The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are far from meeting the reservation norms for Scheduled Caste (15%), Scheduled Tribe (7.5%) and Other Backward Classes (27%) in their PhD programmes, but data presented to Parliament by the Union Education Ministry reveal that though the percentage of applications accepted out of total received is similar across social categories, the pool of candidates from the socially disadvantaged classes has remained shallow over the years.
Between 2018-19 and 2021-22, the 20 IIMs received 1,636 PhD applications from SCs, and selected 50 (3.05%);403 from STs and selected 15 (3.72%); 3,110 from OBCs and selected 130 (4.18%). It was no different in the general category: 13,669 applications received, 547 accepted (4%). Overall, the IIMs received 18,823 applications, and accepted 757 candidates (4.02%).
What is, however, striking in the data is the small pool of candidates from the socially disadvantaged categories. For SCs, the number of candidates applying has hardly increased – it was 386 in 2018-19 and three years later, it stood at 415. Similarly, for STs – from 88 to 100; the pool of OBCs has risen, but the base continues to be small – it has increased from 619 to 1,023. Compare this with the base of the general category, which was 3,103 in 2018-19, and stood at 3,799 in 2021-22..
IIMB’s Prof Deepak Malghan, who teaches public policy, and tracks affirmative action, says the question is not really about acceptance rates (percentage of applications accepted per 100). “The central problem is that IIMs have done virtually nothing to attract a talented application pool that is representative of India’s diverse society,” he says.
The government has been cognisant of this aspect for long. It has repeatedly stressed that IIMs were not exempted from the reservation policy in admissions, including for PhD programmes. Linking admissions into PhD programmes to caste diversity amongst faculty, it said in a April 19, 2017, letter to IIMA, “As a medium term measure, you may focus on having more fellows from SC/ ST/ OBC categories so that they can become prospective faculty members in your institute.”
Since this letter to IIMA more than five years ago, the representation of the socially disadvantaged in PhD programmes, and in faculty positions, has hardly improved. In fact, all IIMs had, in December 2019, requested the Ministry of Education (then called Ministry of Human Resource Development) to exempt them from reserving faculty positions for SCs, STs, OBCs and the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
Prof Malghan also traces the poor representation of the marginalised communities in the faculty positions to their low intake in the PhD programmes. “The PhD program is the nursery for future faculty members. We are today in a situation where over 85% of IIM faculty members are drawn from less than 10% of India’s diverse society,” he points out.
The Ministry of Education shared the numbers in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday in a written response to a question raised by CPI(M) MP V Sivadasan. Among the total 757 students admitted in PhD programmes of the IIMs between 2018-19 and 2021-22, SCs account for 6.6%, STs 1.98% and OBCs 17.17%, and the general category around 72%.
Few from backward classes
The intake of PhDs from SC, ST and OBC communities in IIMs has remained low over years. This has also impacted the social diversity among faculty in the country’s elite B-schools since it is the pool of PhDs that can serve as a catchment area for recruitment to teaching positions.
Among the top IIMs, IIM-Ahmedabad received 200 PhD applications from SCs between 2018-19 and 2021-22, of which two were accepted; 78 from STs of which two were admitted; and 2,617 from the general category, of which 75 were admitted.
During the same period, IIM-Bangalore, accepted three out of 188 (none in 2021-22) PhD applications by SCs; none out of 52 by ST candidates; 80 out of 1,946 in the general category.
IIM Calcutta, meanwhile, accepted nine out of 219 applications from SC candidates; IIM Kozhikode (2 out of 298); Lucknow (9 out of 78); Indore (4 out of 97).
When contacted, IIM Indore Director Himanshu Rai said, “We follow the reservation norms. So the vacancies in reserved categories, if suitable candidates are not found, remain as such.”
Prof Malghan, however, questioned the practices of IIMs in implementing the reservation policy. “Reservations are defined as X% of some total number of seats. IIMs decided they can get away by not defining the base. You cannot have a 22.5% SC/ST quota if you do not know what the base is. It has to be 22.5% of some total number of seats.” He said IIMs led by IIMA claimed they were not able to determine in advance the total number of seats available in any given year.
An IIM alumnus, Anil Wagde, who is a party to an ongoing public interest litigation in the Gujarat High Court on the low representation of SC/ ST/ OBCs in the PhD programme in IIM Ahmedabad, said, “Over the years, the intake has remained largely constant. The IIMs’ argument that they do not know the number of seats available in advance does not hold water.”