Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Quotas and quality

Everytime, the subject of quotas for disadvantaged in education comes up, the refrain is that this will undermine 'quality' or 'excellence' in education. We will end up with engineers who can't design bridges properly and doctors who are no better than quacks. This argument was heard during the OBC quota debate.

I argued at the time that the cut-offs for OBCs- of, say, 98 percentile at the IIMs- would still mean that OBC students who got admission were in the top 2% of an applicant pool of over 200,000. This was very high quality considering that your chances of getting into a top B-school in the US are high if you are in the top 10-15% in an applicant pool of 10,000!

Well, we have the benefit now of having had a chance to see how OBC candidates have done. Outlook reports that they have done pretty well in several places:

Outlook accessed records from a few premier institutes—IIT Kanpur, IIM Ahmedabad and two Delhi-based colleges, Hindu and Lady Shri Ram—to gauge the performance of students. admitted through the OBC quota. And the good news is that all these students have fared rather well—a fact confirmed by teachers in
these institutions.

As with other institutes, IIT Kanpur too had implemented the nine per cent quota in the first phase in 2008. Of the total of 564 students admitted through the joint entrance examination, 63 were from the OBC reserved category. And if the average marks (on a grade point average) for first-year students in the general category in a coveted course like B Tech (Computer Sciences) was 7.92/10, the OBC students were not far behind at 7.2/10.......Things are equally encouraging at IIM Ahmedabad, which admitted 17 OBC students in the reserved category out of a total of 297 candidates . All have moved to the second year, and with mostly ‘A’s and ‘B’s.

So much for the concern about undermining quality through quotas. Let me add: if anything undermines quality, it is the capitation fee racket. And what is the neo-liberal answer to that? Let us have market-determined fees so that what happens underhand is legitimised. The argument is eerily similar to that made for legalising drugs. And the consequences of such legitimisation could be as malign.

One problem with legalising drugs is that it renders drug use respectable and that could stimulate demand further. With market-determined fees, your render the politics of exclusion legitimate. There is no pretence of being apologetic about cutting out a large chunk of the population from higher education.


Astute learner said...

I had kind of expected this to happen. In maharashtra pet/pmt the obc cut-off used to be very close to open category cut-off, so obc reservations didn't really matter. Although I was not sure of what will happen in country-wide scenario. For the IITK-CSE comparision, I am sure the OBC rankers there were doing pretty well in open ranking too, what I am really worried about though is what is happening to the lower OBC rankers who got admitted... how are they doing wrt their open category counter parts?

P K said...


In his latest book, Outliers, Malcolm Galdwell makes a similar point about affirmative action in American schools. He quotes a study where the performance of minorities was sub par in school, but after they graduated, their success and lifestyle were similar to others. In fact, he argues that there is an intelligence threshold, say IQ of 115, and beyond that, the difference is immaterial, and other social and behavioral factors start to play a significant role.

Achintya Nath Sexena said...

The question according to me is not of merit but the question is why should affirmative action in India mean robbing Peter and paying Paul ? Also why is there no compulsion on OBCs and SC/STs to stick to their quota and not take admission through the general category and limit opportunities for general category students ? It is grossly unfair that you can be from SC/ST or OBC category and yet you can enter through General category and then claim the benefit of reservations like full fee waivers and promotion benefits. And those naive people who believe that OBCs (and for that matter SCs and STs) are backward should do some more research. The whole OBC, SC/ST list is full of castes that were always rich and powerful like the Jats, Gujars, Meenas, Yadavs, Kurmis, Rajputs, Sunars etc and it is they who get the benefit while a poor student like me has to pay through my nose not only my tuition fee but also theirs as they do not get to pay any fee even if they are thousand times richer than me and spend thousands in one night on alcohol. What's more, in IITs, reserved category students get more books from the library than general students and even have a separate library for them. What kind of social justice is that ?

Anonymous said...

I think the argument would have been when you can have students who can do well why to have students with lower caliber. Regarding the affirmative action, i think it should be taken on economic status along with the caste. Rarely reserved category students are from poor families. Normally they have the means to pursue other avenues like any other general category students.

Raj said...

Ram, as a Prof, do you believe that only a small difference separates a 7.2 grade from a 7.92 grade?

If your answer is yes (and that would prove that they are almost as smart as the rest) smart), why reduce the cut-off marks for the OBCs at the entry stage?

Anonymous said...

Out of the 200,000 who apply to IIMs, probably about 10,000 are good, serious candidates...of the 10,000 who apply to US B-schools, the number is likely to be around 7 or 8 thousand...so there is not really any difference

Nataraj said...

Hello Sir,

Even in my state, TN, the OBC and General cutoffs are usually pretty close for the undergraduate courses. But there is a provision, wherein an OBC student gets to select reserved seats only if the general category seats are exhausted. for eg. if the topper (Rank 1) happens to be an OBC student, he get a seat from the general (unreserved) category.

But, going through FMS selection process, which has been disclosed of late, I find that the rankings were done category wise.Also, an OBC student irrespective of his marks was alloted only an OBC. This leads to reservation of general seats(50% of total seats) for the general category(about 20% of total population). This defeats the whole purpose of Reservation.

But, I doubt if this can be contested. The B-schools can allot arbit marks in GDPI and force them into taking only OBC seats.