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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Improving the gender ratio in IITs

Recently, there have been media reports on a decision taken by Joint Admissions Board (JAB) of IITs where by IITs would create some extra seats for women so as to improve the gender ratio in the under-graduate programs. Two of the reports are here and here. Earlier, JAB had asked a committee headed by Director of IIT Mandi, Prof. Timothy Gonsalves, to look into the ways of improving gender balance in IITs. This decision is apparently one of the recommendations of the committee.

Though the details are sketchy, it seems that there is a goal of having at least 20% women in the under-graduate class in stages. For 2018 admissions, the goal has been set as 14% which will increase by 1% every year to reach 20% in 7 years. In recent years, number of girls admitted to IITs number around 9%. To achieve a 14% ratio in 2018, they will have to increase the number of seats by 6%, and all these 6% will be filled exclusively by women candidates.

A little over a year ago, I had suggested in this blog that we must do some research into why women are not getting selected in larger numbers despite their performing extremely well in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics in class 12th and also they perform well after they get selected in engineering. My own contention is that there is an inherent bias in the society which restricts the coaching options for women. The fraction of women in Kota coaching classes is very small, for example. Even in larger cities, the fraction of women in JEE coaching is less than the fraction of women in science sections in schools. Sometimes, it could be lack of willingness to pay high amounts for a girl child. Or it could be the concern for their safety.

I am not sure what data the committee looked at, but apparently they did find that part of the reason for lower number of women is societal bias, and hence that bias needed to be compensated by some mechanism. And what other mechanism do we know of in this country but reservation.

Is reservation the best mechanism to achieve gender balance?

The obvious shortcoming of reservation or a quota system is that its benefits are not directed towards the disadvantaged class but a larger class. The additional seats may not all go to those women whose parents have refused to send them to outstation coaching, or even to a more expensive coaching within the city. At least some of the seats will be taken up by women who actually go for expensive or outstation coaching.

But note that this is the problem of reservation based systems in general. Aren't OBC reservations benefiting students whose both parents are well educated and can hardly be called "Educationally Backward." But in India, we always argue that if we don't use simple proxies for disadvantages faced by people, the whole system will be gamed by rich and influential. In case of simple proxies (like caste for socially and educationally backwardness), some non-deserving people may sneak in, but it helps those who need such help. Something similar is likely to happen with women reservation as well. A few non-deserving women will get admission, but overall, it will help compensate the societal bias to some extent.

I think something more interesting may happen here. Once the parents know that getting admission to IITs is somewhat easier for women, they may actually be more willing to get them coached. Currently, one of the reasons for not investing in their coaching is that the chances of success are so low, and the expected return on investment is consequently low. They are willing to invest in sons' coaching even with that lower expected return, but will invest in daughters' coaching if the expected return is higher. As a result, a greater percent of women may succeed in the admissions process on their own. My gut feeling is that the percent of women in the normal process will keep increasing and they will need only 5-6 % supernumerary seats even as the goal improves from 14% to 16% and all the way to 20%. And because of this hope, I am positive about the reservation.

Are there other methods that they could have used to increase women admission?

Absolutely. JNU has had the scheme of deprivation points in their admission process. Under this scheme, they would add a few points to the other pieces of evaluation based on some criteria of background of the candidates. One of the criteria is gender, and a small benefit accrues to female candidates.

IITs could do something similar. They could increase the marks of every women candidate by some small number in a way that in the top 10,000 ranks, there are exactly 1400 women. And now women have ranks based on this new marks. One could a priori decide what is the maximum number of marks to be added, and if to ensure that there will be 1400 women out of 10,000 ranks require a higher number of marks to be added, then we will still stick to the maximum marks. (And, of course, we would know how many of them were in top 10,000 before these extra marks, and how many have been added, and create that many more seats to satisfy the current policy of not reducing the number of seats for categories not part of new reservation.)

Of course, it is easy to expand this mechanism to implement all sorts of reservations, and we will have data on exactly how much difference there is between various categories. So we could increase the marks of all SC students in a way that there are exactly 1500 of them in the top 10,000 (subject to the maximum number of marks, note that even now there is a limit on how much lower we will go in the merit list).

This mechanism is very useful when you have very small reservations, for example, in case of Physically challenged students. A PH-ST student is competing for a 0.2% quota (3% of 7.5%), which means that in a large number of programs, there will be 0 reserved seats in any given year. But if you add enough marks to their score that they represent 3% in 10,000, they will be able to seek admission to any seat that they deserve at their performance level.

This mechanism will be useful if we want to compensate for any other bias or discrimination or deprivation that candidates have faced.

Of course, what we are arguing now is that a 15% reservation over 10,000 seats means that the reservation is overall and not in each program. This would mean that they may get slightly less than 15% in some programs and slightly more than 15% in some programs. We only need to make sure that the distribution of marks are such that it won't lead to very high or very low presence in the popular programs (which I suspect will not happen). I don't know how courts will look at it, but it is worth trying.

Can we improve gender balance without any affirmative action?

That would be the least controversial and best method, in general. But that would require a lot of research, and we normally want to solve the problem without doing research. For example, if the hypothesis that lower women representation is due to societal bias and consequent lack of investment in their coaching turns out to have some merit, then perhaps we need to have the entrance exam (or at least some components of it) which are not impacted by such high pressure coaching. Small amount of coaching would be enough. One way to do that is to have speed tests, I am told, instead of very difficult to remember tricks. On top of that, something that government has already asked IITs to do, we can get study material prepared by IITs. And, of course, we are also seeing development of apps where by a candidate can practice for speed tests and get feedback sitting at home, all at a very low cost.

Of course, if the research shows some other reasons behind gender imbalance, we will need to tackle that properly.

Will this lead to more demands of diversifying student population?

Tamil Nadu has a little over 5% population of India, but it does not send 5% students to IITs. Muslims have about 15% population in India, but the fraction of Muslim students in IITs is much smaller. Wouldn't there be demands for increasing their representation.

Of course, there will be. But note one thing. The system proposed is saying that if 50% population does not have even 20% representation then there is something wrong somewhere, and we need to do something about it. So, the goal is not to ensure representation aligned to population fraction. Also, this is the population which seems to be doing much better in pretty much every exam in the country, except JEE advanced. If there are other groups which meet these criteria, that too can be studied.

Summary

It is a difficult decision. But one that I think could lead to attracting better talent by IITs. I am hoping that the "quota" part will remain very small and will eventually go away, and that IITs will implement other ways to attract talent, including changes to JEE.

Added on April 22, 2017:

Prof. Timothy Gonsalves, the Chairman of the committee on improving gender imbalance in IITs has made a posting on his FaceBook wall giving a summary of what went behind the report. I strongly encourage everyone to read that.
 An excerpt from the same:
--------
Would admitting girls with slightly lower ranks compromise on quality at IIT?
 A study in IIT-Delhi looked at the final CGPA of male vs. female students. Over a period of 13 years (2003-2015), females outperformed males consistently by an average of 1 grade point, despite having lower JEE ranks! This amazing finding gels with our experience as teachers in other IITs also. It is an indication that this cohort of young women is extraordinarily talented and highly trained despite the disadvantages of growing up as girls in India.
--------
I am told that the difference in grade between girls and boys of similar JEE ranks at IIT Delhi is a whopping 1.5. It proves beyond a shadow of doubt that giving some push to women whether through quota or bonus marks, or whatever, will actually admit better students to IITs.

23 comments:

iitmsriram said...

Dheeraj, boosting ranks will increase female enrolment, but not uniformly across campuses. We need to decide if our target is to increase overall enrolment or enrolment in each campus. IITM and IITH have about 13% and 16% female enrolment through JEE (averaged over last 4 years, data from NIRF), well above the overall 9%. Of course, old institutions like CoE Pune and CoE Guindy (Anna University) have 30 - 40 % female enrolment. But then, Maharashtra has 30% reservation for female students ...

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

Yes, you have a point. Boosting ranks will increase ratio everywhere and not make it uniform, while the quota will make it uniform.

Shantanu Goel said...

Its great to read your blogs, thank you for sharing yet another one on a very important topic. Please allow me to ask for your insights on this: other than the huge requirement of (competent) man hours, what is the reason that stops us from adopting admission criteria used by foreign universities which require some essays, all past transcripts, extra curricular activitiy records and ofcourse the ranks? We can always filter out the top 10X candidates based on Ranks/CBSE (which is automated), which leaves us to read around 3K applications. Aren't we ready to lead the Indian Universities by example or is there any flaw to this system? I would love to know.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Shantanu, Partly a fear of lawsuits, and partly, an unwillingness to change. A few private universities, particularly in liberal arts discipline are doing it.

Sandeep Chauhan said...

I agree with everything you said. But the last line you wrote -"I am hoping that the "quota" part will remain very small and will eventually go away", this is what frustrates me a lot about the reservation system. They always set a time limit but with a clause that if satisfactory results are not obtained the time duration can be extended, which makes the whole thing permanent and it never goes away(example- the reservation for OBC, SC and ST).

iitmsriram said...

And, partly a fear of compromising the integrity of the admission process? What would a Director do, if a call comes from a minister requesting favorable treatment for a certain applicant?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Sandeep, There is a difference in the existing reservations and this. The existing reservations are based on a notion that if some group has x% share of population then the affirmative action MUST get them MORE THAN x% share in education/jobs. (Just to clarify, those who get into unreserved part PLUS the reservation, where the reservation fraction is same as population fraction.) This model of reservation can never be removed. The current beneficiaries will ensure that. However, a model where x% of population will at most get a reservation of x/2% or less is a self limiting reservation. Sooner or later, the share in education will reach that limit and the reservation is gone.

Aman said...

But sir we have already so much reservation. It is really not a good solution for these problems. And we now trying to give advantages to other people as well. Why? Because It seems an easy solution. We pass a law that we will provide this advantage to this section and our responsibility is over. Why don't we focus on better training and skills for the weaker section. Why we are tempering with the results not providing the resources, the skills to the weaker section.

Kum Kum Garg said...

I believe reservations are demeaning and totally uncalled for in any system. Girls and parents of girls must realize that merit should be the only criteria for admission anywhere. Have we done a survey to find out if girls really want to do engineering or STEM? if they are happy with Arts, Law, design, etc., so be it. I chose engineering 50 years back, when the percentage was a mere 3.3% - 10 girls in a batch of 300 - that was my only choice. let's not force Engineering on the girls. Let them do what they want.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Aman, I see the JAB proposal for women admissions as fundamentally different than other reservations that we have, and each new proposal needs to be looked at its own merit. The difference between women "quota" and other "quotas" is that in other cases the claim is that their educational background is indeed weak, while the claim here is that they are not weaker. The problem is of a particular kind of admission test which has inherent biases.

To say that that admission test results in merit being recognized is something that I disagree with. I believe that an admission test is just a decent objective criteria which satisfies most stake holders and avoid court cases. Otherwise, a single test cannot determine merit for a variety of programs in a variety of institutions. This is assuming that the admission test does not have any inherent biases. I would agree that the paper setters may not have any overt biases. But it has been shown that even a highly researched testing mechanisms had some inherent biases.

Ideally, we should have done a lot more research into this, something that I have been arguing for more than a decade, and come up with a different model of admission, which is less biased, recognizing that no admission process can really be completely bias free, since we can only handle biases that we know and not the biases that we don't know, and hence biases will show up after we implement something.

But the attachment to JEE is so high that in my last blog on this topic where I argued to do only research on this issue (and did not suggest any solution like quota), most comments on my FaceBook wall were on why there is no need for research even. In such an environment, ad hoc decisions become the only way to move forward, with their attendant risk of going wrong.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

Dear Prof. Garg, JNU has had deprivation points for ages, and I have talked to many students there. I haven't come across any male who would make fun of female students there, because they got a slight push, and I have not come across any female who felt that it was demeaning. And of course, someone who thinks it is demeaning can choose to not join. No one is forcing Engineering on them. In most cases, they would be going for engineering in less reputed colleges.

iitmsriram said...

Prof Garg states "Have we done a survey to find out if girls really want to do engineering or STEM?". I don't believe we need to do this, good amount of data is already available. Anna University (College of Engineering Guindy and associated, actually) has about 40% female enrolment in the UG program. IITM across the street has under 15%. At IITM, the female enrolment in the PhD program is close to 30%. So, it is not a lack of interest. Can't blame residential campus, SASTRA university is largely residential and has 40% female enrolment in its UG program. For some reason, female students are avoiding the UG (engineering) program at IITs.

anima said...

It is sad that no women were consulted in this decision making. There was no effort to reach out to IIT women alumni and learn from their experiences. Many of us are strongly opposed to having reservations and we have a petition here https://www.change.org/p/hrd-ministry-of-india-reservations-for-women-in-iit-entrance-exam-is-counterproductive-and-regressive

Amruta said...

There are two assertions here that I would like to point out which I completely oppose.

When you say,"The additional seats may not all go to those women whose parents have refused to send them to outstation coaching, or even to a more expensive coaching within the city. At least some of the seats will be taken up by women who actually go for expensive or outstation coaching." you are assuming that the disadvantaged class is only ones who cannot go to an outstation coaching or an expensive coaching. Even girls who get these opportunities come under this class and are entitled to take this opportunity. It isn't only about money here, it is about the attitude towards women that has to change. Any girl availing this opportunity will gain a lot and will help in bridging the existing bias. The use of the term "A few non-deserving women" is highly wrong because of the very definition of which women 'deserve' it. I believe a woman by being a woman is eligible for this, because the mentality and behaviour of and towards women is what we are changing here and not only economic issues.

Also when you say,"But note that this is the problem of reservation based systems in general. Aren't OBC reservations benefiting students whose both parents are well educated and can hardly be called "Educationally Backward." Even though a kid of an educationally well-off family is availing reservation, it is justified because reservation is a social opportunity. That kid might be the second generation from their family availing this opportunity, which will definitely help their community even more. Only when the individual feels she no longer needs to avail reservation, can she choose to do so, because for the community it is still very much needed.

Abhishek Aryan said...

But sir, don't you think that the governments can also make it a political agenda or propaganda like it was done in the past thus the period of 8 years as suggested by the committee will get overlooked. While this might be a temporary solution however doing nothing except this will have absolutely no effect on the societal bias as you have stated, or the present conditions. while this policy is in place, the governments must simultaneously make education more accessible to girls ( in case it is not already).

According to stats, number of girl applicants to JEE mains is nearly one-third of that of boys so it wouldn't be surprise if the ratio is less. Also the number of applicants for both boys and girls is decreasing that is people are considering to move to other fields other than engineering. In my opinion, probably a larger section of the girls who can crack exams like JEE (that is a larger section of the so called intelligent ones) do not actually apply for engineering but fields like medicine, Economics, Liberal Arts etc... So even-though the ratio is one third, wee do not get even 20% ratio. {this last para is my opinion but i do feel that this aspect is needed to be considered since if this is the case then we would just be increasing the number of undeserving students at IITs)

Sir, it would be nice if you give your opinion on what i wrote. Thank you

Rohan Singh said...

My gut feeling is that the percent of women in the normal process will keep increasing and they will need only 5-6 % supernumerary seats even as the goal improves from 14% to 16% and all the way to 20%. And because of this hope, I am positive about the reservation.

I think that a mere 500 more 'selected' female candidates across the country is too small a number to have any effect on the perception of the parents/relatives of 3 lakh girls that appear. Certainly not enough to increase the selection rate by 1% or 100 females per year. I feel that the selection numbers will increase in sync with the increase in reserved seats and come down to the current number as soon as this artificial boost to their performance is removed. For the perception to change, people need to relate to more cases of girls excelling in the STEM fields around them. Some random 500 girls getting selected in an exam from some different corner of the country does not provide sufficient motivation for one to change his/her conservative thoughts.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Amruta, Non-deserving refers to those who do not meet the rationale for the reservation as stated. If you expand the rationale of reservation, then anything can be justified. I am considering a particular type of bias and suggesting some compensation for that specific bias. And then I am arguing that this compensation is not likely to affect merit. (In a hand waiving argument, I can say that someone getting 80% in JEE after 2 years of intense coaching and someone getting 75% in JEE without any coaching, represent the same "merit.") To go beyond this and argue that we can increase the participation of women because it has positive externalities is a valid argument, but a bit beyond the scope of this article. But I am happy that you raise this point.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Abhishek, Sriram has already given data on other engineering colleges where the gender ratio is much better. And I am sure women who are going to the next level institutes will be keen to study in IITs, if given a chance. So I don't think there will be a shortage of women within a very small percentage of marks. And I am not dependent on political class to stop this quota. As I said, I am hoping that it will encourage more women to apply, it will encourage more parents to invest in their daughters, and in the worst case, there may still be less than 20% women after 8 years, and that small gap continue to be filled by having extra women seats, but that never will remain small.

Kum Kum Garg said...

i believe reservation of any kind anywhere is both demeaning and unnecessary. why do we want girls to study engineering or STEM, if they do not want to? Let them choose what they want to study. Girls are doing so well in Arts, Design and Social Sciences. there is no point forcing them to study Engineering through reservations. No model of any kind will work. Each will have its own drawbacks.

Abhishek Aryan said...

as I mentioned earlier that " While this might be a temporary solution however doing nothing except this will have absolutely no effect on the societal bias as you have stated, or the present conditions. while this policy is in place, the governments must simultaneously make education more accessible to girls ( in case it is not already). " This doesn't seem to happen as there are no measures being taken simultaneously as a long term solution.

Also The major concern is:" probably a larger section of the girls who can crack exams like JEE (that is a larger section of the so called intelligent ones) do not actually apply for engineering but fields like medicine, Economics, Liberal Arts etc... i do feel that this aspect is needed to be considered since if this is the case then we would just be increasing the number of undeserving students at IITs"

Saswata said...

I can bet that this move will not be successful (which means that this reservation would need to be continued for ever) unless several IITs remove the prison-style restrictions to girls on campus. Even if girls want to do an experiment in a lab in night, many IITs would not allow them or at least make them go through a permission loop to do so because there would be some 12 PM hostel entry rule. (Note that I am not talking about 11 PM campus entry rule as there may be safety concerns for both girls and boys outside campuses in night). Just for namesake, such rules would be there in boys' hostels as well but no one is serious about applying such rules there.

What IITs need to change is mindset towards girls students, providing equal opportunities not just on paper to both boys and girls.

iitmsriram said...

@saswata, I believe your theory is not based on fact. I quoted high female enrolment in SASTRA and Anna University as examples for a reason. See if you can find out the hostel rules at SASTRA. Let me just hint that you might encounter the term guard dogs. Your point about difficulty in going to the lab at night is likely to affect PG students more than UG students, no? But IITs are not lagging in PG enrolment of female students. That is not the point.

Thanks to NIRF, we have enrolment data on hundreds of engineering institutions across the country - rural / urban, residential / commuter, North / South, UG / PG, whatever demographic factors you want to throw in. IITs as a group are clearly lagging in female enrolment fraction at the UG level. The proposed 20% enrolment target is a "middle of the pack" target. Some states (Maharashtra, for example) already have state mandated 30% reservation for female students. I don't know if anyone really knows why the female UG enrolment is lagging in the IITs; anyone can have a theory that is supported by facts or otherwise.

Saswata said...

@iitmsriram, I am not claiming that such gender-biased rules are not present in other residential colleges and universities in India. What I am saying is that such rules make Indian residential campuses less attractive for girls, thereby leading to less competition among girls to grab a seat in one such institute. Since getting UG admission at an IIT is more competitive than getting PG admission at an IIT or getting UG admission at SASTRA, IIT UG programmes end up getting lesser percentage of girls because boys in general are more seriously competing for the "fun time" they would have in these campuses. Such serious efforts by boys give them higher JEE ranks that are acceptable by IITs to admit a student, whereas lower ranks acceptable by other institutes are more evenly distributed. (The main motivation, even though it is ill-conceived, among many IIT UG aspirants these days is fun time in a hostel with "assured and high package" placement at the end.)

In addition to that, it may be possible that girls in general are more interested to study medicine and liberal arts over engineering, even though there are many exceptions. Lack of access to coaching also plays a role. But note that IITs can only do a little bit, if anything, in these two aspects, whereas they can change the first one easily.

P.S. Girl students denied access to labs after 12 PM in several IITs was an example of how such restrictions affect girls in IIT campuses; even UG students face problem when they need to participate in a 24-hour hackathon or a group project involving overnight work.