Ahead of the 2019 elections, the government has pushed a 10 percent quota Bill through the Rajya Sabha in record time, which is likely to have a big impact on the country’s higher education system. The Bill received presidential assent to come into law on Saturday.
However, if it comes into effect, 10 percent of seats in higher education institutions are likely to be reserved for ‘economically weaker’ students, over and above the 50 percent that is already reserved for the SC/STs and OBCs. This will be mandated at all universities and educational institutes that are recognised by the University Grants Commission, whether government-run or privately-owned.
Reports say the ministry is working out the number of seats that need to be increased at these institutes to accommodate an additional quota, so as not to disturb the current batch intake. While there is little clarity on the exact nature of this process, experts estimate that about 10 lakh seats will have to be added across the country, including those at the IITs, IIMs and central universities.
“Education should be available to all, and your financial background should definitely not be in the way of opportunity,” says Ashok Wadia, principal, Jai Hind College, a leading college affiliated to the University of Mumbai. “However, the implementation of such a quota will become key to how it impacts education. Currently, there are many course areas in which demand outstrips supply, but the exact opposite is also true. If there’s a blanket increase, it would only lead to more vacancies.”
Wadia adds that while such reservation could help students gain admission, it may not help them earn their degree. “Scholarships that offer full cover might be a better option, because often students drop out because they can’t afford the costs of a course,” he says.
For R Venkata Rao, vice chancellor of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru, the question should not arise. “I’ll be most surprised if the Bill is able to withstand judicial scrutiny. It alters the basic structure of the constitution and I don’t think it will be able to pass legal filters,” he says.