Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Reservation in higher ed: An academic study

This 2008 paper (pdf), titled Affirmative Action in Education: Evidence From Engineering College Admissions in India, is by Marianne Bertrand (University of Chicago), Rema Hanna (New York University), and Sendhil Mullainathan (Harvard University). Its methodology and key conclusions have been summarized by the authors (along with Sudha Krishnan) in an op-ed in Mint. Here's the abstract (with bold emphasis added by me):

Many countries mandate affirmative action in university admissions for traditionally disadvantaged groups. Little is known about either the efficacy or costs of these programs. This paper examines affirmative action in engineering colleges in India for "lower-caste" groups. We find that it successfully targets the financially disadvantaged: the marginal upper-caste applicant comes from a more advantaged background than the marginal lower-caste applicant who displaces him. Despite much lower entrance exam scores, the marginal lower-caste entrant does benefit: we find a strong, positive economic return to admission. These findings contradict common arguments against affirmative action: that it is only relevant for richer lower-caste members, or that those who are admitted are too unprepared to benefit from the education. However, these benefits come at a cost. Our point estimates suggest that the marginal upper-caste entrant enjoys nearly twice the earnings level gain as the marginal lower-caste entrant. This finding illustrates the program's redistributive nature: it benefits the poor, but costs resources in absolute terms. One reason for this lower level gain is that a smaller fraction of lower-caste admits end up employed in engineering or advanced technical jobs. Finally, we find no evidence that the marginal upper-caste applicant who is rejected due to the policy ends up with more negative attitudes towards lower castes or towards affirmative action programs. On the other hand, there is some weak evidence that the marginal lower-caste admits become stronger supporters of affirmative action programs.

The "one Indian state" which provided the data on its engineering students is unspecified; but it clearly had OBC reservation for its engineering colleges in 1996. Not only that, we also know this about the state:

In the state-year we study, a total of 2,643 seats were available, with 2,054 seats open to the reservations policy; the remainder were payment seats not covered by the policy. The quotas were determined by the distribution of castes in the state: there was a 16 percent reservation for the Scheduled Castes, a 21 percent reservation for the Scheduled Tribes, and a 14 percent reservation for the Other Backward Castes, for a total of 51 percent of seats reserved.< /p>

Okay, here's my bleg: Which state might this be? When did this state start implementing OBC reservation?

* * *

Update: Swarup has posted links to (and the abstracts of) two papers by Nishith Prakash of the University of Houston; one of them examines the role of political reservation (in the form of electoral constituencies that are reserved for SC and ST) in reducing poverty, and the other is on how effective SC/ST reservation in (public sector) jobs has been in benefiting the intended beneficiaries. Both look interesting, but I haven't had a chance to go through them (the technical details appear forbidding!). Here's Prakash's website, where he has listed several other papers on affirmative action policies in India.


  1. kuffir said...


  2. Anonymous said...

    Hm, I think you missed a potentially
    important statement from the summary.

    "Overall, affirmative action is a redistributive policy: It benefits those who enter university due to the reservations, but the economic losses incurred by the general caste are slightly larger than the gains for the disadvantaged groups.


    The final question then becomes: What happens to those in the general caste who lost a seat due to affirmative action? Is there a social cost, i.e., are the losses incurred by the general caste larger than the gains of the traditionally disadvantaged groups? We find that there is indeed a social loss: Attending engineering colleges increases the monthly income of the upper-caste members by around Rs5,000 more than it increases the monthly income of the lower-caste members."

    I think that this paper presents a strong case for reservation based on economic status and not caste, to better redistribute the wealth.

  3. Pratik . said...

    When I appeared for the state joint entrance examination (1999), Orissa had OBC reservations. And I think Tamil Nadu had OBC and MBC reservations long back as well.

    So, a large number of states had reservations, but probably only one provided/were sought to provide the data. Kuffir says Gujarat, but from the numbers stated here, it might well be Orissa.

    Before the proliferation of private engineering colleges started sometimes in 1998-2000, Orissa had very few engineering colleges. REC Rourkela was one (those days, i.e. mid 90s, 200 students came to REC from within the state). Amongst govt run engineering colleges, there was UCE Burla with about 300 seats, CET in Bhubaneswar with around 350 seats, IGIT Sarang with around 250 seats and ITT choudwar (for textile engg) with around 50 seats. Then again there were 3-4 private colleges like Orissa Engg College, NIST etc which had about 300 seats each.

    Before the sudden proliferation of private colleges, there used to be around 3000 rank holders in the state engg exams.

    So, I think a figure of 2,054 seats open to reservation and 2643 seats might point to Orissa. All seats in the govt colleges are open to reservation policy, i.e. nearly 1100 seats inside the state and around 150 seats in other RECs. A significant fraction of seats in private colleges fall in payment category, where reservations dont apply.

    The only thing that doesnt match is, I think Orissa has around 49% reservations and not 51.


    If the state is Orissa, then the data will be probably a bit biased, since Orissa has a bit higher percentage of SC/ST/OBCs.


    The part of abstract you have quoted looked interesting; so I started reading the paper you linked too. Some nuggets from the paper that are not highlighted in the part you quoted (bold emphasis is mine):

    "Furthermore, our results for broad caste groups mask some underlying heterogeneity in which subgroups benefit. Specifically, in the lower-caste group, it is those from higher socio-economic backgrounds that appear to derive positive returns. This suggests that while lower-caste members do benefit from the policy, it is the economically better-off among them who benefit the most."

    "Second, we excluded the ST category
    from the analysis as most of the ST applicants gained admission to the engineering colleges. For example, if we
    look at the bottom third of the test-score distribution for ST, 17 percent actually enrolled, which implies that many
    more were actually admitted; in comparison, there is a 0 percent enrollment rate in the bottom third of the test-score
    distributions for all the other caste groups.

    "In total, we searched for 1,292 households across the three caste categories in the first wave of surveying ... a second wave of surveys was conducted in the next four more populous cities in terms of number of applicants. The research samples were
    constructed using the same methodology as for the four more populous cities. In this second wave of surveying, we
    searched for an additional 692 households. Therefore, in total, we searched for 1,984 households."

    "we find that the policy appears to hurt female applicants."


    There are lot of other interesting points, but this comment has already gone on too long.

  4. Bruno said...

    SC - 7
    ST - 15
    OBC - 27


    SC - 15
    ST - 7.5
    OBC - 27

    Madhya Pradesh

    SC - 16
    ST - 20
    OBC - 14

    SC - 15
    ST - 18
    OBC - 14

    May be Madhya Pradesh

  5. ada-paavi!!!! said...

    reservation the article and paper claims also is biased towards men.

    abi, it would have been better if youd taken the trouble to read the summary and paper carefully. while the paper claims reservations benefits the lower caste economically disadvantage, it also goes on to add that this comes at a loss to the upper caste economically disadvantaged. this as anti reservation activists would tell you is tantmount ot reverse discrimination.
    read the conclusion, introduction and piece carefully sire

  6. ravi srinivas said...

    Reservation has a social cost.It is not an unmixed 'blessing'. But if we want to minimise the losses
    groups incur and maximise the benefits for those who face discrimination we have to bring in
    gender and economic condition as other factors.The first commission on OBCS included women in OBCS.
    But those who cry for reservations
    want it for castes only.Because if we include women, women from non-OBC castes will benefit.That is why I argue that those argue only for caste based reservations are
    male chavunists in disguise even if this includes 'feminsits' who
    wont speak for women but only for
    OB castes.

  7. Anonymous said...

    The state was Madhya Pradesh. (I know, as I am acquainted with the authors.)