Thursday, June 19, 2014

Abstract Kalyan Shankar

Kalyan Shankar, University of Pune

Who Studies What, Where and Why? Systemic Inequalities beyond Affirmative Action Policies in Indian Higher Education

In the delivery systems of higher education in India, there has been an attempt to counter social inequalities through implementing a system of affirmative action policies – implying positive discrimination in favor of the disadvantaged. While socio-economic backgrounds do influence individual participation in education, can differentiated access be attributed solely to them? By doing so, there is a certain exoneration of the delivery systems and their inherent limitations in enabling access for some while (inadvertently) denying it for others. Can the systems be really termed fair in their attempt at creating equality of access? It needs to be recognized that the systems themselves generate their own set of embodied institutional distortions that get superimposed over and above socio-economic inequalities.

This paper seeks to highlight some of the existing skews of access in the delivery systems that are beyond the scope of affirmative action policies. Moreover, because of these skews, the implications of the affirmative policies remain varied across institutions. Within the overarching frame of enquiry into who gets to study what, where and why, we identify some of the systemic constraints of availability and how they manifest in the curtailing of individual choices within higher education. Starting from Class X (a prerequisite for entry to higher secondary) and progressing through Class XII and graduation, this paper highlights how different limiting or skewing factors of access get pronounced within the system at different stages (like geographic distribution of institutional numbers, medium of instruction, streams of education). Emerging from this skew of institutions is a skew of choices. This paper seeks to highlight how the available choices become compulsory by default for higher education aspirants. Meaning to say, how an individual gets systemically compelled to aspire only to a certain form of higher education and thereby get excluded from others. For substantiating on our arguments, we make use of the official documents on the procedures and guidelines for admissions followed by higher education institutions in the state of Maharashtra (India) and analyze their interpretations.

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