While the proportion of upper-caste students in higher education institutions is still considerably higher than their share in the population, for the first time ever their “erstwhile near-monopoly” is being eroded with their percentage share falling to below 50 per cent over the last few years, according to a study.
All other groups, women, Other Backward Classes (OBC), Scheduled Castes (SC), and Tribes (ST), have increased their share though they still remain largely under-represented relative to their share in the population.
The enrolment share of upper caste Hindus (estimated to be about 20 per cent of the country’s population), has come down from 51 per cent to 40.6 per cent between 2010-11 and 2015-16.
The study titled ‘Exclusion in Indian Higher Education Today’ by Delhi University professors Satish Deshpande and Apoorvanand states that “the entry of hitherto absent or severely under-represented groups” was facilitated by the 93rd Amendment to the Constitution (2006) which extended OBC reservations to elite “institutions of national importance” and Central universities.
“Although it took some years to take effect, by the second decade of the 2000s, its impact was being felt,” the report said.
Apoorvanand teaches Hindi and Deshpande teaches sociology in Delhi University. Their study has been published in the India Exclusion Report 2017 released by the Centre for Equity Studies this week. Citing figures from the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE), it states that between 2010-11 and 2015-16, in terms of percentage share in total enrolment in higher education institutions, the share of women has increased from 44 to 46 percent, for STs from 4.4 to 4.9 percent, for SCs from 11 to 13.9 percent, and for OBCs from 27.6 to 33.8 percent.
Of all marginalised groups, the report identifies, Persons with Disability (PwDs) and Muslim as the two groups still seriously under-represented in higher education. In the same five-year period, PwDs (who form 2.2 percent of the population) has seen their share merely increasing from 0.19 to 0.21 percent in higher education while Muslims, who constitute 14 percent of the country’s population, has seen their share in higher education increase from 3.8 percent to just 4.7 percent.
In terms of their respective share in the total population of the country, women account for 50 percent, ST 8.6 percent, SC 16.6 percent, and OBC 42 percent. The AISHE figures on enrolment largely pertain to public higher education institutions such as Central universities, colleges, IITs, IIMs etc; it also includes data from some private universities.
The report notes that despite the “substantial change in the social composition of the student body, particularly in elite institutions which were earlier extremely homogenous”, there has been a shift from “primary forms of exclusion” to exclusion that is “more subtle and not easily captured in statistics”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Deshpande said: “We have entered a new phase of exclusion where gross forms of exclusion have been substituted by finer kinds. These include the dropout phenomenon and the role of English language as the gatekeeper to higher education. The third method of exclusion is through the phenomenon of ‘weak students’ who are products of the system, not laziness,” said Deshpande.
The “drop-outs” are a result of a higher education system that, the report says, “necessarily presupposes a long period of prior schooling, (and therefore) it excludes those who are excluded at various stages from primary education.”
Accordingly, the General Category student survives until higher secondary school five-and-a-half times more than STs; and three and-a-half times more than SCs, and twice more than OBCs.
The report states that the increasing representation of marginalised groups has not “meant the end of prejudice or discrimination” and has in fact “stoked resentment of upper caste”, more so in elite institutions, especially against Dalit students.
While more institutions are achieving gender parity in terms of enrolment, the report points out that, “women are still subjected to various forms of discrimination and exclusion, including sexual harassment, and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.”