The Union HRD ministry’s All-India Survey of Higher Education can be greeted with a qualified welcome. It is gratifying to note that the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) has increased from 24.5 per cent in 2015-16 to 25.2 per cent in 2016-17; but any satisfaction on this score must be tempered with the thought that only a segment of the populace has been benefited by the trumpeted advancement of learning. Not least because the GER, a statistical index, pertains to the number of students enrolled in the under-graduate, post-graduate, and research levels ~ covering the search for learning at the college and university levels. The subaltern class, specifically the Dalits and tribals, continues to languish in terms of percentage points, not to forget the appalling literacy level among this class group. Sops such as rice at Rs 2 a kg, as in West Bengal, have done but little to address the fundamental malaise. It is cause for alarm that the GER for Dalits remains less than 21.1 per cent and that for tribals still lower at 15.4 per cent. Ergo, a pie-chart on the country’s educational scenario will be a decidedly distressing visual.

Not that the Dalits and tribals have been excluded from the purview of higher learning. In point of fact, the problem lies in the assimilation of knowledge, perhaps also the inability of the education authorities to counsel and encourage them to perform better. It is hard not to wonder whether the crutch of reservations assures them of employment opportunities ~ even in the rarefied Civil Services ~ and admission to centres of learning. Sad to reflect, there has been no matching upgrade in terms of educational attainments. The mismatch between education and social sector benefits can only place this class group at a fundamental disadvantage. This is the subtext of the document that was unveiled by the Union HRD minister, Prakash Javadekar, on Friday.

Going by the data, it seems unlikely that India will attain a GER of 30 per cent by 2020; if it could, the ruling BJP dispensation would have had a cogent reason to preen its feathers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It is still way behind several countries, notably China. In a sense, the problem mirrors the structural inadequacy ~ the superstructure of higher institutions of learning and centres of excellence above a frightfully weak foundation of decrepit primary and secondary schools in rural areas. For all the political turmoil, we must give it to the Tamil Nadu government that the state ranks highest in terms of GER at 46.9 per cent ~ higher than the national average. Bihar, as usual, is in the also-ran category with barely 14.9 per cent of its “eligible population pursuing higher education”. The singular saving grace must be that the Pupil/Teacher Ratio is more than 50 in Bihar and Jharkhand. Nationally, the latest GER has few bouquets to offer.