The University Grants Commission (UGC) announced a few weeks ago—on the basis of a recommendation of the National Education Policy—a major change in the admissions process for school leaving students that shall seek to be admitted to all central universities of India. This diktat of sorts states that from the ensuing academic session onwards, all undergraduate admissions processes to the central universities of India shall give significant weightage to a national-level written test to be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA).
The move has most certainly been compelled by the many anomalies and concerns that had crept into the way college admissions were happening in many parts of India. To that extent and in principle this is a very welcome move since it attempts to make the going easier and fairer for college aspirants. However, there are many potential pitfalls on the way, and I feel it is imperative that the UGC and the NTA must take these into account before they conduct the actual test.
To begin with, let us recognise that an examination is only as good as the person who sets it. In other words, if the body of experts who have been charged with the task of setting the questions are not up to the required standards, then we shall have replaced one bad system with a not very good system. I say this keeping in mind the quality of so many of the entrance examinations that are being imposed upon our school and college students.
This is best highlighted by the IIT entrance examinations. I have in the course of time gathered—along with several IIT colleagues—a huge amount of evidence which I confess is albeit largely anecdotal. The conclusions of my colleagues and I are stark. These entrance examinations have done more harm than good. For one, they tend to kill the creative juices in the minds of most of the students who undertake such a gruelling process of preparations before they take the actual examinations.
In addition, most of the aspirants to the IITs tend to completely neglect genuine school education. They are thus missing out on an experience that shall likely in the long run do them harm. My fear—based on what I have seen in the processes of the IIT and NEET examinations to name just a few—is that the Central Universities Eligibility Test or CUET as it is called may head the way of these above-named entrance tests. At the same time—as noted by Kahnemann, the Nobel Laureate, in his classic book Thinking Fast And Slow—a well thought-out written test can be far more effective than an oral interview by experienced counsellors in judging students.
Former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University; Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, US