A country can truly rise when all its communities are economically empowered.
Higher education (HE) is one of the most powerful drivers toward economic empowerment. It unlocks new avenues for aspiring citizens to develop their human capital, access to better employment and financial opportunities, and improve the quality of life.
Today, socio-economic growth is driven by the knowledge economy, and the biggest benefactors of this new economy are people and countries focussing on human capital development.
The recently released AISHE 2018-19 report indicates tremendous growth among all communities except for those designated ‘general merit’. The compound annual growth rates (CAGR) of the communities are 6.3 percent (SC), 7.8 percent (ST), 6.3 percent (OBC), 7.7 percent (Muslims), and 7.5 percent (other minority communities), between 2012-13 and 2018-19. In the same period, enrolment of general category dropped at a CAGR of negative 0.5 percent. The Government of India’s institution of the 10 percent Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category may be a response to this decline.
Enrolment proportions for the SC, ST, and OBC communities in 2018-19 are close to their population composition – 14.9 percent enrolment against 16.6 percent of the population for SCs, 5.5 percent enrolment against 8.6 percent of the population for STs, and 36.3 percent enrolment against 40.9 percent of the population for OBCs. Towards the objectives of inclusive enrollment and coverage, affirmative action has indeed yielded results.
Minorities, however, have not demonstrated the same progress. Minorities constitute 20.2 percent of India’s population but only 7.5 percent in HE enrollment. AISHE only tracks Muslims separately, who represent 5.2 percent of HE enrolment against 14.2 percent of the population. All other designated minority religions are jointly categorised - Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and others – and are collectively at 2.3 percent of total enrolment against six percent of the population. The upcoming 2021 census will inform us of the latest composition.
Women’s Education and Fertility Rates
Education impacts access to employment opportunities, quality of life, development of human capital, and the ability to uplift communities. Education and literacy, especially of women, also have a significant impact on population growth and fertility rates.
A previous article by authors Pai and Baid (FE, Falling Fertility) correlates female literacy with a decrease in fertility rates to establish that educating girls is one of the most salient contributors to fertility downturn. Economic empowerment is another. The Muslim community experienced a 23 percent decrease in fertility rates between 2003-05 and 2013-15 correlating with an increase of 30 percent in female literacy (only 14 percent in male literacy). Other religions too saw significant drops in fertility, but given that the Muslim community had the highest fertility rate, by far at 3.40 in 2003-05, the impact is greater. Higher education of the Muslim community, especially among women, will take this progress further.
Enrolment of Muslim women in higher education rose faster than men’s between 2012-13 and 2018-19 – 8.7 percent vs 6.9 percent. Total enrolment increased from 5.85 lakh to 9.66 lakh for women and 6.67 lakh to 9.93 lakh for men, as shown in Table 2.
In the ‘Other Minorities’ communities combined, women lead men in enrolment – 4.71 lakh vs 3.97 lakh in 2018-19. As analysed in our previous article (FE, Rise of the Indian woman), it seems women across all communities are enrolling in larger numbers with clear aspirations. Now growth rates must accelerate to improve Gross Enrolment Ratios (GER) within the community.
Focus on Muslim-dominated Areas
For rapid improvement of human capital development amongst the Muslim community, it will help to focus on areas with larger populations. Table 3 shows the five states with the highest number of Muslims along with Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which has a Muslim majority population at 68.3 percent.
Uttar Pradesh is first with 3.84 crore Muslims at 19.3 percent of its population. These six states together have 11.3 crores Muslims – 66 percent of the India total. This data is per 2011 census; the upcoming 2021 census will provide an update.
Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is an excellent indication of human capital development within a community. Since AISHE does not provide GER estimations for Muslims and other minority communities, the authors have made estimations. Muslim GER was calculated using census 2011 compositions in each state, and the eligible 18-23 years population and number of Muslims enrolled from AISHE.
In all six states and India total, there is a stark difference between the overall GER and estimated Muslim GER. For example, Uttar Pradesh’s GER is 25.8, but estimated Muslim GER is only 6.6. Surprisingly, even J&K, being a Muslim-majority state, has a low Muslim GER of 18.1, compared to the state GER of 30.9. It speaks volumes of the failure of the state to provide adequate opportunities for development to its citizens.
Low GER amongst the Muslim community across India – at 9.7 – indicates the need for a different approach. A special drive to increase capacity and number of schools and colleges in Muslim-dominated areas is necessary. Further, focussed training toward competitive exams for government jobs and skill development programmes such as National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) will provide opportunities for educated Muslims to utilise their skills in the workforce.
The central government and state governments (where Muslims are in higher numbers) must make it a mission to improve enrolment in the community. Targets to accelerate GER over the next five years must be set and executed. The Ministry of Minority Affairs has sufficient budget of Rs 4,700 crore year-on-year already allocated to implement this. Priority to Muslims’ higher education, especially women, must be executed in this budget.
The Muslim community must take charge of improving their human capital. When other groups like SC/ST/OBCs have demonstrated such rapid improvement, there is no reason the Muslim community cannot. In this world where the velocity of change is unprecedented due to technology, the internet and other drivers, every community must focus on its human capital development.
The Indian Muslim community must utilise every advantage they possess to ensure their children are not left behind in this new world dynamic. Focussing on higher education is one of those compelling advantages.
This article was first printed in The Financial Express.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of MAKERSIndia.