Debating India


Quota question

Monday 5 June 2006

The reality of this government’s brave new world of higher education, as reported this by this newspaper yesterday, should give pause to even those who have argued that 27 per cent additional reservation is a blow for social justice. Take the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, a seriously world class institution that attracts global scientific talent and which figures in Arjun Singh’s 100-plus list. Will the TIFR now have to desperately try and fill up its quota, restructure its cost structure and deal with UGC bureaucrats, now vested with greater discretionary powers? Most probably. In that case, what will happen to its real agenda: the search for and nurturing of those with exceptional aptitude in some of the most abstruse branches of science? Even Arjun Singh should hesitate to answer that things will be exactly as before.

And the cabinet that Arjun Singh belongs to must scrutinize his proposed implementation plan of the 27 per cent quota with the knowledge that on them lies the responsibility of not encouraging institutional sabotage in the name of egalitarianism. Singh has slipped in dozens more institutions, including those that receive no government aid, under the excuse that their status as deemed universities- a status that the UGC confers- makes them ready for direct government interference. This is bad faith of the worst kind, especially since it was never officially indicated that the extra quota was going to apply to institutions that are all but private. For these and other institutions, Singh’s dictum that admissions must be fair and transparent could very possibly mean a debilitating loss of academic freedom. The power arrogated to education bureaucrats to check for compliance and impose penalties for deviations, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the licence-permit raj.

Clearly, Singh has decided that the 27 per cent quota policy is going to be his answer to liberal policymaking. The space for liberal policymaking has been won after a long political fight that saw intelligent leaders of both the national parties realize that quality and efficiency, in most fields, cannot simply be mandated by fiat. Should a politician whose personal ambitions far exceeds his political support base be allowed to so seriously challenge that?

See online : The Indian Express

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