Maharashtra: Staggering drop among religious minorities in colleges during the pandemic

Maharashtra: Staggering drop among religious minorities in colleges during the pandemic

Educationists and community leaders are perplexed and worried about the loss of hard-fought gains and the drastic reversal of the upward educational trajectory of minorities.

Musab QaziUpdated: Tuesday, January 31, 2023, 02:42 AM IST
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Representational image | FP

Mumbai: Enrollment to higher education institutes in Maharashtra increased by 6.6% in 2020-21 compared to the previous year, the recently released All India Survey on Higher Education Report (AISHE) has shown. This growth was witnessed for all social groups except for Muslims and other religious minorities, who saw a sharp decrease in their college enrollment figures.

The annual survey is conducted by the central government's department of higher education under the Education Ministry. The report is compiled on the basis of data provided by the universities and other higher education institutes of the country on a voluntary basis. The 2020-21 report includes responses from 71 universities, 4,531 colleges, and 2,110 stand-alone institutes.

The report shows that the state's college enrollment increased from 42.65 lakh in 2019-20 to 45.46 lakh in 2020-21, despite the raging Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown that forced most of the colleges to move their classes online. At 7.7%, the growth in the number of male students was higher than the 5.3% rise in female students.

Maharashtra's Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER), which denotes the percentage of youngsters aged 18-23 years who are enrolled in college, also grew from 32.6 in 2019-20 to 34.9 in 2020-21. In this period, the state also improved its Gender Parity Index (GPI), the ratio of female to male students, from 0.9 to 0.92.

Most of the marginalised communities in the state also witnessed higher enrollment in 2020-21. AISHE Report shows that the enrollment of scheduled caste (SC) students rose by 8.4%. The numbers of scheduled tribes (ST) and other backward castes (OBC) students surged by 5% and 3.2%, respectively. While the proportion of SCs among all college-going students increased slightly, there was a marginal drop in the share of ST and OBC students.

However, there was a steep decline in the number of religious minority students on campus. According to the report, the enrollment of students belonging to the Muslim community, the largest religious minority in the state, dipped from 1.66 lakh to 1.5 lakh, a 9.1% reduction. Their proportion in college also got reduced from 3.9% to 3.2%, much lower than their actual share in the population, 11.5%.

The drop was even sharper for female Muslims, who saw their numbers dwindle by a whopping 14% in a single year. The decline has set the community back to 2017-18 level of 1.51 lakh enrollment. Other religious minorities, which include Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Sikhs and Parsis, also registered a 15% drop in numbers.

Educationists and community leaders are perplexed and worried about the loss of hard-fought gains and the drastic reversal of the upward educational trajectory of minorities. "It appears that Muslims were hit the hardest by the pandemic and the economic downfall forced them to take up small-time jobs instead of continuing their education. With higher education getting more privatised and costlier by the day, many find unable to afford it," said Badrul Islam, Assistant Professor, College of Teacher Education, Aurangabad.

The activists also blame the poor implementation of the affirmative action schemes minorities meant for minorities. "The government's affirmative actions are not being executed properly. A review of these schemes is the need of the hour," said Syed Tanveer Ahmed, Director, Markazi Taleemi Board of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. 

He also added that the Muslim community needs to increase its efforts toward creating more awareness and providing educational counselling to students. "While the urbanised population, despite their struggle, manage to send their children to college, a vast section of the community in rural areas lack the necessary awareness," he said.

Buddhabhushan Kamble, Executive President, Ambedkar Students Association Maharashtra, said that rising unemployment among minorities is compromising their educational aspirations said, "Muslims and Buddhists are among the most marginalised communities of the state. Their students are forced to drop out after school as they find educated youths around them struggling to find jobs. The Buddhist community in the state doesn't possess any land, ancestral properties, or other such means of income. Hence, they have no other option but to learn some vocation and find a job, instead of pursuing higher education."

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