The Narendra Modi government last week amended the Constitution to grant a 10% quota to economically weaker sections among social groups excluded from reservation until now. This week, the Ministry of Human Resource Development announced that higher education institutions, public and private, must implement the quota in admissions from the forthcoming academic session itself.

While private institutions have reacted with alarm to the introduction of the quota, public universities will face their share of difficulties as well. Any student from a social group not covered by reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes and with a family income of less than Rs 8 lakh will be eligible to apply under the new 10% quota. The human resource development minister has said this quota will not impact the existing reservation system. So to ensure the quota does not cause a drop in the number of unreserved seats, public universities will have to increase their total intake of students by nearly 25%.

The government, however, has provided no guarantee yet that it will help universities handle the increased roll strength by providing extra funds or sanctioning more teaching posts. The previous Congress-led government had done both while introducing the 27% quota for the Other Backward Classes in 2007.

Teachers at central universities said the expansion will further strain their stretched infrastructure and resources. Even universities established after 2007 are struggling for lack of resources and at least two are running some courses in multiple shifts for want of space.

Responding to an article in The Indian Express that said the government expects the universities it governs to raise additional funds on their own, the human resource development ministry said it has issued “no such order”. It added: “Whenever there has been an increase in intake, government has always provided funds as per actual requirements.”

However, teachers fear universities may be compelled to take loans from the agency formed by the ministry to fund the necessary expansion, or find other ways to raise funds.

“Even if you tried to sell the entire university, no one here would buy it,” remarked Mrintunjay Kumar Yadavendu, a teacher at the Mahatma Gandhi Central University in Motihari, Bihar.

To put the Centre’s suggestion into perspective, he said his university operates out of an abandoned girls’ hostel of a district school, runs several programmes in two shifts and could not admit any student in undergraduate courses last semester due to the shortage of space.

Teachers at other central universities across India foresee several hurdles in the way of a successful implementation of the 10% quota.

Here’s a summary of the changes that are required to implement the new quota and the challenges it is likely to pose public universities.

Why are seats increasing by 25% when only 10% seats will be reserved for the economically weaker sections?

Currently, 49.5% of all seats in public universities are reserved – 27% for the Other Backward Classes, 15% for the Scheduled Castes and 7.5% for the Scheduled Tribes. The rest, 50.5%, are unreserved. To keep the calculation simple, assume 50% seats are unreserved. So, in a class of 100, no less than 50 seats would be open to all. The new 10% quota, since it’s additional to the existing reservation, reduces the share of general category seats to 40%, meaning the number of unreserved seats in our calculation would fall from 50 to 40.

To ensure there is no reduction in the number of general seats, the 40% unreserved category must still translate into 50 seats. For this, the total number of seats must be raised from 100 to 125, an increase of 25%. This means the number of seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes will increase correspondingly.

In percentages terms, therefore, the new quota will shrink the general category. But the total number of seats will not drop in practice. In fact, even when 27% quota for the Other Backward Classes was implemented in 2007, public universities increased their total number of seats 1.5 times.

The question though is whether the universities are equipped to comfortably handle more students.

At the time of the “OBC expansion”, the Centre sanctioned new staff posts for public universities and colleges. For the new 10% quota, the government has made no such commitment yet. “If you increase seats without allowing additional staff, you are introducing a quota for one section but denying quality to all,” said Abha Dev Habib, a teacher at Miranda House college in Delhi.

She pointed out that some Delhi University colleges are yet to get some of the posts promised in 2007. As a result, in some undergraduate programmes, “teachers may have 100 students in class”, she said.

The problem of staff shortage does not plague only universities established before 2007. The Central University of Gujarat, established in 2009, has enough sanctioned posts but they have remained vacant for years. Of the 130 posts for non-teaching staff who handle administrative matters, just 14 are filled, said Sony Kunjappan, president, Central University of Gujarat Teachers’ Association. Similarly, 50 of the 150 teaching posts are vacant, including 80% posts at the levels of professor and associate professor. Even the posts of registrar, controller of exams and finance officer are vacant. As Kunjappan put it, “the university is run by in-charges”, referring to senior faculty members who hold multiple posts at once, some academic, some not.

“This has continued even though the ministry has given directions to appoint experts,” Kunjappan pointed out.

Habib argued that with staff shortage, “the entire system becomes inefficient”.

What problems will teachers face?

At most public universities, resources are already stretched. In 2015, the human resource development ministry insisted on all central universities adopting the Choice-Based Credit System for undergraduate programmes. With its promise of a variety of courses across disciplines for students to choose from, the programme makes massive demands upon teaching and non-teaching resources. Even designing timetables is a complicated exercise when both staff and rooms are in short supply, as one teacher pointed out. Evaluation is a similarly hectic process that includes projects and presentations where, earlier, there were just exams, sometimes held annually.

“The CBC alone placed a huge burden on teachers,” said a teacher from the Central University of Kerala, requesting anonymity. The university was established in 2009. “Now we have two rounds of exams to conduct and correct in place of one and many activities during the semester – presentations, dissertations – to evaluate. The intake for the social sciences was increased from 20 to 40 and for the sciences from 20 to 30 two years ago and even at that time teachers had protested.”

Students admitted through reservation often require more support from the institution and having enough staff is crucial for that, argued Habib.

Will the universities need additional infrastructure?

Many public universities are struggling with shortage of space. Kunjappan said the Central University of Gujarat is now operating out of a school in Gandhinagar. It was allotted land in Baroda a few months ago but it will likely be many years before that campus is ready. Currently, a few master’s courses are being taught in shifts.

The Mahatma Gandhi Central University in Motihari similarly runs two shifts for its undergraduate programmes – one from 8 am till 1 pm and the other from 1 pm till 6 pm. It was established in 2016 and has 500 students. “We have not been allotted any land and because of that we did not receive any funds for infrastructure development either,” said Yadavendu. “We have no space at all and cannot accommodate more students.”

In fact, even the prestigious Delhi University will not have it easy. Habib pointed out that the university’s colleges took years to utilise the grants that came after the “OBC expansion” in 2007 as they struggled to secure clearances for new constructions. At some colleges, construction is still on. There has been “no review of how the money was spent” either, she added.

At Delhi University, at least, some of the money went towards buying laptops for undergraduate students.

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