Earlier this month, the Narendra Modi government announced that it would extend reservations in educational institutions and government jobs to the economically weaker sections among upper castes. The decision was sudden. State governments were not consulted about this move that required the Constitution to be amended. With the impending Lok Sabha elections in mind, the Bharatiya Janata Party government is trying to ensure that both public and private educational institutions introduce the quota from the upcoming academic year.
But the complete thought about how this will be implemented is becoming more apparent by the day. Last week, the Indian Express reported that the Centre wants an additional 25% seats to be created in educational institutions to ensure that no group is left out by new quota. This additional enrolment would require universities and colleges to add to infrastructure very quickly – classrooms, teachers, hostels and much more. On Monday, The Times of India reported that the Centre is planning to give universities additional fund to implement the quota. Still, it isn’t clear whether this money will cover the additional costs. Even if it does, it’s debatable whether such infrastructure can be created in only a few months.
The decision has put a great strain on universities. Panjab University said last week that it would need about Rs 500 crore to implement the new quota. The anxiety is even more acute in private institutions, which will now have to implement the quota system that it had ignored all these years.
Private universities have raised several questions. First, who will pay the fee of students who come through the quota system? It would be futile to enable students from economically weaker sections to gain admission through quotas if they are unable to pay the high fees at the private colleges.
So far, there is no indication of any government support for the private sector. College administrators told Scroll.in last week that most of them have loans to repay and any restrictions on their ability to charge fees they consider appropriate would restul in great financial stress. Given the situation, there is every chance that private institutions will force students to make under the table payments, even if the state decides to set the fee structure.
Implementing the new quota is also expected to delay the process of hiring teachers this year.
Finally, the quota would place an additional burden on state governments if they are expected to implement it in the 2019-2020 academic year. Though the Centre seems to have agreed to provide some funds to central institutions, most Indians who access higher education attend state-level institutions, which receive grants from the state coffers. This does not bode well for state budgets, especially in states like Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu where public higher education institutions are strong.
Given these complexities, the Centre should focus on ensuring that it controls the chaos in the upcoming academic year as the political establishment attempts to reap votes from its populist decision.