Education and jobs may shape youth’s vote choice in Odisha

Issues pertaining to higher education and jobs to take centrestage
Image used for representational purposes only
Image used for representational purposes onlyExpress illustrations

BHUBANESWAR: With 8 lakh new voters in the state’s electoral roll, issues concerning young voters - particularly higher education and employment - are likely to take centerstage.

As elections approach, while political parties are resorting to publicising their slew of measures in the two sectors to secure the young vote bank, the first-time voters are evaluating education and employment promises made and fulfilled by both the state and the Centre before they exercise their franchise.

There are 7.99 lakh first-time voters (in the 18 to 19 age group), who constitute around 2.39 per cent of the total 3.34 crore voters in the state. In 2019, the number was 5.45 lakh, marking an addition of a whopping 2.54 lakh youth in the voting age to the electoral roll.

With the youth population in the state pegged at 34 per cent of the total population, empowerment of youth through education and jobs was one of the promises made by BJD in its 2019 election manifesto. It had promised education loans to students in higher education at zero percent interest, 75 per cent reservation of jobs for qualified local youth in upcoming and existing industries, free internet for students upon joining, waiver of recruitment fees for jobs, among other things.

BJP, similarly, assured increasing enrolment in higher education, academic and financial autonomy to more institutions, free access to e-books, leading journals through the National Digital Library of India.While first-time voters on campuses said the various scholarships (the latest NUA-O scholarship for UG/PG students being the biggest draw), infrastructure development and research incentivisation have been the biggest contribution of the state government since the last election, many others felt employment opportunities - particularly in technical colleges and universities - are still lacking.

“There is a lot of funds being pumped into higher education, both in general and technical education. Our institution has also received Rs 2,000 crore for a period of five years for its transformation. However, the placement scenario has remained grim all these years in a majority of the technical institutions in the state,” said Biswadarshi Behera, an electronics and telecommunication student of VSSUT-Burla. Despite government funding, there is still no level playing field between students from state colleges and universities and their counterparts from private institutions as far as jobs are concerned.

Research, though, has been given greater importance by both the state and Centre since the last elections. A philosophy student of Utkal University Rabindra Maharana said the state’s push towards research at both UG and PG level is praiseworthy. He, however, added that the Ministry of Education’s recent UGC mandate on National Eligibility Test (NET) score for PhD admissions will deprive many students of a higher degree.

“While a majority of the promises made by BJD in its manifesto other than education loan at zero percent interest have already been implemented, the BJP has made many changes at UGC level to reform higher education. However, the major issue no one is talking about is large-scale teacher vacancies in universities that is impacting standard of education, as is evident from national-level rankings of local institutions,” said a student of RD Women’s University, requesting anonymity.

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