There is a reason why the latest versions of computer operating systems still have system backup functions. Computers, with due credit to their processing powers, have a tendency to crash unexpectedly. Which is why when you entrust computers with critical tasks, it pays to be prepared. And these preparations usually start with a thorough check for viruses.
On Monday, officials from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and the company entrusted with conducting the first online common admission test (CAT), Prometric, confirmed that several test centres had been affected by viruses. This led to systems crashing in various parts of the country on the first three days of the 10-day CAT 2009 schedule. Several thousand candidates, up to 5,000 according to some estimates, were prevented from completing their tests. (At the time of writing, it appears that some centres have had problems on Day 4 as well.)
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
While the lack of preparedness in conducting one of the country’s most highly regarded entrance examinations was alarming enough, what followed was worse: chaos. For the first two days there was no clarity at all on the nature or the scale of the breakdown. Students were initially promised updates via SMS and email, but this did not happen. It was only on the third day that a press conference was convened. (The exact number of affected students is still not known.)
Prometric blamed the failures on attacks by viruses Conficker and W32.Nimda. The notorious Conficker was discovered a year ago and Nimda has been traced as far back as 2001. While both viruses are powerful, they are not unknown. Patches exist for both and are freely available online. Any up-to-date virus scan would have caught both.
The IIMs, meanwhile, have washed their hands of the imbroglio. An update available on the official CAT 2009 website says: “IIMs would categorically like to assure candidates who could not take the test that they would get another opportunity to take the test. This assurance has been given by Prometric. The details will be worked out by Prometric shortly and announced.”
In short, the country’s premier management institutes have decided that the $40 million they paid Prometric to conduct the test absolves the IIMs of all responsibility to students. This might make contractual sense, but not ethical sense.
CAT is a test that promises applicants educational, financial and social mobility. Many prepare for years in advance. Chaos and a lack of transparency is not what they expect from the high priests of management education.
To paraphrase a line from a recently filmed graphic novel: Who will manage the management schools?
Were the IIMs unprepared for online CAT testing? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org