Reservation in Education- Affirmative action must be coupled with a responsible approach: Sushma Berlia

The Human Resource Development Minister has mooted the proposed to add 27 per cent reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) to the existing 22.5-per cent reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the IITs, Indian Institutes of Management, All the Central Universities and other institutes managed by the Central government.

Ms Sushma Berlia, President- ASERF, President- PHDCCI & Vice President- Apeejay Education Society says: "Looking at the current status of some of the backward groups in this country, affirmative action is indeed required. However, any affirmative action without responsible approach is loaded with long-term repercussion. The action must take into account school education and then subsequently, higher and professional education".

She further states: "As far as schooling up to the age of 14 years is concerned, the basic principle of education for all has been recognized. Keeping this in mind, the question of reservations ceases to make any sense. There has been some talk of reservations in the private sector institutions and schools. However, this is tantamount in saying that the government is unable to provide quality education through its own current and proposed schools. If this is a task taken on effect, then the answer lies in the encouragement of private schools to ensure a sufficient supply of schools which will take care of the needs of education for all as guaranteed by the constitution of India. In this context, the Government will no longer be spending on setting up and running the Government institutions. The surplus funds can be effectively deployed in financing the education of all the children who may not be able to afford the fees of the private institutions. In this case, it is worthwhile, to look at the voucher scheme where by the expenditure of education reimbursed by the Government is student based rather than institution based, whether the institution is government or private".

While speaking on reservations in Higher Education and Professional Institutions, Mrs. Berlia adds: "The most important issue, i.e. of increasing the number of seats has somehow been sidelined. This will ensure that the demographic liability becomes the demographic dividend. Equally while following affirmative action, principles of excellence cannot be ignored in the operation and growth of our educational institutions. Keeping this in mind there are many ways of affirmative action keeping in view the objectives".

Reservations become even more detrimental for those who are not admitted on comparative merit in professional education. We are, in a sense programming them for failure. It would be more laudable to spend the same in bringing them up to the competitive merit by focusing on their education during the schooling years. Affirmative action up till graduation level is okay but not at Post Graduation and Research level.

It is also critical to remember the interest of the consumers of the professional category of students who would be responsible for the goods and services being produced in the economy. In such an event, we must think that these consumers also include people of the backward class, and all consumers deserve the best. What would actually happen is that the, meritorious professionals will always be in demand and therefore will be taken by those who can afford and therefore others would have to be accepted by those who cannot.

It is often argued that less meritorious students get admission by paying donations. In fact, this also needs to be steamed by increasing the supply of institutions so that the premium which is being demanded for admissions, essentially due to gap between demand and supply as it was in other sectors of the economy in pre-liberalization era does not exist. A regulatory body like SEBI operating in the capital market would ensure that the student's interest is protected. The biggest hindrance for merit is the proliferation of professional coaching institutions. Without making any expenses in terms of infrastructure or quality or delivery on the one hand and by charging higher fee, these institutes benefit the most. The benefit of reservations should not be multiple. Every individual should have the benefit once in his or her lifetime. To be more specific only one generation should get the benefit of reservation and only at any one stage.

On the issues of Financing, Mrs. Berlia feels that: "Institutions have to meet their costs. There should be some mechanism to recover or compensate the cost incurred on those students who belong to the weaker section (reserved category). The state should come forward to take the burden or the institution should be allowed to raise the fees of the general category. Provision of soft loans for all the needy meritorious students (including the backward classes) who get admissions in premier institutions to repay the amount after getting appropriate job is a viable option.

One way of affirmative action is the involvement of the corporate sector in providing training to individuals for gainful/self employment. In this process it is pertinent that the policy makers, corporate sector, industry and all the stake holders sit together and develop a comprehensive policy on Vocational Education and Training, which is long over due. Adoption of ITI's by the corporates is a laudable initiative but it is inadequate to meet the requirements of the growing demand i.e. on the one side to meet the employment need and also the requirement of the skilled and semi skilled work force.

It is true that the Government has taken many initiatives; also there are various innovative Models at the center and state level. The available models need to be pooled and discussed openly with the industry to make it viable. A joint Task force needs to be constituted to sphere head this process. It is also suggested that one Vocational Education Training centre is opened in each district in partnership with the private sector to provide meaningful and relevant training and skill. Some initiative has already been taken in this direction but the need is to speed up the process".