Nothing travels faster, it seems, than a bad and populist idea. By announcing that 90 per cent of the seats in 12 Delhi University colleges directly funded by Delhi will be reserved exclusively for residents, the new education minister, Manish Sisodia, has endorsed a small-minded proposal that was earlier supported by the BJP and Congress. Another set of colleges where the state has provided 50 per cent of the capital grant and pays recurring grants every year will also have to seal off half their admissions. In other words, if things go according to plan, roughly 12,000 seats across 28 colleges in Delhi University will become unavailable to general applicants.
The city-state of Delhi has a peculiar love-hate relationship with Delhi University. The premier Central university in India, DU draws the brightest, most ambitious students from around India. Admissions are extremely competitive, and there is great bitterness around the difficulty of getting a place in the better colleges. Playing to the insecurities of those who feel elbowed out by clever outsiders, Delhi’s political parties have encouraged its people to imagine they have first rights to the university. In August last year, the high court took up a plea to reserve a certain proportion of seats in Delhi University for Delhi residents, and asked the state government to come up with a satisfactory solution in two months. The state BJP promptly made it a campaign issue, and in response the Sheila Dikshit government floated a controversial plan in October, right before the election, to enact such a quota. Now the AAP government has embraced it wholeheartedly.
Nothing stops Delhi residents from competing for admission in DU or Central universities anywhere in the country. This jostling for admission, and the presence of motivated students from everywhere is, to some extent, an indication of DU’s cachet. Equally, its talent and diversity give the university a special edge. At the same time, it is true that the gap between demand and supply in higher education is untenable, and the AAP is right to respond to the anxieties of citizens. But it must join the national effort to expand the number of quality colleges, start more institutions under its own state universities, rather than diluting the Delhi University brand or slamming the door on deserving students from outside the city.