Tuesday, January 3, 2006
By SHAILAJA NEELAKANTAN
India's Parliament has amended the country's Constitution to impose admission quotas for lower castes and classes on nearly all private colleges that do not receive government aid. Only unaided, minority-run institutions are exempt from the quotas established under last month's near-unanimous vote.
Previously, only institutions that received government aid were required to have the quotas.
The legislation, introduced by the minister of human resource development and passed on December 22, overturned an earlier Supreme Court ruling that had exempted unaided private educational institutions (The Chronicle, August 16).
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.
While government-supported medical and engineering colleges already maintain quotas for lower castes and indigenous tribal groups, 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 new legislation provides greater access to higher education to members of the lower classes and castes, who constitute more than a quarter of India's population.
Minority-run private institutions were exempted from the legislation because of concerns that it would violate an article of the Constitution that ensures their right to establish and manage their own educational institutions.
India's state governments are now expected to specify the quotas for different categories and the fee structures at the private institutions. "We request all state governments to enact laws within the next month or so, before the next academic session begins," Arjun Singh, the minister of human resource development, said after the bill was approved.
(From the Chronicle of Higher Education, issue dated January 3, 2006)