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11 Apr 2006

Reservation - Y or N?

Posted by Oblivion in General | 8:32pm

Looking at it cursorily, the concept of reservation doesn't sound commendable to me. IITs and IIMs are, indisputably, among the best in the world, so hiking the reservation to 49.5% does sound insensible at the outset. Further, given my utter lack of faith in the political system in this country, it seems like nothing more to me than a political gamble. Lately though, I began to see that it's not wholly unreasonable a proposition.

The main point of contention is - if the reservation is made to 49.5%, it'd mean 27 students (out of every 100) who stand a chance due to merit would lose it to 27 less meritorious students. As an equation, we have three groups - A, B, and C. As it exists, group A and group B compete for 77.5% and group C competes for the remaining. Now, if group B is given 27%, it'd become: group A - 50.5%, group B - 27%, group C - 22.5%. Group C's quota isn't a problem, for it had been there earlier and it remains unchanged. 

If earlier 77500 students of both groups A and B used to compete for 775 seats, now (77500-group B) students would compete for 505 seats. Assuming the number of group B students is 20000, it comes down to 57500 group A students fighting for 505 seats. So, the selection ratio for group A chaps goes up from 1:100 to 1:114. If we assume group B students are just 10000 instead of 20000, the ratio  would be 1:134. For an average estimate, it stands at 1:124. I doubt if it translates to a huge difference for a bright chap to beat 124 chaps instead of 100. This is, however, off the point, although it makes the proposition appear more reasonable.

Everyone, or at least most people, associates his success to hardwork and merit and the other person's success to luck. It is, to my mind, this belief that makes people averse to reservation and makes them repudiate the finer reasons behind the idea.

The main intent of reservation is to provide equal opportunities for all groups. In a healthy society, all groups are equally successful. Success depends on education. The kind of education one can afford depends on his socioeconomic status. In India, the economic gap between groups is very real, and this gap correlates directly with the socially backward groups.

Children from socioeconomically backward families cannot afford the kind of education that is ideally needed to make it to the premier institutes of higher education. As a result, a chap from such a family cannot ever make it to an IIT or IIM, and so his economic standard would not show much deviation from that of his parents. So, if we eliminate reservation to encourage merit-based selection, the economic gap between groups cannot ever be bridged.

This logic, by itself, is not sufficient to justify the idea of reservation. There are many people who suggest that reservations should be based on economic status rather than groups. Although it sounds quite fair, yet it is flawed. There's a strong correlation between groups and their respective economic standards. There are, of course, poor families in group A and rich families in groups B and C. But, on an average group A is better off at affording good education.

While economic standard is an important criterion, it's not the only decider. There's another equally important factor - aptitude. Group C may match group A in wealth, but it falls severely short as regards aptitude. So, if a chap from a rich group C family and one from a rich group A family compete for an exam with a cut-off meant for a certain IQ level, the group A's chap is more likely to clear the exam than group C's. This is where reservation comes as a great help. If more chaps from group C make it to higher education, the IQ - which is hereditary - of the subsequent generations will show a gradual increase. This, in fact, should be the primary aim for providing reservation. When group C's average IQ meets that of group A's, chaps from both groups can compete equally well. When this happens, reservation becomes redundant. And if at all the decision is for it, it has to be clear about its aims and timeline too.

An economist would be better qualified to estimate the average timeline in which, by providing better opportunities, group C's average IQ can be pushed up to meet that of group A's. I'd think three generations is a sensible and practicable timeline.

It may be asked if it isn't better to enforce reservation at schooling level till pre-university course instead of at graduation and post-graduation levels. The rationale being - it'll help all students to have equally good foundation to compete for higher education, thus making the selection wholly merit-based. Sound logic, but it'll make admissions into schools itself competitive, and competition is not healthy at kindergarten level. So, adopting it for graduation and post-graduation levels happens to be the only good choice.

It's a tough task to subject IITs and IIMs to follow the 49.5-50.5 idea and yet preserve their global standing. This can, however, be achieved if it goes along with stringent guidelines.

1.There have to be three cut-offs for qualifying, group A's being highest and group C's, lowest - without a huge difference between them. Seats against a category should not be filled just for the sake of it. If there are 25 seats reserved for group B and only 22 chaps clear the cut-off, the remaining three seats should be opened up to the students from the immediately higher group.

2.Qualified candidates should be offered admission against the number of seats in the respective category, regardless of the comparative cut-off. If a chap from group B qualifies with a higher cut-off than the topper in group A, the candidate should still be considered only for the number of seats meant for his group. This way, it'd eliminate a chap from group B and open a chance for one in group A. Not a bad trade-off.

3.Considering that some chaps from group B qualify the exam with the cut-off marked for group A, this overlap will actually help more qualified chaps from group A to make it to the course. Let's say X number of group B chaps qualify with group A's cut-off. As a result, the group A chaps would not lose 27 seats (in every 100), but only 27-X seats, for the X number of chaps would be in contention even if there's no reservation.

4.Courses should be associated with minimum IQ levels, which, in turn, should be used to decide upon the cut-off marks. This way we'll have only those students with the necessary minimum aptitude making it to the course.

5.Reservation policy should be adopted only for a certain timeline, practicable enough to effect near-identical IQ levels across groups. After that, it'd be absurd to continue with it.

6.Measures need be taken to close the gap between standards of education at schooling level itself. Else, the gap in aptitude levels of students at graduation and post-graduation levels cannot be closed. This, in turn, will put the performance and reputation of premier institutes in peril.

If government goes ahead with the policy without examining various factors thoroughly (and government is famous for this), it'd prove to be a stupid and ridiculous move. In such a case, it's better to leave out IITs, IIMs, and other such premier institutes from the equation. Else, if government does it with additional measures, it is a move fit for appreciation.

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3 Comments | "Reservation - Y or N?" »

  1. By Vj

    13 Apr 2006, 3:11pm [ Reply ]

    @Cartman: Ya, as you said, 50 per cent does not sound nice to me either. The percentage, to my mind, should be directly proportional to the percentage of the respective group's population. Maybe it's indeed decided that way? I don't know... need to find out figures.

  2. By Vj

    13 Apr 2006, 3:05pm [ Reply ]

    @Cartman: Na, the increase in IQ isn't directly proportional to the prestige of the institute one studies in. Rather, there's a subtle relation here - students belonging to families with good IQ 'tend' to prefer studying in prestigious institutes - and this is a very vital factor. It's a circle.

    As regards scholarships, they only address the factor of economic insufficiency. Scholarships should be open to all students - regardless of his group - depending on their affordability of the expenses. Scholarships help only after one 'gets in' to a course - and this does not make the process of 'competing' any easier for the chaps coming from the lesser privileged groups.

    True, selfishness is a primal factor, so it's neither right nor wrong. It's something innate. Yet, since this is going to be a win-win situation in the long run, it is worth going for even if it means temporary friction in the present.

    Have you read 'Freakonomics'? You may like it. It has some wonderful insights.

  3. By Cartman

    13 Apr 2006, 11:32am [ Reply ]

    does one's IQ build/increase if one gets a higher education from a more prestigous institute ? i totally doubt that......

    Moreover, providing scholarships and being able to bestow the lesser priveledged ppl with means to compete equally with others is the way to go about ....not by giving reservations , certainly not 50 per cent, it's sick !!

    And if all this planning is for an equal future three generations down the line, no one in this generation is gonna be for the proposal, because lets face it, we are all selfish and there's nothing wrong in being selfish u know.

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