A PhD candidate and alumnus of Pondicherry University has decided to go to the court against the reservation policy of the University which ‘systematically’ keeps the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students out of the campus. Srutheesh. S, who secured fourth rank in the general merit list for PhD in Mass Communication under the Department of Electronic Media and Mass Communication was not called for the interview. He was amused to see that out of the two seats available, one seat is reserved for OBC. The other seat seat is unreserved. But since the University will call only three candidates per seat for interview, he was not in. Srutheesh as part of the Ambedkarite movement had raised the issue of reservation policy for PhD admission when he was pursuing his masters’ degree. The Students Council, led by the coalition of Students Federation of India and Ambedkar Students Association had given various representations to the administration to revamp the policy.
According to the Reservation Policy of Government of India, the University has to accommodate 27 percent OBCs, 15 percent Scheduled Caste, and 7.5 percent Scheduled Tribe students every year for each course. For PG, the number of seats are fixed by the Academic Council of the University. Therefore, a fixed number of seats are expected to be reserved for the respective groups. But the number of seats for PhD is not fixed. It is the discretion power of the faculty to decide his/her scholars every year. Implementation of the reservation policy, as anyone can verify from the university website, is not inclusive as expected. The first seat will be unreserved. If two seats are available, one is unreserved and one is reserved for OBC. If three is available, ratio is 2:1. While the first Scheduled Caste (SC) reservation comes with the fourth seat, the Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidate has to wait upto 8th seat for reservation. So? What is in it? That is how the reservation is implemented- fifty percent will be kept unreserved as Supreme Court has made it clear that reservation cannot exceed 50 %. Right?
Though Srutheesh did not accuse his department of being casteist, he says a department can avoid taking SC-ST students as long as they wish. Every year they can advertise for three seats and accommodate two general and one OBC. One must be naive to think that no academic institution in India would do that!
Let’s have a look at the statistics. This year, the number of reserved seats for ST students is 11 (out of 248). This means, 3.5 percent less than the required allocation. This happens as a result of the above said implementation procedure. The newly formed National Institutional Ranking Framework has ranked the Pondicherry University as the 13th top university in India. The statistics provided by the university which was used for ranking is available on the website. In 2012-13, the total number of scholars present in the university (of all years) was 965. In which, 165 scholars are classified as ‘Socially Challenged and Economically Backward’. The criterion for maximum marking (for ranking) under this category is stated as: “50% economically and socially disadvantaged students should be admitted”. Which means ‘Economically and Socially Disadvantaged Students (ESDS)’ is the total number of OBC, SC, ST and Differently Abled students present in the campus in that academic year. It is 17% in 2012-13 in Pondicherry University. Thirty three percent less than the required number. The worst case, in the statistics provided is in 2013-14. Just 8%. In 2014-15 it has ‘increased’ to 14 percent.
Now have a look at the number of Post Graduate (PG) students admitted. The data says 1153 students belong to ESDS out of 4340 present in 2012-13, i.e., 26 percent. Unlike PhD, there is no way reservations can be avoided in PG admissions. Still it shows 24 % less than the required number! If the quota is not filled, the ‘UGC Guidelines for Strict Implementation of Reservation Policy of the Government in Universities, Deemed to be Universities, Colleges and other Grant-In-Aid Institutions and Centres, 2006’ says, ‘every effort shall be made to re-advertise for wider publicity in the national news papers’ (Clause 9, sub-clause VI). 25 percent and 23 percent are the representation of ESD Students in the academic years 2013-14 and 2014-15 respectively in the PG courses. The case of integrated PG courses are close to the PhD statistics though they also have a fixed number of seats reserved, every year.
Issues with PG and integrated PG courses has to be studied further. It is not because that no one attended the entrance examinations that the quota remain unfilled. Students give their exams, get shortlisted, but never get admission. The admission fees of the University was raised by around 400 % during the period of former Vice Chancellor Prof. J. A. K. Tareen. Pondicherry University is the one of the institutions which collect highest fees among the Central Universities. When compared with JNU or HCU, the admission fees is unbearable for the economically deprived sections. Despite the directions from the UGC to collect the admission fees from the scholarships of SC-ST students, Pondicherry University collected fees on the spot, at the time of admission. Vipin. K. T, a student from Kerala who passed the entrance in two consecutive years for MCA, said that he could not join because he had to pay nearly 33000 rupees during the admission.
But finally the University has come up with the circular to implement the UGC guidelines from this academic year onwards.
It was last year that Vice Chancellor Ms. Chandra Krishnamurthy was removed after huge protests by the students and staff against the alleged academic fraud. According to Indian Express, MHRD suggested to the President to sack her from the post, last week. The new administration has started to sort out many issues but is not ready to take on the PhD admission issue. The Students Council had also had made representations regarding the fees hike, and implementation of UGC guidelines for collecting fees from the SC-ST students, to the administration. But the response from council members on fees was really amusing. ‘UGC team has told us that students are having three or four gadgets with them. So no need to reduce the fee. Increase it, if possible’. Srutheesh received a negative response when he approached the administration. ‘The decision is to go to the High Court against the Casteist University’, he wrote on his Facebook wall.
Jishnu EN is a freelance journalist from Kerala. He completed his Post Graduation in Mass Communcations from Pondicherry University.