10/27/2006, 00.00
INDIA

India's private universities to open doors to outcastes

The country's main private educational institutions agree to reservations for Dalit and Adivasi students. The government is now working on a bill that would preserve the universities' autonomy and maintain their funding.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – For the first time India's biggest private universities are setting aside quotas for students from the bottom of the caste system, i.e. members of the so-called Scheduled Castes (SC, Dalit), Scheduled Tribes (ST, Adivasi) e Other Backward Classes (OBC).

Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh reached the agreement in New Delhi with the vice chancellors of seven universities. In exchange, the universities got two promises from the government, namely that reservation should not affect their autonomy and that quotas will be implemented in a phased manner.
Several issues still need to be ironed out; a crucial one being the free structure because students coming from the special categories may not be able to pay the kind of high fees the private institutes charge.

Mr Singh pointed out that the deal was "unanimously agreed" and that the accepted proposal will be turned into law.
The government wanted to clinch a consensus before adopting any law imposing quotas to avoid a backlash that might have pushed universities to hinder the law as well as challenge it before the courts.

According to the 2001 census, literacy among Tribals stands at 47 per cent against a national average of 64 per cent. Scheduled castes and tribes represent 24 per cent of the Indian population.

The Mandal Commission, which was set up to a mandate to "identify the socially or educationally backward". In its 1980 report it determined that 52 of the population belong to the backward classes.

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