governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

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Good intentions are never enough to frame good policies. Each new policy generates a host of incentives and therein lies the devil of unintended consequences. The new Lt. Governor in Delhi announced a new admissions policy for private schools in Delhi.

The policy intervenes in the school admissions market in two ways. First it reserves 35% of the available seats (5% for girls, 25% for the poor (ponderously termed in sarkari-hinglish as Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and 5% for the kids of employees).

Second, it prescribes the weights to be used for assessing a kid for admission; 70% is for those living within 6 km of a school; 20% is for a sibling in the same school; 5% is for an alumni parent; 5% for interstate transfer.

Any intervention by the State comes at the cost of distorted markets and efficiency losses. However, the modern State does intervene on grounds of promoting equity. In the case of admissions to private schools, state intervention to determine the rules is a border line case. Ideally, private unaided schools should face no restraints on their ability to manage. However, the State is so overwhelmingly present in India, by providing land to schools at cheap prices and other such goodies and our society so iniquitous, that only a Libertarian fundamentalist will question the need for state intervention.

The dramatic and very welcome change in the new policy is that school management no longer has a quota (earlier 20%) for itself. In effect, this means that the non-meritorious and well-connected or rich kids, who earlier paid-off the management through quid-pro-cos or cash and got admission under the management quota, will now have to look to Gurgaon, NOIDA or even further to get educated.  This courageous blow for merit and transparency, which has got all school managements in a twist, can only be welcomed.

The same cannot however be said for the new “local” kid advantage rule. Good schools, which make parents drool at the mouth, like Modern School, DPS and Sardar Patel Vidyalaya , to name only a few, are all located in rich and babu areas like Barakhamba Road, Humayun Road, Vasant Vihar, RK Puram and Lodhi Estate. The “local” kid advantage at a hefty 70% ensures a total wipe out for other applicants. Ergo the rich and the babus benefit. Nothing new here since privilege is enshrined in our culture.

What about the 25% reservation for EWS? Will not that ensure that rich and poor kids mingle and learn from each other? Certainly this is progressive but when combined with the “local kid advantage” it generates unintended consequences. Here is why.

In the rich and babu localities, for every one person in the house there are two persons in the “servant’s quarters” who generally work for peanuts in exchange for the significant privilege of a decent room in a prime locality. The ESW quota in the “good” schools will directly benefit this segment. One can even envisage people temporarily taking up such residence, at least on paper (as in the case of getting into the Rajya Sabha), just to get their kids admitted. The net result will be to enhance the already existing high premium on houses in these localities and crowd out other poor but meritorious kids in the rest of Delhi.

The LG would be well advised to revisit the “local kid advantage”, at the very least for ESW applicants, to allow the free flow of poor but meritorious kids to “good” schools within Delhi. Since schools in Delhi have no legal obligation to bus students to school, unlike the US, from where this rule seems to have been inspired, ESW applicants should be able to self-select what suits them best.

Similarly mindboggling is why kids, already having a sibling in a school or with alumni parents, should have a combined hefty 30% preference. What does this rule achieve except to encourage kids to free ride on their siblings and make kids complacent because their parents went to good schools? Such preferential treatment only induces rich parents to donate generously to schools, in the hope of a quid- pro-co. This is a blow against merit, against social change and in favour of privilege and must be dropped.

The third mind boggler is a 5% reservation for girls. This is a classic case of mindless gender equity overreach. Surely a better rule would have been to simply require that the admission list in a co-educational school should give preference to achieve a 40% representation of either gender. This would ensure that the co-educational character of the school is preserved (including by getting girls into schools) whilst minimizing the sacrifice of merit for equity. What if a school admission list already has 60% girls on merit? Should there be a further 5% reservation for girls on top of that, even though boys also seeking admission may be more meritorious than the girls seeking admission under the reserved quota? Why is that a social good?

Public policy is all about blending equity with efficiency as the LG knows well. The preference for paying lip service, to the single malt of equity, is not surprising in an election year, but well below par for Najeeb Jung.

 

 

Comments on: "Delhi School Admissions; too much single malt" (1)

  1. The point about excessive government control is correct. Barring a few schools the quality of education is poor in most private schools, but due to limited availability they are still in great demand.

    The government should consider ‘for profit’ schools which get everything including land at market rates and are free to set their own fees. We need educational institutions run by listed companies giving dividends and capital gains to their share holders.

    Just as corporate hospitals have established high quality medical treatment in the country such schools will bring in international quality education. If a function like life saving drugs and healthcare can be privatised with positive results why can we not privatise education and allow for profit corporate schools.

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