Engineering a common path for college admission

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Instead of a new common entrance test, the JEE should be used to filter students trying to gain entry into IITs or any other engineering institute in India

By Jandhyala BG Tilak

Illustration: Anand Naorem

ADMISSION INTO engineering colleges has always been a tough proposition, with an increasing number of students seeking entry on the one hand, and limited availability of quality institutions, such as IITs and NITs, on the other. Besides the JEE for admission into IITs and the AIEEE, Central universities and many state governments conduct their own entrance tests.

Students start their coaching for multiple entrance tests generally from when they are in Class X and they spend at least two years in preparation and incur huge expenditure. Just after or even before the Class XII Board exams, students appear for 3-4 of these entrance tests. Very few institutes give admission to students on the basis of their performance in the Class XII exam. As a result, students split their attention between the Class XII exam and entrance tests, paying less attention to the former. The pressure causes much stress on the students, affecting their health and overall performance.

As the standards of several state Boards that conduct Class XII exams are not uniform, a common entrance test is felt necessary. But is there any justification for multiple common entrance tests for admission into the same degree programme?

To ease the pressure on the students, the Union HRD ministry has proposed a single entrance test for admission into IITs, NITs and IIITs. However, the ministry proposes to hold another test, the Indian Science Engineering Eligibility Test, for seemingly no reason. The ministry also proposes to give weightage to students’ marks in Class XII Board examination. The IITs and other stakeholders seem to be having serious reservations against the proposals; some of which may be valid, and others not.

There’s actually a need for just one common entrance test for admission into any engineering institute in India. Admissions will depend on the scores secured in this test: the top scorers will get admission in the most prestigious institutes (such as IITs) while the poorest scorers will be able to opt for lower-tier institutes, subject to the availability of seats. There is no reason to fear that such a test clubs IITs with institutes of lesser quality (including private colleges), and that it does not recognise the elite status of IITs.

One can think of the present JEE to be made as the only common entrance test in the country. Such a test can be conducted by an IIT or any other institute or even an autonomous body set up by the Union government. Since the numbers involved would be huge, compared to the present level of about 5-6 lakh students appearing for JEE, there is a need to think of a strong and capable agency for this purpose. Until such a body is identified, or created if it does not exist, and until a test like JEE is designed, the present proposal can even be deferred, for a year or so.

Students won’t have to prepare and appear for multiple entrance examinations

Students would welcome such a proposal as this will require them not to prepare and appear for multiple entrance tests. The coaching industry might oppose any such move because it will affect their business. State governments and several other bodies may have some objection, as 1. They lose control over the entrance test, the admissions, and associated gains, 2. They lose money, as revenues from admission-cum-entrance test fees are quite high, and 3. The importance of the Board exam might get further minimised. The objections by IITs could also be interpreted in the same way (1 and 2).

Most of these objections are not tenable. Keeping the students’ interests in mind, such a proposal should be welcomed. Since the variations in the standards of exam conducted by states are very wide, giving any significant weightage to the marks secured in Class XII Board exams may not be justified. At best, the marks can be used as a cut-off. It would be valuable if efforts are made towards developing uniform high standards among exams of all the states before giving any weightage. This would ensure that students pay serious attention to Board exams, and eventually eliminate the need for any common entrance test; and admission into professional courses can be exclusively based on Class XII marks.

(The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)

Jandhyala BG Tilak is Professor, National University of Educational Planning And Administration
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