached regarding demand. It is true that oversight will be needed to ensure that the college teaching and students’ performance are held to some minimum standards. Minimum standards can also be ensured by a national certification examination at the end of the studies.

Last updated: September 20, 2015 | 00:14
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