Updated: Mon, 11 Apr 2022 10:00 PM IST
New Delhi | Tarun Gupta: Last week witnessed a radical shift in Indian higher education. The announcement of a common entrance test for admission to under graduate programs in 45 central, state universities has upended the process prevalent thus far.
It has been a while since under graduate admissions in India became unreasonable. The relentless spike in marks across multiple boards of class 12th exams that was till now the basis of entrance, resulted in college cut offs reaching stratospheric levels. Last few years, some coveted colleges, for sought after courses, have been closing their admission lists at almost 100 per cent. It has been tragic, ludicrous and farcical at the same time.
The system needed to be realigned so as to give students a fair shot at graduation. Does the present amendment substituting 12th board result with the common entrance test as the basis of admission, allay the problem? Optimal solutions to vexed problems cannot be found in the absence of comprehensive analysis. A perspicacious scrutiny would reveal that something is surely amiss.
What were the fundamental issues with under graduate admissions? Cut offs had reached impossible levels. The 12th board marks were the exclusive basis of entrance; it resulted in excessive relevance of one particular examination in a student’s career and thereby it’s disproportionate importance in their lives. Stress and anxiety were natural concomitants.
What does the proposed change do? It substitutes one exam with another. 12th boards are replaced by a common entrance test. The basis of admission still remains performance in one particular examination. If you needed 100 per cent in 12 boards earlier, the requirement will be of a perfect score in this new entrance test. How does it address any of the issues, whether asinine cut offs or enduring stress?
12th boards have been taken out of the admission equation. From being the solitary basis to becoming irrelevant, it has been a steep descent for the traditional school passing out examination. How do we expect students to approach school learning with deserving gravitas? Haven’t we seen engineering and medical aspirants focus more on respective competitive tests to the exclusion of school participation? Won’t a similar practice be lapped up by students of commerce and humanities streams as well? How fair, how effective will it be to undermine the significance of an institute called school where a student spends initial 16 years of structured learning?
Juxtapose this with the process in place in America, the most advanced country in the world. Universities there consider multiple factors while shortlisting applicants. The academic record of lyceum years that is from grade 9 till 12th is taken in account. It isn’t one examination alone that is the solitary criteria. Students interest, involvement and achievement beyond academics be it sports, fine arts, social service, internship experience or any other sphere is given due weightage. There are standardized tests conducted by college board that also matter. The application proforma gives students an opportunity to express themselves that provides the necessary perspicuity to the admission council. Over all the admission decision is a function of numerous factors each with requisite weightage. We may not be in a position to replicate the same, at least an endeavor in the direction to Indianize and adopt could have been demonstrated, but alas!
A still more critical aspect of our education system needs to be prioritised. Why are acceptance rates in our acclaimed universities and colleges so low? Why for hundreds of thousands of students who apply, only a handful are selected? Well it’s an elementary demand/supply mismatch. For the size of our population, we have far less options. Number of aspirants by far outnumber the total available seats. We need more institutions of higher learning, more seats to satiate our large requirement. We need them in tier 2, tier 3 cities to reduce the burden on our select metros and to make quality higher education more accessible to an average Indian student. In addition to higher government spending on education, we await, hope and anticipate that technology by means of online digital learning to be ameliorative and transformative.
The solution is two pronged. We need more options for students and a broad-based approach to admissions.
Amidst critical changes, spare a thought for the present 2022 batch. These are students who last attended regular physical classes more than two years back. They are required to calibrate online learning with off line exams. From boards being split into two parts, divergent question paper formats, unfinished syllabus to now this introduction of a new common entrance test, the state of flux has only added to their anxiety. The timing of the disruptive change doesn’t seem apt.
Our higher education admission needed some tweaking. The proposed change though can at best be termed modicum and at worst missing the wood for the trees.