A few teething troubles could be expected but critics shouldn’t turn that into a vindictive stick to beat the reforms with.
For decades, undergraduate admission seekers in Delhi University (DU) found their hopes locked in grids of horizontal and vertical spaces in which cut-off lists were published. From college notice boards to newspapers, columns showing institutes, courses and cut-off percentages became an entry code to study at the national capital’s premier university. This is now set to be a memory of the past.
Last week, it became clear that from the next academic session, DU will hold entrance tests for admission to around 70,000 seats in different undergraduate (UG) programmes. This will be in addition to the entrance tests that the university or some of its constituent colleges were already conducting for a few undergraduate courses and for admission to most of the post-graduate (PG) courses and research programmes. The move to completely replace the cut-off system with entrance tests has been approved by majority vote in the varsity’s Executive Council, the apex decision-making body in the university, and earlier it got the nod of the majority of members in the Academic Council. There has been some opposition to it, mostly on predictable lines.
The meetings of both the bodies, in which the proposal was discussed and voted upon, registered a few notes of dissent. Clearly outnumbered by those favouring the new system, the resistance didn’t cut much ice.
The proposal for conducting entrance test for admission was based on the recommendation of a nine-member committee, headed by Dean (Examinations) D S Rawat, constituted by DU Vice-Chancellor Professor Yogesh Singh in October this year.
Along with other factors, a review of the admission process was long felt because the unrealistically high marks awarded by central as well as state school boards had led to a skyrocketing surge in cut-offs in recent years. The immediate trigger, however, were the cases of over and under admissions this year in some undergraduate courses and a large number of applicants from a particular state board securing 100 percent.
Amid other terms of reference, the committee was entrusted with the task of examining reasons for the over and under admission, the share of different state boards in the number of admitted students, and suggest alternative methods for substantial objectivity in the admission process and optimal admissions.
In its findings, the Rawat committee recommended that admissions should be done through a common entrance test, to be conducted by “internal arrangement or any external agency”. While accepting the suggestion for entrance tests for all UG admissions, DU in its notice issued on December 20 has also made room for adopting either internal arrangement for conducting the test or allowing an external agency to conduct it.
That’s clear when it says that admissions to all UG courses would be made either through Central University Common Entrance Test (CUCET) or Delhi University Common Entrance Test (DUCET). The former is conducted by the National Testing Agency, on behalf of 12 participating central universities, though DU hasn’t joined it yet. Instead, in the last four years, DU has entrusted NTA to conduct Delhi University Entrance Test (DUET) for admissions to most of its PG courses and some of its UG courses.
There are two aspects of the critical responses to the university’s decision to adopt the entrance test system for all UG admissions. First, it’s being feared that another test for admissions would put senior secondary school students under more pressure of an additional scrutiny. As an extension of this fear, the critics have also expressed apprehensions about the burgeoning of coaching centres tutoring students for the test, and thus, putting economically weak students at disadvantage. In academic terms, it’s being argued that it would be difficult for students who plan to opt for a new stream after school education. Second, the dissenting members have expressed concern about the execution of the tests﹘the lack of clarity about administrative expense, pattern of the test, the number of test centres across the country and their accessibility.
Beyond routine bogey-raising, such concerns lose sight of relevant details. First, Delhi University has already been conducting entrance tests for some of the UG and most of the PG courses. At both levels, the governing logic for conducting tests is the same﹘ to have a competitive screening of the applicant’s aptitude and knowledge base to pursue a particular course of higher learning. With the race to grab limited seats in various UG colleges, the pressure to outdo each other by touching the cut-off with higher marks in board exams is no less than it would be for an entrance test for university admission.
In fact, the entrance tests can also be seen as a second chance to students who might not have scored unrealistically high marks in board exams. Moreover, the tests are likely to neutralise the undue advantage that some school boards give to students with very lenient marking in exams, and conversely, the disadvantage that some students suffer because of relatively stricter marking adopted by their school boards.
Beyond the minimum criteria of marks, the difficulty faced in giving a level playing field to marks obtained across different boards (at UG level of admission) and universities (at PG and research levels) have pushed many institutions of higher learning, including DU, to resort to entrance tests. For decades, DU, for instance, has been conducting PG admissions through entrance tests while allowing only DU graduates to seek admission on the basis of marks secured in the university examination. Where did this distrust of ‘other university’ marks come from? Obviously, it came from lack of a standardised evaluation process and clear disparities in marking schemes in hundreds of universities across the country.
Moreover, for some of the PG courses in DU, entrance test mode is the only way to get into the university. So, something that has long been the reasoning behind the university’s admission policy at the post-graduate level suddenly doesn’t run out of logic at the under-graduate level. In fact, the latter is increasingly making a stronger case for doing away with exclusive weightage to board marks because the marking schemes of different boards became farther from any idea of level playing field.
Additionally, the argument about difficulties that a student would face in changing the stream of study isn’t grounded in facts. In the current cut-off system, the student is allowed to do that only after requiring him to have a higher percentage of marks than the applicants who belonged to the particular stream in school education. The entrance test, however, would be the same for all willing to study a subject and would test the students for their aptitude and basic knowledge in the subject of their choice. That’s how, for instance, science students change their stream from science to law, by clearing entrance tests of law schools. They don’t do that on the basis of marks they obtained in science subjects in school boards but by taking the same test as everyone else to show that they have the requisite aptitude, skills and information base to study law. The same logic can extend to the admission policy of other fields of study as well.
Third, the anxiety about the university entrance test bringing in its wake a mushrooming of the coaching industry exaggerates the case for admission to regular university courses. While entrance tests for admission to professional courses like engineering and medicine have witnessed flourishing of coaching institutes, the same isn’t true for a majority of academic courses. Even though central universities like Jawaharlal University (JNU) or the Banaras Hindu University have been conducting entrance tests for UG and PG admissions since the past few decades, there has not been any remarkable presence of coaching institutes preparing candidates for the same.
This also applies to courses for which DU has already been conducting tests at UG and PG levels. Except a few small institutes preparing students for DU’s professional courses at the PG level like MCA or LLB, or the much- sought MA Economics course in the Delhi School of Economics, there hasn’t been much university entrance coaching. That isn’t to suggest that there wouldn’t be a tight race for admission. With its location in the national capital, a large number of prestigious colleges and departments, and enduring heritage value, the DU still holds appeal as a prime destination for university education in India. However, 70,000 UG seats in routine academic programmes and 2o,000 seats in PG departments are numerous enough to trigger a self-preparatory mode rather than a burgeoning of coaching centres.
Besides, there has also been a misplaced concern about students becoming less keen on doing well in school board exams. That isn’t the case with most students who do well in entrance tests for engineering and medicine. They do remarkably well in school boards too, mindful of the fact it would form a part of their academic records in future.
Moreover, in university entrance tests, like the one DU would conduct, students have one more incentive to have a good score in the board exams: in case of a tie-up in entrance test, board exam marks are used as tie-breakers. That means even with the same marks in the entrance test, the student with better score in the school board exam will be placed higher in the rank list.
Addressing concerns regarding expenditure, logistics, pattern and the spread of the test venues, DU administration has the next few months to fine tune its preparedness for the full-fledged rollout of the new admission system. A few teething troubles could be expected and critics shouldn’t turn that into a vindictive stick to beat the reforms with. On its part, DU administration should be prompt in sharing information about the test pattern, eligibility and its time-frame in public domain as and when they are finalised.
In the colonial ancestry of institutions of higher learning, Delhi University was a late addition. Some of its oldest constituent institutions like St Stephen’s College (1881) and Hindu College (1899) had begun as part of Calcutta University and later Punjab University. It was established in 1922, and it had to wait till the post-Independence era to occupy the centrestage of India’s academic geography. It’s fitting that in its centenary year, Delhi University has rewritten, and promisingly reformed, the rulebook for new entrants.
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