Bangalore: Divya Bharathi, a student of class XII, starts her day at 4am and winds down at 11pm, catching a mere 5 hours of sleep. The 16-year-old divides her waking hours between studies at home, attending classes in pre-university college and entrance test coaching. All this to gain admission to her choice of institution—the PES College of Engineering in Bangalore.
“It is burdensome,” says Bharathi, who will be writing her Karnataka common entrance test, or CET, in April. “But I have to impress my parents, so I have to get into engineering.” Her ranking in CET for engineering and medical courses will decide her fate. Last year, 110,000 students took the CET conducted by the Karnataka Examinations Authority, a state government department that conducts tests to professional courses.
Bharathi is among the luckier ones because she plans to sit for only one entrance test.
There are students—particularly in the southern states where the concentration of so-called deemed universities and private professional colleges is much higher than in other parts of the country—who write up to seven-eight engineering entrance tests and just as many tests for medicine as they seek admission to the country’s most popular and competitive courses.
Many of these tests are for admission to deemed universities such as the Vellore Institute of Technology and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, both in Tamil Nadu. Deemed universities are higher educational institutions, mostly private, granted the status by University Grants Commission, or UGC. The status allows them freedom from government controls on coursework, admissions and fees.
To reduce the burden on students, states such as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala are in different stages of moving away from their respective CETs. This year, Andhra Pradesh has introduced 25% weightage on pre-university marks in addition to the entrance test for admissions to medicine, engineering, dental, agriculture and veterinary sciences.
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Nevertheless, the abolition of CETs invites its share of critics, who say merit and talent would be overlooked. Moreover, doing away with CET does not solve the problem of the plethora of tests; the majority of deemed universities conduct their own entrance tests.
There are those who see entrance tests as a good filter. Says Anand Sudarshan, managing director and CEO of Manipal Education, which runs two universities, “There has to be some way to assess students on a common platform... (Otherwise) how do you make merit come to the top?”
Tamil Nadu was the first state to abolish CET in 2006, after a lot of back and forth in courts. Now, the state’s politicians boast about how the move has helped a higher proportion of rural students gain admission to professional courses. According to M. Anandakrishnan, former vice chancellor of Anna University, who was instrumental in abolishing the test in Tamil Nadu, there has been an eightfold increase in the number of students from rural areas and Tamil-medium schools gaining admission to professional courses. “This is being seen even in the most economically backward and agriculture-dependent districts,” he says after a self-conducted study. The state is in the process of doing a field study.
Abolishing CET has meant that students who were earlier unable to afford tutorials and entrance coaching classes make it to professional colleges based on their pre-university college marks. That apart, abolishing the exam has other benefits, from reducing the stress on students to broadening their minds.
Says Karnataka medical education minister Ramachandra Gowda: “We have discussed the Tamil Nadu model (of abolishing CET). We are holding a meeting with the higher education minister and officials to discuss the same.” The meeting is scheduled for today.
Karnataka started CET in 1994 as a means of determining merit and formed an autonomous body to oversee the process of examination, evaluation, ranking and granting of admissions in government and private institutions across the state.
Kerala is considering a combination model in which weightage would be given to higher secondary school marks in addition to the entrance test. Critics say entrance coaching stifles the intellectual ability of students whose solitary aim is to qualify for admission to a professional college.
“These children spend more time on entrance coaching than in regular college. We are thus ignoring the larger aspect of education, which is to be socially sensitive, intellectually curious and have an ability to gain knowledge in general,” explains K.N. Panicker, vice-chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council, a higher education advisory body constituted by the state.
These students in pre-university are so focused on objective skills and answering multiple choice questions that their analytical abilities go missing, says K.C. Reddy, chairman of Andhra Pradesh State Council of Higher Education, a state-constituted organization meant to advise on and oversee higher education.
Reddy is part of the committee which introduced the 25% weightage for pre-university marks in addition to the entrance test as a criterion for admission to professional courses. The plan is to up the weightage gradually in a phased manner.
This is definitely the way to go, says Ved Prakash, vice-chancellor of Delhi-based National University of Educational Planning and Administration, a Central government body engaged in educational policy, planning and management. “We must give up this plethora of tests. We are unnecessarily torturing children,” he says. Prakash recommends a single national-level test on the lines of the US scholastic assessment test, or SAT, as the gateway to all college admissions for courses ranging from medicine to language modelling.
Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint