How the IITs ensure that reserved seats do not go vacant

Professor Anurag Sharma, Dean, Academics, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi showcases their model for successfully filling reserved seats for candidates hailing from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes backgrounds

Who: Professor Anurag Sharma, Dean, Academics, Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

What: Is currently heading the academics unit at IIT Delhi, the office overseeing the broader aspects of implementing the one year Preparatory Course for SC/ST and physically disabled JEE candidates, to bring them up to the mark to secure admission to IIT Delhi.

When: Since 1985

Why: To ensure that quota seats are not wasted and fulfil the primary objective of reserving seats for SC/ST students and physically handicapped students

Where: Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (and other IITs)

How: By filling in the gaps in class XII teaching and taking the Preparatory Course as serious business; allocating classes to faculty within their regular schedules.

Like other higher education institutes in India, the IITs practice “affirmative action,” that is, reservations for candidates hailing from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), to ensure that they also have access to the world class education facilities.

The IITs started to reserve seats for SC/ST candidates in 1973. Between 1973 and 1984, the IITs implemented the same quota system as other universities and colleges. SC and ST candidates applying to the IITs through the reserved quota were offered some relaxation in the admission criteria but not beyond reason. This was because authorities believed that Institutes of National Importance should not compromise on the quality of student intake. SC and ST students were also allowed to complete their study programme at a slower pace.

No takers for seats

Being strict about the quality of students admitted to the IITs in the reserved quota had one negative outcome. A large number of reserved seats remained vacant simply because several SC/ST candidates were not making the required grade. Some estimates suggest that only about 50% of SC/ST seats were filled during the period between 1973 and 1984. Since reserved seats are not available to general category candidates, this led to a lot of discussion about the wastage of seats in public funded institutes, a matter of great concern since the government has placed on the IITs the responsibility for producing world class technologists and engineers for recruitment in Indian industry. Some remedial action was badly needed.

Preparing for IIT

In 1985, the IITs reservations system was revamped based on the experience of the previous decade. It would not do for seats to go waste in Institutes of National Importance. So, the IITs introduced a Preparatory Course, a novel programme for those SC/ST candidates and more recently, physically disabled candidates who sit for the JEE but who do not make it to reserved seats. At present, 15% seats are reserved for SC candidates and 7.5% seats are reserved for ST candidates. Within all categories, 3% are reserved for physically disabled candidates.

Here are the key features of the Preparatory Course:

MERIT BASED PROGRAMME: Candidates for the Preparatory Course are from SC/ST backgrounds and from the physically disabled category. Still, they are the brightest minds among this group. How are they chosen?

At the outset, reserved seats are filled according to the suitably relaxed JEE merit list. So, SC/ST candidates are permitted a relaxation of up to 50% (as per current norms) in the cut off percentage provided they satisfy other minimum requirements such as making it to the top 20 percentile of the qualifying board exams in their category. Sometimes, quota seats remain untaken even after this exercise. Then, SC, ST and physically disabled candidates who score at least half of the reduced percentage are offered admission to the one year Preparatory Course. These candidates are chosen on merit. Typically, they are students whose JEE rank is just below the ranks of admitted B Tech students from the respective category. As many students are offered a place in the Preparatory Course as the number of seats that go vacant.

According to Professor Anurag Sharma, Dean, Academics, IIT Delhi, “Joining the Preparatory Course is like getting deferred admission. Students undergoing the Preparatory Course in IIT D (and other IITs) are assured admission provided they perform well in the end semester exams. The stream of engineering they will study is fixed at the time they are admitted to the Preparatory Course.”

TREAT IT ON PAR WITH OTHER COURSES: From the point of scheduling lectures, the Preparatory Course is treated on par with other courses. It is taught by faculty members of respective departments as part of their regular schedule. “Faculty takes the Preparatory Course as seriously as any other course,” affirms Professor Sharma.

COVER THE GAPS: The one year Preparatory Course study covers physics, chemistry and mathematics from the Class 12 syllabi. Additionally, students have practical (lab) sessions, more than they would have had in school and certainly of a better quality. This helps students understand the theory better.

BUDGET FOR THE PROGRAMME: Students undergoing the Preparatory Course are charged no tuition fees, in keeping with the rules applying to other SC/ST students. They are also provided free messing in the hostels. The expenses of running the Preparatory Course are included in the annual budget and covered from the block grant received from the government.

Making good

Since introducing the Preparatory Course, seats reserved for SC/ST and physically disabled students do not lapse but roll on to the next year and are available for students who successfully complete the course. “Since implementing the Preparatory Course, almost all the reserved seats have been filled,” confirms Professor Sharma.

A positive trend in recent years is most of the reserved SC seats have gotten filled without candidates needing to go through the Preparatory Course. In 2012, IIT D only had physically disabled students sign up for the Preparatory Course. In 2013, it had some physically disabled and a few ST candidates. In the current academic year, all of the Preparatory Course candidates of the IITs in the northern region will attend the course in IIT Roorkee. “Just to economise and streamline the delivery of the programme, without compromising on the quality of teaching,” says Professor Sharma. The candidates will join their respective IITs after successfully completing the course.

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