New Delhi: The government and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) may have agreed to a common admission test for all centrally funded engineering schools, but the inaugural edition of the exercise next year could well turn out to be a logistical nightmare.
With less than a year left for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) to take place, procedural issues to be tackled range from preparing a profile of students at the higher secondary level eligible for admission under caste-based quotas, to publishing the results of the board exams nationwide before the second week of June, when engineering schools finalize their selections.
India has 29 school boards that conduct school-leaving examinations for upwards of two million students; about 500,000 appeared for the IIT-JEE this year in the older format, which was taken only by students seeking admission to the 15 IITs and the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad; and the Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, which has since been raised to the status of an IIT.
The absence of clarity on how the procedural issues will be tackled, and the lack of preparedness for conducting an expanded test and dry runs may lead to the chaos reminiscent of the kind that marked the entrance exam for the Indian Institutes of Management in 2009, when the business schools switched from the pen-and-paper test to a computer-based common admission test, IIT professors and experts said.
“After the compromise reached last month, we feel that 2013 is still too early. Several bottlenecks need to be cleared. Clarity is yet to emerge. Without proper trials and rehearsals, we fear there could be some chaos,” said Sanjiv Sanghi, president of the IIT-Delhi faculty forum.
The government and the IITs dissenting over the process of admission to the elite schools agreed to a compromise on 27 June to advance the concept of “one nation, one test”, ending a controversy that erupted in late May after human resource development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal announced a single entrance exam that would give additional weightage to marks students scored at the board level.
Faculty and alumni associations from several IITs had protested the initial proposal, saying that an inordinate weightage for school examinations could dilute the quality of IITians.
Sanghi said that the proposal to consider only the top 20 percentile of class XII graduates looks tough to implement unless all school boards cooperate and publish their results before June, requiring several boards to alter their exam schedule.
Preparing the caste profile of students may be an equally daunting task.
“It’s a tough task to have authentic caste data at the board level. With lots of confusion floating around, such an exercise, if required, could be a real headache,” said Bhagirath Shetye, secretary of the Goa Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education.
School boards may have to prepare their percentile list on quota lines. “If you have to prepare the percentile by categories such as general, backward classes, scheduled castes and tribes, then it could be a time-consuming affair,” Shetye said.
R.P. Sinha, chairman of the Bihar School Examination Board, is optimistic that if the IITs and the Central Board of Secondary Education put in place a customized software for data tabulation, the task may be easier to handle. “There will be hassles, but if right interventions are made by using software, it could be relatively easier,” Sinha said.
Even the concept of the top 20 percentile is confusing to some.
“Do they count all those who register for the 12th Class exam? Or do they count only those students who have passed the 12th Class exam?” asked Dheeraj Sanghi, dean of IIT-Kanpur, on his blogsite.
“Do they consider all students, or do they consider only those students who have studied physics, chemistry, and maths in 12th Class (besides other subjects)? Do they consider the total of five subjects or six subjects (in case of boards that have six subjects) or do they consider only three subjects to rank students for the purpose of computing percentile?” Sanghi wrote. When contacted, an HRD ministry official said the fineprint will emerge soon and the individual IIT senates will deliberate and present their views to the IIT joint admission board. “We wish to take everybody on board,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
Bharat Gulia, a senior manager in the education practice at consulting firm Ernst and Young, said the intention of the government was good and a change was due. “But considering the long-term preparation for an important examination (like JEE), a well-thought-out transition plan would have been a good course,” he said. “A broader consultation would have done away with the opposition.”