Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Understanding Students’ Attitudes Towards Affirmative Action Policy in Higher Education in India

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Abstract:  To mitigate the severe educational horizontal inequalities in India, affirmative action (AA) measures in higher education (HE) have been implemented for socially excluded groups, such as the Scheduled Castes (former “untouchables”), the scheduled tribes (whose status resembles indigenous groups in other countries), and other classes lower in the caste hierarchy. Despite the introduction of AA measures, societal attitudes generally remain resistant to caste‐based reservation policies. Interestingly, very few studies in India have examined AA support among the most directly affected group of people when it comes to AA measures in HE—college students. The current article aims to fill this gap. It asks: Which factors (such as students’ background characteristics, pre‐college credentials, experience in college, and caste‐based beliefs) underlie college students’ attitudes (support or resistance) towards AA? This study builds on a large‐scale survey conducted among 3200 students studying in 12 public higher education institutions across six provinces in India. The results of the empirical analysis indicate that students’ attitudes towards AA are shaped and influenced by their social identity and educational experiences in college. It is also noteworthy that caste‐based biases and prejudices affect students’ attitudes particularly and may explain opposition to AA.

Keywords:  caste; higher education; India; quota system; reservation policy


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© Nidhi S. Sabharwal. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.