Under-Representation of Disadvantaged Classes in Colleges: What Do the Data Tell Us?
Economic and Political Weekly (of India), September 2, 2006
Posted: 3 Sep 2009 Last revised: 31 Jul 2015
Date Written: September 2, 2006
Analysis of Indian NSS data reveal the following: (i) Scheduled castes and tribes, other backward classes and Muslims are seriously under-represented in India’s colleges relative to their population shares. (ii) This can be mostly explained by their low higher secondary school completion rates. Thus, the primary distortions creating unequal representation in college lie at lower rungs of the education ladder. Attention to the quality of basic education, not college reservation, would therefore be the economically “first-best” response to the problem. (iii) Controlling for higher secondary completion, economic status is a better predictor of college attendance than social identity in urban India. Programmes to encourage equitable access to urban colleges could therefore consider targeting on the basis of economic status rather than identity. (iv) Compared to their 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent reservations, scheduled castes and tribes comprise only 10.2 per cent and 3.9 per cent of the college availing population. This draws attention to the implementation of existing reservations. Overall, these results emphasise the unequal representation of groups in college and urge policy-makers to seriously consider ways of making the basic education system better serve marginalised groups. They also highlight the importance of selecting policy instruments based on a clinical analysis of the data.
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