Why the 10% quota may not make sense

In top-ranked higher education institutions, the share of poor general category students already exceeds the proposed 10% reservation, suggests a new study

In January this year, the government announced a new reservation policy granting 10% reservation in government and educational institutions for the economically weaker sections (EWS) of India’s general category population. This landmark policy may have helped the BJP return to power but new research suggests that, at least for educational institutions, the reservation may not be justified.

In the study, published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Bheemeshwar Reddy and others show that general category EWS students are already well-represented in India’s top educational institutions. The authors analyze student data from 445 higher education institutions ranked by the National Institutional Ranking Framework of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). They find that of all the 1.6 million students enrolled in these institutions in 2016-17, 28% (455,000) belonged to the economically backward class. This representation is nearly three times the proposed reservation of 10% - even after using a stricter definition of economic backwardness. The authors highlight that most institutions use a cut-off ranging from 2 lakh to 5.5 lakh household annual income to define economic backwardness. This is far lower than the government’s reservation cut-off of 8 lakh.

Interestingly, the current EWS representation exceeds 10% in both private and public institutions. Private education institutions typically charge higher fees but, despite this, in nearly 70% of private institutions, the authors find that the share of EWS general category students exceeds 10%. Since the analysis is limited to only top-ranked institutions, which generally charge higher fees, the authors argue that the share of EWS general category students would be even higher in non-ranked institutions. Given this, they suggest that the 10% reservation policy is unlikely to be a ‘game-changer’.

Also read: New Reservation Policy - Is It Empirically Justifiable?

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