Monday, April 10, 2006

Reservations and limited opportunities

No, I am not persuaded by arguments against reservation that use 'merit' as their main plank. By definition, reservation provides an advantage to a favoured group only at the entry point. There's no further advantage as that groups makes its way through the academic system. Thus, I wouldn't worry at all about whether our bridges are designed by engineers who got in through reservation. If at all I worry about such things when I drive, it would be about bridges that are (a) designed by those receiving poor training in our lesser institutions, or (b) constructed by corrupt people that collude with other corrupt people in our public works departments.

I see reservation as our society's (admittedly clumsy) attempt to ensure that some of its disadvantaged members get at least some of the available opportunities. Much of the heat and fury over reservation arises essentially because these (education and employment) opportunities are scarce -- notwithstanding the 'India Shining' and 'Rising India' slogans. As opportunities expand, arguments against reservation would also lose their sting.

So, if you don't like reservation, direct your ire in a way that would create lots of new opportunities. Ask for more IITs, for example. Better yet, ask for real universities (not the hub-and-spoke variety that's all pervasive in our country), where you can get a well-rounded *and* high quality education.

* * *

It is also instructive to see how IITs have coped with the the existing policy of reservation for SC/ST students:

The web site of one of the IITs points out that 'as the seats for the SC/ST students are often unfilled because adequate number of students do not qualify JEE with relaxed norms, a further relaxation of JEE norm is made to select students for a one year Preparatory Course.' [Source: Ram Kelkar's column]

While we are on the topic of the 'Preparatory Course', take a look at this article (from 2000).


  1. Anonymous said...

    Abi: Have been visiting this site more often than usual over the past couple of days to see what you think. The debate on the blogosphere(if it can be called that) is completely one-sided that it is refreshing to see a different(though not surprising) viewpoint.

    Like you, I don't buy the merit argument and I agree that the solution would be to ask for more such institutions. But don't you think that until that happens, reservations in these institutions doesn't make sense? Consider the numbers we are talking about here - out of 2000 aspirants, maybe 20 deserve to get in. But only one will end up making it and it is doubtful how much the person who gets in is incrementally better than the other 19. All BC reservation will do in this case is that it will ensure that the BC among the deserving 20 gets in (and that is one of the reasons I do not buy the merit argument). But if you are indeed able to make it to that Top 20, you are probably one of those socially and economically forward lower caste junta who shouldn't be using reservations in the first place. Which needless to say defeats the purpose of reservations. Or am I missing something here?

  2. Anonymous said...

    If the Govt is keen in uplifting the poor,let them identify students of economically backward families (not caste) right in their schools and offer them special free coaching/preparatory courses to enable them to get into IIT and IIM's. On the other hand ,reservations based on caste is sure to divide the country.

  3. Anonymous said...

    I am certainly for reservations. After all,if we stick to std practices, we are just reinforcing the existing caste structure. But there must be some care about numbers. Our politicians go the "allot and forget" way.

    IITs have certainly done a shoddy job of handling the existing 22.5% reservation. The problem is that almost none of the MPs were aware of this procedure till somone 'exposed' it. Though the procedure followed flaunts with constitutional commitment of having 22.5% SC/STs on roll, I think the basic intent of having a one year prep course must be appreciated. Like it or not, it is tough to draw substantial benefit from the system unless u r reasonably prepared (apart from being 'abled'). Given the way the system works, it would be extremely tough for a student who gets through reservation to compete with those from more affluent backgrounds (to give an idea abt JEE, the 40/50th rank in SC/ST categ would be outside 4000 mark in gen categ). Some of these students often get into a shell and become wrecks. This brings me to my central point... Just by enabling easy entry, nothing much is achieved. By having things like 50% reservation, this divide in the student population is just going to increase. Does this help anybody??

    And Abi,
    I am not sure if I am convinced by : "So, if you don't like reservation, direct your ire in a way that would create lots of new opportunities. Ask for more IITs, for example"
    One thing that always comes up from the anti-reservation side is "Go and change the primary and secondary education system". Your argument sounds more like that. Both, 'improving primary/sec education' and having 'enough quality colleges' are distant dreams as we stand today. And obviously, all of us want to get there. But, we do need norms before we get there. It is those norms that we are discussing. Is my analogy wrong?

  4. Anonymous said...

    Also, that article from contains blatantly false generalisations. The author talks of

    " dirty looks from caste-hindu students for the 'lower cut-off mark"

    This is plain OFFENSIVE. WE DONT DO SUCH THINGS. Such intemperate talk(from either side) does not help one wee bit.

  5. Anonymous said...

    Dear Abi, I was happy to see your reasoned reaction to the reservation debate, a debate that is already getting pretty hysterical on the TV news channels.

    I think there is at least one distinct difference between the debate today and the debate at the time of the V.P. Singh government. And this is the alacrity with which big business has stepped in on the side of those against reservation in the IITs and IIMs and all those in the `premier' institute lists. There are some interesting aspects to their reaction.

    i) What I've seen of it is incredibly unoriginal and second-hand. Like Mr. Bajaj, repeating well-known arguments like it is all the politicians doing and why doesn't the government do something about the really important things like quality education in schools etc. (How about being prepared to pay the taxes that are needed to get this done?)

    ii)All these gentlemen have also been going on at length over the last few years about the need for greater private participation in developing the education sector. Well then, why then are they so bothered about what the government does and why dont they promote private sector education, that can ignore such norms, if they get no government funding. (The truth is that the private sector in education, particularly professional education, apart from some honourable exceptions, is a money-gouging enterprise. In fact everyone, whether forward, OBC or Dalit, is demanding that the government impose suitable controls on these bodies and regulate their functioning. )

    iii) Some of the television anchors have started off on `preserving the brand equity of the IITs'
    angle. This is an argument that I always find infuriating. All these decades, while the government went about funding the IITs and the IITs went about their business, nobody took any major notice of the IITs. Suddenly, in the era of L-P-G (liberalization, privatization, globalization), when it is established that here is a GOVERNMENT institution that did exceedingly well (for whatever reason), the private sector boys would like to claim it as their own. The brand equity argument is one way to do it, denying the public institutional character of the IITs etc., treating them as if they were some private sector enterprise, that set about achieving some corporate mission. None of them would ever have had the patience for anything like the IITs or the IIMs.
    In the case of the IIMs, matters have been pushed to a point, that their corporate interests on their boards, is virtually trying to takeover these institutions and subvert their public character.

    In another direction, Aswin's reaction is interesting (2nd comment). " WE DONT DO SUCH THINGS". Note the caps and the we. I think that since the article in question is a rare one of its kind, articulating a Dalit perspective on the problem, one must pause to consider whether indeed the allegation is true. I am sure that such attitudes are fairly common in a large number of engineering institutions across the country, so I am not sure why the IITs should be such an exception. And surely the remark that Aswin quotes would hardly qualify as intemperate. One may argue about the merits of the concerned article or otherwise, but here is perhaps a case for some introspection by all of us. I say introspection because the first post by Aswin is that of a concerned citizen, an attitude for which I have high regard.

  6. Anonymous said...

    one must pause to consider whether indeed the allegation is true. I am sure that such attitudes are fairly common in a large number of engineering institutions across the country, so I am not sure why the IITs should be such an exception...

    Why must one pause to consider this kind of thing at all? Is it because a Dalit is levelling the accusation? And what makes you sure that such attitudes are common, leave alone a large number, but in even a single engineering college?

    I do not know how old you are, but I'm guessing definitely three generations at least. Caste has never been an issue in college. Once in the college, students do not care. I repeat, STUDENTS DO NOT CARE ABOUT THE CASTE OF THEIR PEERS. Unless they want to embark on a relationship with one (or more) of them, but that's a separate discussion. But seriously, NOBODY CARES if their classmate got in on pure merit alone, or reservation.

    Maharashtra engg. colleges have 1/3rd reservation for women. Would anyone ever give dirty looks to a female for getting in using the reservation entry?

    I am not flaming - just asking you to justify your stance that such an occurrence is commonplace.

    But, seriously, when students are left among themselves - NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE CASTE.

    If there has been any incident of an upper-caste student "giving dirty looks" to a Dalit student, it was most likely because of some personal issue - NOT BECAUSE OF THE CASTE. STUDENTS DO NOT CARE ABOUT CASTE.

    Just like you were "sure that such attitudes are fairly common", I am also sure that whoever made that statement on the site is either:

    a) Making it up
    b) Lying
    c) Fabricating
    d) Misinterpreting an offhand glance
    e) Lying

    I just read that article, and it is so blatantly flamebait, and basically full of unsubstantiated allegations, Abi, that I'm surprised you even link to it.

  7. Anonymous said...

    I want to make it explicitly clear on thing: IITs and IIMs are popular solely becaz of their students and some faculty. In United States, we have institutions that are extremely well endowed compared to the IIT & IIM. But, still employers have consistantly payed IIT and IIM graduates more than our institutions, becaz of the quality of its intake. It is now assumed here that even if all those entrants are put in a cage for 4 years, still they would be good enough for the jobs. So, govt, can take no credit for the IIT & IIM. Its all due to the merit entrants.

    Now that the govt. is determined to screw up the intake, our universities might have to take a closer look at one's caste also, to identify whether he really came from merit or through backdoor means. People solely care about whether those guys are really worthy enough to be in the institutiton and less on what they learnt there.

    If there are backward sections, they should be provided the primary and secondary education and be expected to take their life from then on. But, you want bottle-feed the babies throughout their life. Reservation in higher education systems is pathetic and pitiable.

    Let Indians now keep pondering about the brain drain and disaproporationate amount of forward castes in US. If Indians are what I see from the posts here have such attitudes, I need not feel sorry for leaving my motherland. When you implement the reservations, prepare to see a massive flight of students right from undergrads. US universities would be too happy to taken them. In a few years, IIT and IIM would become like any other institution and all of India's cream would have gone with it. You guys can happily toast in it and have every caste you want, in it.

  8. Anonymous said...

    I take that 'intemperate' bit back.

    There has been a lot of debate amongst us on this issue
    and I usually find that some of us do support reservation. It is just that we want the govt to be careful before resorting to reservation in such large numbers.

    I agree that people like Prof.Indiresan should go back and study the constitution and that IITs should stop rejecting students at the end of this one year prep prog. But, even given these follies, I dont agree with the author's hurry to classify IITM as a 'agraharam'.

    I found that statement about 'dirty looks' to be another evidence-less remark. The author should have clarified his how many students were interviewed for this article?

    The number of candidates coming through reservations is very small in IITs. So, most of us dont even know which of us have come thro reservation (very small depts could be an exception). I got to know about one such student only after he was already affected (due to a variety of reasons)to the point of 'dropping out'. However, this is not to say that all such students end up dropping out. There are numerous 'reserved' category students who mix extremely well with the rest of the population and have as much fun as the rest. Now, would all this be possible if we they were to get 'dirty looks' ?

  9. Anonymous said...

    To those willing to listen here is a point:
    The testimony of the oppressed and discriminated often does not come neatly packaged. It is often angry and incoherent, and it is always true with incoherence that the message is sometimes blurred. However if one acknowledges the objective reality of oppression, then I think one is obliged to look for the message even in what seems to be written in unreasoned anger.

    In the case of the Dalits, there is significant and horrific discrimination
    continuing today. And the discrimination has an incredibly long history. I would therefore be very surprised if Dalit testimony were not coloured with anger. Even with academic
    writers like Kancha Iliah, the anger is very visible, even if the argument is sounder.

    If you want a feeling for what this anger is like, and since any Dalit testimony would be suspect to those who do not immediately see the point I am trying to make, you should try reading the spectrum of U.S. black literature.

    As to my knowledge of caste attitudes: as recently as five years ago, I have spoken to Dalit students complaining of discriminatory attitudes in their institutions in Chennai city. The widespread prevalence of discriminatory attitudes in engineering colleges in particular comes from long association with student organisations such as the Student Federation of India, with whom I have remained in contact well after my student phase.

    Despite the upper-case shouting in one comment, I would say that the burden of proof is definitely on those who claim
    that no one cares about caste in colleges. After all, when caste enters every aspect of social life, especially in rural India but to some extent also in urban India, why should one expect that it is suddenly and mysteriously (sociologically speaking) dumped at the gate of the educational institution. Is
    it not logical to expect the discriminatory attitudes to continue in various forms inside the institution too?

    What this post suggests, given the age, is that in the era in which he has
    gone through the education system, he has picked up little sensitivity on what is still India's no.1 social problem alongside gender. As someone who is a teacher
    in at least some ways, that worries me enormously.

  10. Anonymous said...

    I understand the anger in any dalit voice. I just wanted to point out what I think is the reality.

    And I am not making a comparitive statement of whether students in iits are any less discriminatory than the rest of India. All I am saying is that, As the numbers of students coming through reservations is very less, most of them are not even noticed as being SC/ST. So,dirty looks are unlikely to be a problem till some other reason (could be endemic to the system) forces the student to fall back academically. I feel that being under-prepared at entry could be one of the reasons to falling back academically. By just ensuring entry and not preparedness, one is probably risking more pain for the students. Now, I must admit that I have not been able to track down any official figures on the fraction of drop-outs in the general and reserved categories. I am just going by what I have seen around me in the past three years.

  11. Abi said...

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Veena: In the policy for OBC reservation, community is not the only criterion; various economic and social aspects do come into the picture in deciding who belongs to OBC (And no, I have no idea how good this system is in practice).

    Anonymous: I agree that reservations cannot be the only answer; we need other interventions as well, including primary education and a bigger pie. But, reservations are certainly a part of the answer.

    Aswin: I too realize the need for the Prep Course. The reason I linked to the article at is to allow people to see for themselves what its intended 'beneficiaries' feel about it.

    By suggesting that people 'ask for more IITs', I was not being evasive or frivolous. Not at all. As I said in reply to Anon's comments, we need several kinds of intervention, including reservation, better access to primary education and a bigger opportunity pie. If you want an example of how anti-reservation rhetoric has lost its sting, look no farther than Tamil Nadu's professional courses. With easy availability (though of dubious quality), everyone gets something or the other, and reservation as a government policy doesn't matter much. I believe it's the same with other southern states as well.

    Jayaraman: I agree with pretty much everything you have said.

    As you said, the role of industrialists is a new element in the current version of the debate on reservations. The role of TV is another. Blogs, too, have played a significant role in this round (and have received some recognition in the mainstream media as well).

    I am absolutely sure that reservations will not do anything -- good or bad -- to the brand equity of IITs. This is a bogus argument through and through.

    Shrikant: Your comment fills me with hope; I applaud the students for not worrying about reservation, caste, etc, and get on with life. That's the way things should be, and I hope we will eventually get there -- all of us. Hopefully, someday soon.

    Balaji: Merit is a great virtue, and it's easy to profess and defend it. At the same time, a democratic country has to balance it against many other priorities as well. Further, merit is not a simple linear feature, that can be gauged accurately in an entrance exam; if anything, our entrance exams are a filtering mechanism, meant more as a lottery system ('merit-weighted' if you insist). Finally, you seem convinced that reservations will ruin IITs; you seem to imply that reservations will allow a large number of students who cannot even recite a multiplication table. I am not so sure.

    Finally, one recurring theme in the comments is about the article in It's an old one (from 2000), and it uses some strong language. I read it a long time ago, and I linked to it the first opportunity I got. I would only urge you to go past the language, and you will certainly feel and share the pain, which may, in turn, allow you to understand the anger. Do read some of the other articles on that site as well.

  12. Anonymous said...

    To place things on record,
    I too strongly object to all these "Arjun Singh has mud in his head", "Brand equity of IIT" approaches. Even worse is this blackmail of 'braindrain'. All of these completely miss the point.

  13. Anonymous said...

    Dear abi ,
    after reading all this (ill) logical stuff I have started believing in the reservation. Yes in the democracy even the stupid people should have fair chance. Why not reserve some seats for them ?
    My argument for reservation for Stupid are
    1. They are socially opressed
    2. They are in majority
    After all intelligance is always in minority thoughout the history .

    Simple logic follows that a seat not on merit is a seat reserved for stupid people !!!
    I am not denying that seats should not be reserved for them. After all they need it.

    Veena : And dear veena for you number may not matter. But for others and for everyone else it does matter .
    I ask you a question .
    There is a uper cast guy who has percentile 74. i.e. he is ahead of 74% of people who appeared for the exam. Now 25% seat are payment and 25 % are free . 50 % offcourse reserved . he will not get admission.He will have to do an ITI course not engineering coz he could not get free seat( I do not think all upper cast people are born rich just coz they are upper cast ) and will start with a salary of 2,500 per month (if he is that lucky).
    Now what if you are stupid girl and born in Lower cast . And you your percentile is say 30. That is to say
    70 % of people are more capable of persuing the course than you. Now it does not matter even if your father is rich person (COULD be because of reservation for stupid policy ) you will still be able to get free engineering seat. And talking practicaly you stand more chances of landing your self with a good job just because you have done engineering.
    Good . What happend was good. Good for the population which is stupid and needs reservation to climb. But what about the guy whom that
    reserved stupid has ditched ? What was his fault ? I tell you what was his fault. He was born upper cast.
    I declare today 10-5-06 that manu has chnaged his own cast. There is the new manu sitting in the power.
    I declare that birth in the upper cast is a sin. A sin which half of the upper cast population will. Do comment if I am wrong in the conclusion logicaly . (Unless you feel number does not matter , or there is no such thing as logic )
    Mark my word history is witness that there is one revolution awaiting for each social injustice .
    One day we (not so stupid upper
    cast )will take concrete actoin against the current Social injustice.

    Wait till then.

  14. Anonymous said...

    "And you your percentile is say 30. That is to say
    70 % of people are more capable of persuing the course than you"

    Is it so? Doesnt it actually mean that "70% percent are better prepared" ?? How do u make that a statement on the 'ability'?
    And there are various societal imbalances that make it simply impossible for most of the underpriviledged to be as well prepared as the rest. As things stand, some reservation is certainly required to set this right.

  15. Anonymous said...

    I would like to reiterate my point. If my comment was read carefully, you'd have noticed I've not expressed my views about reservations/Dalit oppression. My only grouse is with the statement that alleges "dirty looks".

    In between the posting of my previous comment and this one, I spoke to a lot of my friends (who happen to be both "upper caste" and "not-so-upper caste", and hey, what do you know, even non-Hindu).

    All of them said the same thing - in college, the students do not care about caste. It ceases to be an issue after the entry point. Nobody says "Oh look, that guy's struggling to clear his papers. He must've got in through reservations, and now cant keep up." What's usually said is "Poor guy, he's struggling." and IT STOPS THERE, if anything is said at all, because, frankly, one has enough worries about one's own self in college.

    In fact, Mr. T. Jayaraman's reply only serves to reinforce my point that students left to themselves do not care about caste. Using SFI data? Sure, trust a political organization to give out unbiased, neutral information.

    SFI will care because it is a political, not student, organization. In fact, SFI seems to concentrate on inflating the caste issue in colleges. Keep the SFI away from students, and see magically how caste never surfaces as an issue.

    You cannot simply extrapolate a Dalit's position in society to his/her's in an engineering college. Completely different place. The classroom != society.

    Once again, please note that I am NOT saying anything about Dalits position in society - only taking exception to the "dirty looks" remark. I am also

    Please, Abi, don't be condescending. I am not talking about my own college alone (a private engineering college in suburban Chennai), but about a LOT of colleges in Chennai and Mumbai, at least, because I have friends who have studied there, as opposed to hearsay from politically affiliated units.

    Once again, like I said in my earlier comment, I do not know how old Mr. Jayaraman is, and I'm once again guessing that he has no idea of the college atmosphere in these times. One cannot walk into a campus, and immediately pass judgement on it. The college environment is NOT a mirror of the state of society, and vice versa.

    Engineering college is different. No, I'm not claiming it is the ideal world - all I'm saying is that it doesn't work the same way as society does. Please do not do college students a disservice by accusing them of indulging in caste politics. I beg you to ask people who have studied in top-notch colleges, and seek any of this "dirty look giving".

    Abi, your students? Surely you could ask them?

    No amount of disparaging remarks about "shouting in uppercase" will change anything. And why is the burden of proof on the accused, instead of the one making the accusation?

    No, it is most definitely NOT logical to conclude that the discriminatory attitudes continue inside the institute also. Please do not bring logic into this mix, for the very article that makes the "dirty looks" allegation is completely devoid of it. (Different coloured papers? Oh please.) And also, please do not bring African-Americans into this. Different kettle of fish altogether.

    In your first comment, you want to "pause to consider whether indeed the allegation is true" and in general state that you only agree with the sentiment expressed in the allegation, without being too sure about it's veracity.

    And suddenly, in the 2nd comment, you supply anecdotal evidence from your long-standing associations with various groups (SFI, Dalit students). Did the memory of these associations not strike you, in the first post, where you were, in your own admission, only assuming it might be true?

    I wonder how you managed to conclude that I have "picked up little sensitivity..."

    I never mentioned in my post that discrimination is not a problem. I never said oppression is not a problem. I never said Dalits enjoy equal status. I also never said reservation should be abolished.

    I am very well aware of the social problems plaguing my country, thank you very much. I just choose not to believe every single thing I come across that would happen to be in line with my opinions. I do not assume anything would be "fairly common in a large number of engineering institutions across the country" unless I had first hand information, from unbiased sources.

    Maybe it's still not clear, so I'll say it again (I would say it in caps for emphasis, not shouting, but it doesn't seem very popular): I understand the situation in India. This comment is NOT about the situation in India. It is about how engineering college life cannot be equated with society.

    And sensitivity to issues does not mean agreeing to your opinions on them.

  16. Anonymous said...


    Just out of curiosity, why do you take back the 'intemperate' part? What made you change your mind?

  17. Anonymous said...

    ashwin: I truly believe that test are not 100% true. But don't you agree that tests are better than admission on cast ( which is definately not a good criteria to admission ) ?

    If you think tests are not better then you should make it better not dismiss them totally ..
    Right friend ?

  18. Anonymous said...

    I thought that qualifying it as 'intemperate' would not be accurate. What I wanted point out was that he is making generalisations without evidence. I still maintain that position. And there is no intention to elevate iit students to the status of being any more non-discriminatory than the rest. My point is that numbers being small discourages and almost eliminates 'dirty looks'.

    I think things would be much better (as Abi said at otherindia) if someone carries out a detailed sociological study of the >50% reservation that has existed in TN for quite some time. And I feel this should be done before laws are passed in confirmity with the new 'enabling' amendment.

    And jeet,
    I am not into arguing if tests are a good way of testing the 'preparedness'. I am arguing against the very idea of going solely by 'preparedness'. These are two different problems and it is the latter that is relevant to the issue at hand.

  19. Anonymous said...

    Balaji says: So, govt, can take no credit for the IIT & IIM. Its all due to the merit entrants.

    Why the extreme reluctance to grant Government anything at all? The Government of this country did set up those institutions, fund them, staff them, build them, run them. This is inescapable. What does it mean to deny that altogether?

    Balaji also says: Let Indians now keep pondering about the brain drain and disaproporationate amount of forward castes in US. If Indians are what I see from the posts here have such attitudes, I need not feel sorry for leaving my motherland. When you implement the reservations, prepare to see a massive flight of students right from undergrads. ... In a few years, IIT and IIM would become like any other institution and all of India's cream would have gone with it. You guys can happily toast in it and have every caste you want, in it.

    Now this is plain offensive. Why on earth should I "ponder" about the disaproporationate number of forward castes in the US? People have gone to the US from India for years; never once have I thought to ponder on the caste breakup of these people. Why should I now? Let them go, massive flight or otherwise, and all good wishes to them! And why should anyone particularly care whether Balaji feels sorry or not for "leaving his motherland"? Your angst is of no interest to me.

  20. Anonymous said...

    T. Jayaraman It is often angry and incoherent... And sometimes sedate and incoherent but with a barely concealed streak of viciousness. As for throwing the burden of proof on the accused, Jayaraman, it is not surprising coming from you.

    What I've seen of it is incredibly unoriginal and second-hand. 1st hand or 2nd hand, doesn't matter, if you can't respond to the argument. The government currently keeps out good money from the private sector. when well run private corporations paying taxes on time aren't allowed to set up educational institutions and bootleggers, quacks, and charlatans can thru devious means don't expect much from the private sector. Education costs money and good education lots of it. Someone's got to pay.

    This is an argument that I always find infuriating. All these decades, while the government went about funding the IITs and the IITs went about their business, nobody took any major notice of the IITs. Cool down. The premier institutions have always been regarded v.highly in India and abroad. Maybe you weren't taking notice of them. The 'private sector boys' aren't claiming it as their own. With many of them having emerged from these fine undergrad schools they are naturally worried about loose cannons trashing them up. It is concern well placed.

    The brand equity argument is one way to do it, denying the public institutional character of the IITs etc., This borders on typical leftist claptrap, verbiage. T.Jayaraman - some basic economics FYI - institutions whether public or private command some brand equity (even the decrepit rundown ruins dreamed up by India's Stalinists) that allows them raise money, attract talent, clients, and patronage.

    ...treating them as if they were some private sector enterprise, that set about achieving some corporate mission. None of them would ever have had the patience for anything like the IITs or the IIMs. "None of them..." were around when these institutions were founded so that bombast of yours is moot. As for the others who did have the patience, Abi shd be checking you, since he isn't I will. IISc (JRD), BHU (Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya who begged literally to found it), BITS (GD Birla) and even IIM-A which was set rolling by that visionary Dr.Vikram Sarabhai and later by
    Ravi Mathai (whose father Sir John Mathai left Nehru's cabinet in a huff after a deep disagreement). It is true the government paid the checks and it is also true that the IIMs are where they are because of minimal interference. To know what a government run business school looks like check out University of Madras business school that hasn't upgraded its curriculum in 35 years. And if the government had let the IIMs run with even less interference we might have had the terure system of appointment, and tonnes more of research; which is where Tsinghua and the other 100 Chinese universities are headed. In fact the IIMs shd be handed over on a long term contract to "corporate interests on their boards..." and run on sound business lines. The government has no business running them. "Public character" is simply a cop-out phrase to justify mediocrity or as we say in Hindi chalta hai or as the folks in WB like to say cholche cholbe.

    And this one TJ is a mean low blow IF it is Rahul Bajaj you are talking ofHow about being prepared to pay the taxes that are needed to get this done?) There's enough money available to the government if it can get its government employees to put in an honest day's work.

    ...the alacrity with which big business has stepped in... Jayaraman what about small business? Are they alacritous or sluggish or on the other side or are they stepping out? Given the well known commie habit of exaggeration and bombast (and inexactitude) I am surprised. Indian 'big business' is singularly lacking in spine and has never claimed its due despite providing the only bright zone in the otherwise disappointing economic record of post-1947 India. 45 years of Stalinism and then socialism have not dulled the Indian entrepreneurial edge but have definitely left businessmen a reluctant lot. We hounded out Minoo Masani, Rajaji, and Sir John Mathai, and many others and today celebrate gasbags like Amartya Sen, Ashok Mitra and the assorted lightweights from JNU. even after realising what sort of a vacuously dangerous ideology socialism/Stalinism is in 1990 (when we were hocking gold to pay for oil) learned people like Jayaraman who shd know better want to take cheap potshots and throw around quips like LPG. We aren't having enough of LPG because if we did we would be talking like the Chinese (black cat/white cat is the usual response from my Chinese friends when asked about Deng) and not paying attention to such seemingly smart but actually silly arguments.

    Of all the papers that are to be found did you have to link to this incredibly stupid one? this article (from 2000).

    Students going thru a prep course shd be thankful because they are getting into an IIT with marks that kept unreserved students out and being given a year to catch up with better students. The IITs could also offer placement exams to those who don't want to go thru the Prep Course. Prep courses, qualification exams, and placement tests are standard in US schools. What is being asked is not just admissions into the 'premier institutes' but a free ride through them with minimal evaluation. Faculty positions, tenure, promotions evaluations and everything else depend on results.

  21. Anonymous said...

    I am amused at The Hindu point of view this time around. During the heady days of Mandal-1 the paper was printing incoherent screeds by shrill know nothings from Madras Institute of Development Studies attacking scholars such as Beteille and Srinivas. Now the paper seems to have turned around and has really discovered something like 'merit'? That's a laugh.

    India certainly needs affirmative action - something v.different from the ineffective policy now in place. PV Indiresan is right when he says that reservation is a palliative (as BP Mandal also said). It is of course a great way to build up long term constituencies. And the Congress is now scheming to consolidate its hold on power and expand its base. Being a feudal party that's what it would do.

  22. Anonymous said...

    First, the most important guarantor of both quality and adequate investments in American higher education is competition. Thanks to Satya quoting Larry Summers.


    Check out the speech on Satya's log. And while Harvard is surely a colossus today, it has taken decades of effort to get here. The large corporate houses including MNCs like HLL have proven themselves to be good corporate citizens and will certainly do a better job running a university than would the assorted riff-raff who easily secure apporoval these days from AICTE. I am surprised you know so little about the American experience in nurturing higher education. Having the founder of an NYSE/NASDAQ listed company on the board of IIM is better than having a babu or a stuck up academic from JNU who still goes into raptures over Stalin and Mao. Check out - Infosys's Narayana Murthy is a trustee. If he is good enough for Cornell I am sure it will mean a lot of good for our own universities in India.

  23. Abi said...

    Shrikant: I am sorry I sounded condescending to you. I was serious in replying to you the way I did, and I still stand by them.

    Jeet: Is it too much to accept the view that society may have competing goals, and it tries to make optimal choices all the time? Is it possible that one of these goals is making opportunities available to disadvantaged citizens of our country?

    Dilip: Thanks for that very apt reply!

    Shiva (Pennathur): Wow, that was such a rant! What's your point, though? And, why are you complaining about the link to the article in It did provide a certain perspective, didn't it? Why is it so hard to accept that some Dalits found the Prep Course offensive?

    You can keep cooing about private sector participation in higher ed, Shiva. But yours will all be empty words until you can show a great example on the ground. Until then, you will have to make do with celebrating Mr. Narayanamurthy's presence on the board of a government funded institution such as IIM-A. You certainly can't wish away the overwhelmingly huge role played by the government at the highest levels of higher education -- creating and nurturing these high quality institutions did happen under government control.

  24. Anonymous said...

    Dear Abi,
    I just happened to read this article, and found that the discussions are in control over here (perhaps, reflecting the mental maturity of some of the people writing here).
    In fact, I appreciate the manner in which you, Ashwin, Shrik, and a few others have put down your views.

    The reasons why I do not like (note that, I don't say "I strongly oppose") reservations based on caste are as follows:

    * Reservations are meant for people who have been disadvantaged (not only in their own life, but for generations). But, how do you ensure that all these (deserving) people are the only ones who get the benefits ? Can the government ensure that students from such backgrounds clear their class XII exams, which is when they get to benefit from reservations ? Just in case, you missed the point, there are several pre-requisites for "clearing XII" -- enrolment (includes passing all earlier exams), time to study (how can you expect child laborers to study), health and hygiene, etc.

    * I have personally seen instances where my well-to-do friends resorted to the caste certificate, though I am certain they could have (albeit, with a little bit more effort) achieved the same without it. (My family never had any financial problems... so, I really mean "well-to-do"). Can this be called justice or equality ?

    * How do you define "deserving" ? Jeet was too angry to put in a coherent argument, but he did have some points. Why should you disallow a person just because of his caste?

    * In the recent past, there have been several voices criticising the current system of selection through "merit". (I am not saying that this is the best way to recruit, but probably, we don't have good alternatives). (There are well-written articles like "Do I have merit ?" ... just Google for it).

    But, I would like to point out just this: Whenever pro-quota citizens say that they are against "merit-based admisssions", they just mean that they are against "uniform merit-based admissions". Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't students from reserved categories chosen on the basis of merit (although, amongst themselves) ? Why doesn't the last student in that list get the best stream ? So, all that they mean by opposing "merit-based admissions" is that the merit of an SC/ST student should not be compared with a general category student. And that's where the flaw is... the creamy layer gets away with the best part.

    * How come people remain backward even after getting admission to IIT's, etc ? Is there any provision of surrendering your caste certificate ? I think people should be allowed to take advantage of reservations just once in their life (like trump cards). Once I have benefited by reservations, I should not be allowed to gain again and again. The current trend is different. The same person repeatedly reaps the benefits, leaving very little for the rest. (Again, I have personally seen students who could afford the costlier general category applications for entrance tests but chose to take the short cuts).

    * Balaji's comments made it look like he alone can decide the fate of the whole country. But, what he probably means is that there are several companies/universities who won't take students on blind faith, or brand name. They will have their own ways of choosing the best. They are not charities, after all.

    I didn't anticipate this long a comment when I started, and there might be some mistakes. Just in case, you think there's something severely wrong, please do let me know.

    (Please don't be influenced by the pen name I used... just treat it as anonymous).

  25. Anonymous said...