Why CUET may not be an equalizer
For one, entrance test-based admissions distract students from their studies for the board examinations, which may lead to serious learning defects amongst them
The UGC has now made it mandatory for all the central universities to admit students to their undergraduate programmes exclusively on the merit of the score of a single common entrance test, CUET, to be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA).
Importantly, the Central Universities Act 2009 had provided for the common entrance test but had not made it mandatory.
Given the dire mismatch between the demand and supply of the quality higher educational institutions and programmes, students and their parents are hassled. Most students in science group in the schools have been spending years in coaching and preparation for the medical and engineering admission tests. Since they could never be sure of getting the needed rank, they have also been spending money and time preparing for many different admission tests for other programmes. Those aiming for a good college in Delhi University have been under no less stress as even those with 100% marks cannot be sure of getting the course of college of their choice.
The “One Nation One Examination” idea is being purported to be proposed by the National Education Policy 2020. NEP 2020, though argues for “a common principle for entrance examination, it puts the caveat “with due regard to diversity and university autonomy”. No doubt the policy states that “NTA would conduct entrance for admission to UG, PG and fellowship in higher education”, but mentions rather specifically that “it would be left to the individual universities and colleges to use NTA assessments for their admissions”.
The policy, however, hopes that “the high quality, range and flexibility of (the) NTA test would enable most universities in the country to use these common entrance exams - rather than having hundreds of universities each devising their own entrance exams - thereby drastically reducing the burden on students, universities and colleges, and the entire education system”.
Obviously, while the academic institutions across the country are still struggling to make sense of the text of the policy to ensure speedy but thoughtful implementation of the academic reforms proposed by it, some are using the policy as the pretext of doing whatever they wish to do to.
The students enrolled in the schools affiliated to the state boards are particularly worried as the CUET would be based only on the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) syllabus. Such students form the larger chunk.
While they are still happy that the CUET would save time, cost and hassles of appearing in many entrance tests often held at far and wide locations, they are also realising that they may have to shell out a lot more money to prepare for the common entrance test.
Presently the coaching institutions for the central university entrance test were a kind of cottage industry. CUET, being a single common test for admission to all central universities, provides the bulk and the critical mass of prospective students for the branded coaching institutes and EdTech companies. The big colourful advertisements in many national and regional newspapers by a few of them provides a good glimpse of things to come. The fees and expenses involved in the coaching are likely to be much higher.
If the UG NEET results are any indicator, the percentage of students qualifying the test significantly vary across different boards. In 2021, 15.44 lakh students had appeared in the test of which 8.7 lakh qualified the test. Amongst the students from of the two central boards-- the CBSE and CISCE-- as many as 73.9% and 71.7% respectively qualified the test.
In contrast, the proportion of students from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu Boards qualifying the test were as low as 33.2%, 37.1%, 44.8%, 44.4% and 47.5% respectively.
So has been the case with the IITJEE exams. Close to 59% of the shortlisted students were from CBSE Board alone. In fact, 75% of all those who cracked the test came only from four boards, the CBSE, Andhra, Maharashtra and Rajasthan Boards.
It should be matter of grave concern that entrance test based admissions distract students from their studies for the board examinations, which may lead to serious learning defects amongst them. Globally, it is proven that the performance of students in the school leaving examinations is the most critical determinant of their lifetime achievements and successes. Undoubtedly, mastering the real domain knowledge is quite different from mastering the technique of cracking multiple choice objective type tests.
Could we not think of a system whereby the scores of the common entrance tests could be considered as mere qualifier and the admission is actually done on the merit of the performance in the board examination? This would in fact flip the focus in favour of the domain knowledge and subject competencies. At the least, we could think of the combined merit of the test score and the board level marks to select the students. This would at least desist the students from totally ignoring or undermining their school level studies.
These are just a few but certainly not the only idea for evolving a better, effective and convenient ways of selecting students for admission in higher education. A little discussions and deliberations with the stakeholders, educationists and experts may bring to the fore many more. The higher education in India is in the concurrent list of the Constitution, thereby making the states as much a partner in the progress as the Centre.
(The author is Professor of Management, Centre for Management Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)
(Views are personal)