New Delhi: Even as the premier Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) debate contracting out their common admission test (CAT), a state university in Tamil Nadu has gone ahead and outsourced its examinations.
A first for higher education in India, the move aims at reducing operational costs and avoid the all too frequent testing and evaluating errors of manually conducted examinations that can hurt students’ careers.
Examinations at the Anna University in Coimbatore are now being conducted by a computerized integrated examination management system (IEMS) that was launched on 15 December, and has since been used to conduct semester examinations for 32,000 students in 107 engineering and management colleges.
“We know we are trying something new. We outsourced the university examination work to a third party,” vice-chancellor R. Radhakrishnan said.
The system, set up by Bangalore-based technology developer Mindlogicx Infotech Ltd, has computerized the examination management, while data entry and authentication is left to the university staff to ensure confidentiality.
“The system provides complete technology support for online registration of candidates, examination fee management, internal mark uploading, question bank management, question paper generation and even hall ticket generation,” said controller of examinations Vinod Gopalan.
To run the system, the university pays Mindlogicx Rs75 per student per examination under a five-year agreement. “At the end of five years, we will have the entire system to ourselves and exams would virtually become cost-free for students,” said Radhakrishnan.
Mindlogicx’s charges is paid out of the exam fees the university charges—ranging from Rs100 to Rs300 depending on the study programme.
The next semester exams are due later this month, but the difference in costs is already noticeable. Last year, the university hired 23 contract staff to manage the exams. The number has now declined to 10.
“Universities all over are already dealing with a lot of restriction in...manpower recruitment. The best way to survive and get better is to bring down the operational costs,’’ Gopalan says.
Alok Baraya, country head, Mindlogicx, said the firm is in talks with nine more universities to launch IEMS in India.
But beyond the compulsions of finance, the shift is significant for India’s examination system, which has taken flak for its archaic and opaque methods.
Successive official panels dating back to the university education commission in 1948 and the Mudaliar commission on secondary education in 1952-53 have stressed on the need to reform the system for validity, reliability and objectivity, but universities have continued with labour-intensive testing processes often marred with delays in publishing results, leaks of question papers and impersonation by students at testing centres.
In 2003, for instance, a CAT question paper leaked before the exam—a first in its 28-year-old history—that forced a retest in February 2004. The IIMs have invited bids to outsource CAT in September.
Delay in examination results, incorrect mark sheets, missing marks, and students marked absent for exams they have taken—these are problems that plague universities across the country. Even the prestigious civil services exams have been accused of being low on transparency.
However, with IEMS, Gopalan said human errors and complaints of impersonation at test sites are set to decline, with human interventions being minimum, besides timely publication of results. The system records an audit trail with details of people accessing the system to effectively plug loopholes that might lead to leaks, or errors.
To be sure, there are many educators who advise approaching technological solutions with caution.
“I’ll be very happy if any university conducts its exams without errors. This is every university’s dream,” said M.L. Singla, controller of examinations at Delhi University and also a professor of information technology at its faculty of management studies. “But superimposing technology upon existing systems without proper thought can be cumbersome.”
This month, IEMS would also start a process to digitally evaluate examination papers and deliver mark sheets by email to students at Anna University, besides introducing a digital question bank where students can suggest questions for semester exams.