The private Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) in Pune interviewed some 300 candidates on Sunday for 13 seats set aside for other backward classes (OBCs), even as the fate of OBC aspirants in public colleges remains uncertain.
The business school’s voluntary affirmative action programme, which begins with the academic year next month, reflects a slow but significant trend in a handful of private colleges across India. While some are basing their quotas on caste, others are targeting poor students and offering fee waivers or discounts.
SIBMs’ 13 OBC seats represent under 7% of its class of 193—far below the 27% quota (for OBCs) the Union government is trying to implement in publicly funded institutions. The Centre has been fighting a Supreme Court order that put a stay on that quota, arguing that such reservations are needed for OBCs to gain access to historically denied education and opportunity. Private colleges, such as Symbiosis say this sentiment is fuelling their affirmative action programmes as well, but many also say it is only a matter of time before the government turns its attention to mandating reservations in the private sector—including education.
In a speech delivered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before business leaders on Thursday, he asked them to be more proactive in recruiting workers from underprivileged backgrounds.
“There is a social responsibility,” said Arun Mudbiri, director of SIBM. Mudbiri said the ideas came from the school’s founder and owner, S.B. Mujumdar, who runs 33 educational institutions across Maharashtra under the Symbiosis International University (SIU). Mujumdar said the quota, which was being implemented across SIU, would save the country from a “demographic disaster.”
People belonging to OBCs, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes account for 50% of the population, he added, and there was no possibility of India benefiting from “demographic dividend” (economic benefits arising from having a young working population) if young people were denied the opportunity to “learn and earn”.
Maharashtra government officials also have tried to extend quotas to some state colleges. Only 7% of India’s population makes it to higher education institutes, whether funded by taxpayers or privately.
Private colleges say they are keen to prevent any legislation which forces them to reserve seats, and have fought legal battles on this front.
“We want affirmative action to be voluntary, and not forced,” said Praveen Puri, director of studies of the Skyline Business School in Delhi. Skyline has introduced a 50% fee waiver for 15 poor students in a class of 120 for the academic year which starts June. His business school charges an annual tuition fee of Rs1.5 lakh.
Most private colleges–Symbiosis is an exception–prefer economic criteria to be a basis of affirmative action.
WLC College India, formerly known as Wigan & Leigh India, which offers courses in business, and fashion design and other creative fields, has embarked on a countrywide advertising campaign announcing a complete fee waiver on 15% of its total seats for poor students. This translates into 550 seats in its campuses located in 12 cities, including the four major metros. “It means a revenue loss of Rs5-6 crore,” said Vinay Pasricha, chairman of the college which charges a fee of Rs1-1.2 lakh per course. “The campaign has drawn a huge response.”
The quota-based affirmative action being practised by these colleges is significant as the private sector in India, whether in education or jobs, has long resisted any quotas for the underprivileged. Industry groups generally have said they prefer a voluntary affirmative action programme.
Privately owned colleges escaped caste-based seat reservations when the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of P.A. Inamdar versus State of Maharashtra, in 2005 that the government cannot force its seat reservation policy on private, unaided colleges, including colleges that award professional degrees. The court was dealing with more than 100 petitions filed by individual colleges against the Centre and Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
“Any voluntary reservation is surprising as these seats are very lucrative,” said Raghavendra Srivatsa, a lawyer who practises in the Supreme Court and represents anti-quota student groups. Central colleges such as the Indian Institutes of Management, the Indian Institutes of Technology and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences reserve 22.5% seats for scheduled castes and tribes.
The government, led by pro-quota human resources and development minister Arjun Singh, who oversees education, recently introduced the 93rd amendment to the Constitution which allows it to legally reserve seats for socially backward people in educational institutions.
Earlier reservations were through executive or government orders. This amendment, and the fresh quotas for OBCs arising from this amendment, have been challenged in court by student groups from Central colleges. If the government wins, officials say their next goal is to legally bind private colleges with seat quotas.
(PTI contributed to this story.)