Among the ills that plague the Indian higher education system is the continued poor stake of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in it. Year on year, the huge backlog of vacancies in teaching positions in SC/ST categories remains a constant concern with little change in its position.
Nearly half the teaching positions for SCs and STs in Central Universities are still unfilled. According to the data provided by the government of India in December 2011 to a Right to Information query by Lucknow-based activist Mahendra Pratap Singh, 48.5 per cent of posts in these two categories in 24 Central varsities were vacant during 2010-2011. The stipulated quota for SCs and STs in Central institutions is 15 per cent and 7.5 per cent respectively.
For the year, 2010-211, the total backlog in SC category at the entry-level position of Lecturer was 341 out of 740 required posts. Thus, 46 per cent of these posts were unfilled. In the ST category, 197 or 53 per cent of posts were vacant out of the required posts of 369.
The huge gap points to the under-representation of these marginalised communities in educational institutions. The SCs constitute 12 per cent of the total filled positions in Central Universities and STs constitute five per cent of the filled posts.
Climbing up to the prestigious ranks of Reader and Professor, their share gets alarmingly dismal. Over 84 per cent of posts for Readers in the SC-ST category were vacant in 2010-2011. And, over 92 per cent Professor’s positions in these categories are vacant.
The Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has consistently had the poorest record of clearing the backlog. There was a whopping 59.7 per cent of SC and ST vacancies in lecturer positions itself in 2010-2011.
A BHU source confirmed the situation remained the same in 2012 as well, since the University had not undertaken a recruitment drive in the past few months to clear this backlog.
In fact, the current position is as bad if not worse, compared to previous years. As per the 2007-08 figures, obtained by The Hindu under RTI, SC-ST vacancy in BHU for the lecturer position was at 52 per cent.
“The problem,” remarked Subhash Lakhotia, Professor Emeritus at BHU, “is that candidates are often not found suitable.” — a reason cited across the board for poor implementation of the reservation policy.
“The university has to consider certain minimal requirement. Many teaching positions are for specialised candidates. The quality of degrees our education system gives is not [of a very high standard]. So, although candidates meet the eligibility criteria, they are not found suitable. A large number of open posts are also vacant,” Mr. Lakhotia told The Hindu on the phone.
“The fallacy lies in the system. The graduates coming out today are unemployable,” he pointed out.
The overall concerns over standards notwithstanding, the approach to implementation of reservation is complicated by a notional linking of the reservation policy with impoverishment of “quality” of education.
“I would not like reservation anywhere. Higher education is about quality. The government says launch a special drive to fill posts; it is in their interest. But in the process you lose out on quality,” remarked Mr. Lakhotia.
“Reservation has made things worse,” remarked a source from BHU. “You don’t get quality people. SC/ST candidates are competent. The ones from Maharashtra and the northeast are good. Tezpur University is doing very well. That’s because their graduates return to their native place.”
Another reason cited by BHU was the increase in the retirement age to 65 years (as per 2006 UGC recommendations). “For some years, no one retired and then there were mass retirements creating a sudden vacancy. In Banaras, availability of housing and other facilities is a major problem. So no one wants to take up jobs here,” an official remarked.
Making matters worse, the quota policy itself is looked upon as a benevolent act towards the lower sections, rather than an affirmative and necessary provision to ensure the fair share of SCs and STs in education, long denied due to the caste system.
“Let me point out,” said a BHU professor in a letter to the BHU Vice-Chancellor, obtained through RTI by Mr. Singh, “that we are aware of our social responsibilities and compulsions which implies some reservation to be done for [the] weaker section.”
Arguing for “phased reservation,” he wrote that the university must ensure that “the weaker sections get advantage at the entry level through phased reservation, but at the same time the academic profile/glamour/reputation of the university remains intact.”
‘Centre of excellence’
One argument put forth by the BHU is also that it is considered a “centre of excellence.” Therefore, it should be excluded from the reservation policy.
Dr. Vikas Gupta from the Delhi University said that filling posts roster-wise would help ease the backlog. That entailed marking posts in departments as per each category and so on.
“Roster implementation takes care of many of the [gaps] in filling reserved posts. Every department has to maintain a roster of posts to ensure full reservation and avoid manipulation. Rosters should be made public by all universities.”
According to Mr. Gupta, earlier universities in their advertisements would mention only the number of reserved posts without specifying which post was for which community — SC/ST/OBC. So, a candidate did not know which post she/he was applying for.
This way, universities “got the free ground to keep people confused.” Everyone is applying for everything. After the interview, the decision is made [on selection for a particular department post]. “This is unfair. This is how it is manipulated,” Mr. Gupta said.
He remarked the situation was changing with universities going in for the roster system.
Despite, repeated attempts, the University Grants Commission did not respond to The Hindu’s queries on the issue.