Thursday, April 19, 2007

IIMs and HRD ministry

Admissions to the IIMs this year are proving to be a messy affair. The IIMs had wanted to release the admission list to April 12. Since the matter had gone to the Supreme Court, they moved the date to April 21. The IIMB director was quoted as saying the results would be on out April 21 "come what may". Now, we hear that the IIM directors are to be meet in Delhi on April 20 to take a final decision.

The SC has posted the matter for hearing on April 23. The IIMs say they would like to release the list for the general category on April 21. Based on the what ensues from the hearings in the SC, they will take a decision on the OBC quota later on. They say this will minimise inconvenince and financial loss to students in the general category who will also be having offers from other business schools. But does this mean that students in the OBC category will be subject to inconvenience and financial loss and not those in the general category? After all, that would be the outcome if the general category were released separately from that of the OBC category.

With the HRD ministry appearing to stick to earlier directive to the IIMs to put admissions on hold "until further orders", we seem to be approaching a repeat of the showdown between the IIMs and the ministry during the time of Murli Manohar Joshi.

There was one point about the ministry's petition to the SC that struck me. The ministry argues that the SC had accepted the concept of OBC reservation in the Indra Sawhney case. But in that case, the SC had expressed asked for the exclusion of the "creamy layer". Had the provision for OBC quotas excluded the "creamy layer", the ministry may have been better placed to argue that parliament's actions are consistent with the SC's earlier judgement.

I had a chance to present my views on OBC reservation in IITs and IIMs in a debate organised by the Economic Times

I highlight one of the less publicised facts about IIM admissions. Standards for SC/ST categories are lower than for the rest but they are still pretty high- they are, in fact, comparable to the standards at the best b-schools elsewhere in the world. Indeed, there is a view that, given the quality of talent in the applicant pool for top schools, selection by lottery would be as good as any admission process!
We can expect OBCs to come in somewhere between the general category and the SC/ST category. That would mean a high level of performance. So, I just don't buy the argument that OBC reservation will dilute the famous IIM brand.

But I do believe that reservations should not be there in perpetuity. Then, reservations become a means for certain groups to grab spoils for themselves. Reservation policy for OBCs must include mechanisms that allow the policy to self-destruct once the goals of the reservation have been achieved. As groups graduate out of backwardness, they must cease to be eligible for reservation.

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