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The unfair advantage of being a Kiwi

Last month saw Delhi University (DU) colleges reach new heights for cut off marks.

The Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) announced a stratospheric 100% cut off with St Stephen’ College, in a close second for absurdity, with 97%.

Things have changed since my days in Sri Venkateswara College (‘Venky’ for the English medium types). Even then getting admission was not simply a matter of turning up and bribing your way into the ‘Sports Quota.’

Many Venkyites were track and field champions who did not have the stamina to run after the Mudrika (Ring Road bus) for more than the length of a bus stop.

Some readers will be upset that I gained admission by quota. Not as a scheduled tribe person or a backward caste member, despite those groups being a more apt description of my character, but as a ‘gora.’

This was something I did not advertise, as my very first day in College was a full- blown riot in the dark days of the ‘Mandal Commission’, that saw volatile nationwide protests against quotas for education and jobs.

I spent that first day with my eyes wide open like a possum caught in a car’s headlights. I saw future friends, through a light haze of tear-gas, address the students with a frenzy that you do not see in New Zealand, unless you are a mental health nurse.

That has never left me; the raging passion for a fair chance from having studied madly for the larger part of their lives, often at the cost of a childhood.

Comical Concept

Australasians have it so very easy. For me to have qualified for a seat in DU on a level playing field is a comical concept. I certainly would not have got in the sports quota as sumo wrestling in India was still in its infancy. My Kiwi exam marks were an almost perfect inverse of the now ridiculous cut off level.

Not everyone is disadvantaged enough to have an unfair advantage, such as being a Kiwi. This lack of opportunity, despite securing an average of 80% plus, is a matter of life and death to many students.

The tragedy of the annual suicides that darkly come with the admission season is proof to that statement. Young boys and girls, who have pressures that many western children would simply not withstand over just a morning.

The years of family discipline that enforces daily hours-long shifts of calculus and Shakespeare. Parents petrified at the thought of their loved children ill equipped in a society that has no Social Welfare and then strongly projecting those intense fears on already stressed kids.

Frustratingly, these tragedies are not only driven by justifiably neurotic parents and elite colleges conducting ‘branding exercises’ but also by the reality of sheer numbers mismatched by finite seats.

DU has 54,000 seats with over 125,000 applicants.

“It is a grave crisis that we need to look into. At least six more DUs are needed in the national capital region to meet the skewed ratio of demand and supply,” Professor V N Rajasekharan Pillai, Vice-Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, said.

Other solutions have been put forward including a much wider programme of evening classes in DU’s 70 colleges. This would have been a policy from heaven in my day. Our Doordarshan era dance parties were stifled by girls having 4 pm curfews. I think you would find students with no incentive to graduate within eight years and the necessary introduction of abnormally large crèches.

All this injustice is good news for Australasian education institutions.

In fact, it might give impetus to phenomena where the intellectually less fortunate Indian students are the foreign students rather than the cream.

Ethnic prejudice

When Malaysia exercised its prejudice against ethnically Chinese aspiring students, Australian and New Zealand Universities enjoyed a windfall, as they still do. The continued and strongly increasing prejudice of the Indian Government against her own aspiring students, albeit a universal prejudice, will ensure greater numbers will look abroad.

What about students who do not come from business families but can afford foreign fees? What about students who do not come from business families but can support perfectly good students who do not have impossibly perfect scores?

They will have to live in a society that has very little opportunity for a ‘respectable’ position without a graduate qualification. It can be a nightmarish reality to exist in a vacuum of opportunity.

Young, 17-year-old innocents know this. I feel deeply sad remembering the tears when friends saw their posted results. The student sitting next to me in an exam, who was caught cheating, wept and begged with pressed hands to be excused.

It was as if he was begging for his life.

He was.

Roy Lange is a New Zealander with educational and work experience in India. He is our Columnist based in Melbourne, Australia.

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