The cabinet has approved the long-pending policy to establish an independent National Testing Agency (NTA). The National Education Policy of 1986 conceptualised an entity like NTA and kept in cold storage, and after a long gap of 31 years, NTA has arrived. This NTA runaway needs to get prepared for smooth take-off by many types of aircraft without turbulence and carry with it aspirants across different spectrum. The policy rightly clarifies that NTA will not restrict with CBSE examinations but over a period of time expand its scope to cover all types of competitive exams. However, NTA can make a beginning and charter its course in three phases—ATR, Bombardier and Dreamliner.
ATR Phase: CBSE conducts exams such as JEE for admission to various IITs and Centrally Funded Technical Institutions (CFTIs), and NEET for all medical admissions. The number of students who appeared for JEE-Main last year was around 12 lakhs for seats in CFTIs. Can a national exam like JEE be used only for around 30,000 seats? Definitely not. Many Deemed Universities have started advertising for 2018 admissions and will later boast they have sold two lakhs application forms and so on. One of the aims of uniform JEE is to reduce students’ entrance exam burden. In the ATR phase, the Ministry of Human Resource Development must mandate all Deemed Universities to use JEE-Main for admission to engineering programmes from 2018 onwards. This shall not only reduce burden but also prick the revenue bubble that many institutions are building on application sales.
Bombardier Phase: The states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Odisha and some other institutions also joined JEE (Main)-2017 to fill seats based on JEE-Main scores following their own admission norms and counselling process. An honest effort must be made to rope in many states and other institutions to participate in this national effort voluntarily.
Dreamliner Phase: In a five-year period, giving states adequate time and support to prepare for the eventuality of JEE as a one-test mechanism for engineering admissions, all states must be inducted as part of this national initiative. Each state shall use JEE-Main scores with a local formula to ensure that native students are not disadvantaged. This shall require changing school syllabus without losing native identity, JEE counselling and awareness sessions, preparing teachers and students, state and PPP-mode coaching centres, etc.
In all the three phases, it is to be made abundantly clear that no state or private institution will be losing any of their constitutional rights to admit students. The fundamental premise is that the JEE-Main scores is one of the inputs to establish merit for admission and that each state or private institution will administer its own admission norms and admit students on merit.
The effort of this government to curb black money needs no emphasis. Estimates put the annual black money generation through capitation fee till the pre-NEET period to be `6,000 crore. While NEET has arrested this to a large extent in medical college admissions, a nation-wide JEE shall complete the remaining part. An online National Admissions Portal needs to be established with a unique identity for each institution/state and students apply for admission to as many institutions based on JEE-Main and other scores. Such a transparent admission portal with digital payment solutions will ensure that merit is not compromised and no fees other than the notified amount is collected. Submission of annual admission returns will detect any deviation either in merit or payment pattern, and erring institutions can be pulled up for punitive action.
Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University
The NTA runaway is ready. The aircraft, passengers and air-route should also get ready. firstname.lastname@example.org