Tuesday, August 16, 2005

India's Supreme Court Rejects Quotas for Lower-Caste Students at Private Colleges


(This article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education in August 2005).

In a judgment that could limit access to professional education, India's Supreme Court ruled last week that colleges that do not receive government aid are not required to use state admission quotas for students from minority groups and lower castes.

The ruling also held that unaided private colleges have complete autonomy to admit students of their choice in medicine, engineering, and other professional fields.

Admission quotas are popular in India, where the Constitution guarantees that nearly a quarter of all government jobs and student places in higher education are reserved for members of indigenous tribal groups or lower castes. Many other people qualify for quotas based on their religion or ethnicity, a disability, or some other characteristic (The Chronicle, February 13, 2003).

Last week's decision has been severely criticized by several lower-caste groups. Government-supported medical and engineering colleges will be able to maintain quotas for lower castes, but those institutions do not have the capacity to meet the demand for professional courses. Private colleges, which charge much higher fees, fill that gap, but they are unaffordable for the disadvantaged, including the lower castes.

The court's ruling will be effective beginning in the 2006-7 academic year.
Admissions made for 2005-6 under court orders and directions of state committees will not be affected.

The ruling stressed that although every institution is free to devise its own fee structure, fees could be regulated to prevent profiteering.

And while unaided institutions can set their own admissions standards, the criteria they use must be fair, transparent, nonexploitative, and based on merit, the judgment said. It also recommended a common entrance examination to cut costs and to make it easier for students who would otherwise have to take several tests.

The court also allowed private colleges to set aside 15 percent of their seats for expatriate Indian students, but those students must pay higher fees than those paid by students who live in India. The court said the expatriate students' fees should be used as aid for needier students.