Incentive Schemes for SC, ST, Minority & Marginalized Students in Higher Education in India: Importance, History & Beneficiaries
Education stands as a potent instrument for nurturing both personal and societal advancement. The significance of higher education cannot be overstated within this framework, as it is pivotal in driving social and economic progression. Education’s role extends beyond being a mere facilitator; it is the cornerstone underpinning societal evolution, facilitating upward social movement and empowerment.
However, the trajectory of education has not been devoid of historical disparities. These disparities have particularly affected marginalized communities in India, engendering impediments in their pursuit of higher education. This challenge, rooted in the past, intersects with current struggles, leaving numerous marginalized groups grappling with restricted access to advanced educational opportunities.
In the Indian context, pursuing an inclusive society necessitates an unequivocal commitment to providing equal prospects for every student, regardless of their origins. Central to this commitment is the endeavor to bridge the educational chasm that separates the privileged from the marginalized. To address this issue head-on, the government of India has instituted a range of incentivization programs focusing on empowering Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), minorities, and other underprivileged students.
These initiatives hold profound significance, tracing their roots to historical injustices and contemporary socio-economic disparities. Essentially, they are powerful tools for creating equilibrium within the educational sphere. As India strides forward, these schemes play an instrumental role in fostering a level playing field, ultimately propelling the nation towards a more equitable and harmonious educational landscape.
This article briefly examines these incentive schemes’ history, importance, beneficiaries, and quantitative impact on creating a more equitable educational landscape.
The history of inequality in education for marginalized communities in India dates back to the caste-based hierarchy and systemic discrimination. Access to quality education has been disproportionately restricted for SC, ST, and minority students due to societal prejudices, poverty, and lack of infrastructure. Recognizing the need to address these disparities, the Indian government introduced affirmative action policies, like reservations in educational institutions and government jobs, to ensure the representation and participation of these communities.
Importance of Incentive Schemes
Incentive schemes are integral to breaking down barriers and ensuring that marginalized students have a fair chance to pursue higher education. These schemes focus on financial support, scholarships, mentorship, and skill development programs. The beneficiaries of these incentive schemes are primarily SC, ST, minority, and marginalized students. These students face socio-economic challenges that hinder their educational pursuits. By offering financial aid, scholarships, and additional support, incentive schemes ensure these students have an equal opportunity to succeed. Additionally, the impact extends to their families and communities, as educated individuals are more likely to uplift their surroundings through awareness and empowerment.
The importance of these schemes is highlighted as follows:
Equity and Access: Incentive schemes create a more level playing field by providing financial assistance to marginalized students, allowing them to access higher education institutions previously beyond their reach due to financial constraints. According to the All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE), in 2019-2020, SC and ST enrollment in higher education was 15.9 and 6.8 percent, respectively, compared to the all-India average of 26.3 percent. Incentive schemes provide the necessary financial support to bridge this gap and enable access to quality education.
The National Sample Survey (NSS) data further revealed that the average monthly per capita expenditure among rural SC/ST households was significantly lower than the national average. Incentive schemes empower students to pursue higher education, enhancing their employability and economic prospects.
- Empowerment: Marginalized students can improve their socio-economic conditions by investing in education.
- Representation: Higher education institutions benefit from diversity, and the incentive schemes facilitate the enrollment of students from diverse backgrounds, enriching the academic environment and fostering cross-cultural understanding.
- Economic Growth: A skilled and educated workforce is crucial for a country’s economic growth. Incentivizing higher education among marginalized communities helps tap into their potential, contributing to national development.
Examples of Incentive Schemes
- Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for SC Students: This centrally sponsored scheme provides financial assistance to SC students studying at the post-matriculation level to cover their tuition, maintenance, and other related expenses. In 2019-2020, around 4.8 million SC students were beneficiaries of this scheme, receiving financial aid for their education. Since its inception, the scheme has supported over 10,000 ST students pursuing higher studies.
- National Fellowship for Higher Education of ST Students: Aimed at promoting higher education among ST students, this scheme offers fellowships for pursuing M.Phil. and Ph.D. programs, reducing financial burdens.
- Maulana Azad National Fellowship for Minority Students: Designed for minority students, this scheme provides financial assistance to pursue higher education in science, humanities, and social sciences.
- Pre-Matric Scholarship Scheme for Minority Students: This scheme offers scholarships for students from minority communities studying in classes 1 to 10 to reduce the dropout rate. By 2020, nearly 3,500 students had been awarded fellowships under this scheme to pursue M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. In 2019-2020, over 3.7 million minority students benefited from this scholarship, preventing dropout rates and promoting educational continuity. The AISHE data indicates that enrollment of SC students in higher education increased from 13.4 percent in 2014-2015 to 15.9 percent in 2019-2020, showcasing the positive impact of incentive schemes.
- Hostel facilities: The government provides hostel facilities for marginalized college or university students.
- Free textbooks: The government provides free textbooks to marginalized college or university students.
- Attendance-based scholarships:These scholarships are awarded to marginalized students who maintain a high attendance record in college or university.
Because of the importance of the incentive schemes and their impact on the education of SC, ST, Minority, and other marginalized sections of the society, a Committee was set up by the Ministry of Education, Government of India on August 7, 2023, which was reported by HindustanThe committee.
The committee is headed by former University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat and Prof. M.M. Ansari, former Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Prof. Ajay Kumar Mittal, former Vice-Chancellor of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Prof. Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology at Delhi University, and Prof. Suman Chakravarti, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University as the other members of the committee.
The Thorat Committee’s terms of reference are to examine the existing incentive schemes for SC, ST, and minority and marginalized students in higher education, identify the gaps in these schemes and suggest ways to improve them and make recommendations for making higher education more accessible and inclusive for these students.
The committee has been given six months to submit its report. The setting up this committee is a positive step by the government to address the issue of access to higher education for marginalized students. The committee’s recommendations will be important in shaping the future of higher education in India. The committee will consult nationwide with stakeholders, including students, teachers, and administrators. The committee will also review the existing literature on incentive schemes for marginalized students in higher education. It is hoped that the recommendations of the Thorat Committee will benefit hundreds of thousands of SC, ST, Minority, and other Marginalised students across the Country.
Inclusive incentive schemes for SC, ST, minority, and marginalized students in higher education play a pivotal role in addressing historical injustices and socio-economic disparities. These schemes provide financial assistance and empower marginalized students to continue their educational aspirations and contribute to the nation’s progress. By promoting diversity, equity, and access, these schemes are integral to building an inclusive and prosperous society for India’s future.
Refer to the following websites:
- Ministry of Education
- National Commission for Scheduled Castes
- National Commission for Scheduled Tribes