The Print
New Delhi

Conducted by researcher from a Delhi-based think tank, study funded & released by United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research this month.

Electing a graduate to the state assembly may lead to better access to electricity for constituents, as compared to electing a candidate with either only school-level education or no schooling at all, according to a study.

The education level of an MLA, however, has no significant impact on the overall delivery of public goods, the study, titled ‘Is economic development affected by the leaders’ education levels’, adds.

Conducted by Chandan Jain from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (IIIE), a Delhi-based think tank, the study was funded and released by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU WIDER) — a think tank based in Helsinki, Finland — this month.

Jain and his peers used assembly polls data from the Election Commission of India website for the period 2009-2013, and sought to examine the impact a public representative’s education level has on development indicators.

The authors scanned data for 10,898 candidates — 6,619 were graduates and above (postgraduate or doctorate levels), 1,639 were 12th pass, and the rest, 2,640, had lower educational levels.

Broadly, the authors used data on night-time lights to measure economic development: For this, the study used images captured by numerous satellites working under the US Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP-OLS).

Nighttime lights are a real-time measurement of access to electricity or energy. It’s used by several researchers, including the World Bank, as a measure of development.

According to NASA, nighttime lights are used for estimating population, assessing electrification of remote areas, monitoring disasters and conflict, and understanding biological impacts of increased light pollution.

In addition, authors also used the 2011 Census for data on public goods and infrastructure. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau — the federal agency responsible for collating and analysing crime data — and from the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (for information on assets of elected representatives) was tapped as well.

However, the authors admitted that their study was limited by old data sets.

“Our data spans the period from 2009 to 2013 due to limits imposed by the availability of information on candidates’ characteristics and comparable nighttime lights,” the authors say in the study.

“The data on public goods, roads, electricity, and power are cross-sectional in nature, limiting the extent to which we can draw conclusions based on these data.”

Graduate versus non-graduate MLAs

The authors segregated legislators into three primary categories — those who have not completed schooling, 12th pass (those who have finished high school), and graduates — to study the impact of each education level on development indicators.

Higher education levels of elected representatives translate to growth in nighttime lights, the study says.

“According to our preferred specification, there is a 3.28 percentage point increase in annual average growth rate of nighttime lights resulting from electing a graduate candidate over a non-graduate candidate in close election,” the study says.

Electing a 12th-pass leader over one who hasn’t completed schooling had a negligible impact on the growth in nighttime lighting, the study adds.

Effect on other factors

Although electing a graduate had some positive impact on public goods and infrastructure, it wasn’t significant, the study says.

According to the study, the “percentage of households that have access to electricity as the main source of lighting is 5.3 percentage points higher if a graduate candidate
is elected”. The study used household-level data from the 2011 Census.

When taken together with roads and power supply, the study showed that electing a graduate candidate made almost no significant change in public goods and infrastructure.

“We find that there is no significant effect of electing a graduate leader on overall provision of public goods in the constituency,” the study says.

Based on NCRB data, the researchers also plotted the number of police cases reported in a constituency to study the impact of graduate legislators on local crime as against non-graduate ones.

“With regard to crime outcome, we find that a 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of graduate legislators in a district on average causes a 1.2 to 1.9 per cent decline in the reported crime in the constituency,” it adds.

The study examined the net asset growth of graduate legislators against non-graduates and found that electing a graduate MLA had no significant impact on corruption.

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