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Chances are, you haven’t heard of Ram Lal Anand College if you are not from Delhi. But on Wednesday, the college, affiliated to the University of Delhi (DU), was at the centre of the admissions buzz. It released a first cut-off list that was steep by its own standards—a 100% for admission to its BTech in computer science for students from the non-science streams. The Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences followed suit—asking for 99.75% for the same subject from non-science stream students.

Students and academicians are concerned, worried about the skewed marking system and seeking better evaluation systems and greater choice.

“This is bizarre. Why this is alarming is that it inflates the entire spectrum of marks. It means top marks will create a false sense of euphoria for both students and the system. High scores don’t necessarily mean that students have a better sense of understanding and learning now. There is not much difference between a 95% and a hundred per-center,’’ says Anita Rampal, professor and former head of department of education at Delhi University.

Prof. Rampal says marks are meaningless as a benchmark because they don’t really reflect how students are doing. “Class XII marks are just a school-leaving benchmark. For admissions into universities, the benchmarks have to be different, more evolved," she says.

What is surprising is that the high cut-offs this year aren’t limited to the top-rung institutions that give the university much of its charm. Instead, the list of colleges demanding 90% and more from applicants includes some of the lesser-known colleges—and for some of their relatively newer courses.

Apart from Ram Lal Anand College and the Bhaskaracharya college, the other lesser-known colleges with high cut-off lists are Shaheed Rajguru College of Applied Sciences for Women, Rajdhani College and Shivaji College—they are all demanding a high of 99% for their BTech in computer science from non-science-stream students. Similarly, Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, Motilal Nehru College and the College of Vocational Studies have a cut-off of more than 95% for their humanities and commerce streams.

Colleges on the coveted north campus have similar cut-offs—Hans Raj College pegged its cut-offs at 97.75-99%, depending on the stream the student is from, for BTech (computer science). Even Shri Ram College of Commerce, which released a 100% cut-off in 2011 and attracted criticism from the then Union minister for human resource development, Kapil Sibal, has an asking cut-off of 97.5% for its coveted economics course. Hindu College is asking for 99.75% for its BCom (Honours) course.

Academicians say the rush to lesser-known colleges is because applicants with top scores also apply to many colleges to create a back-up option. Students like Anant Vijay, for example. An aspiring computer science engineer, Vijay, who got 89.5% in class XII, has applied to five DU colleges and some private colleges in the National Capital Region. “I am quite scared. With so many students scoring above 90%, cut-offs will be steep," he says.

DU executive council member and professor of physics at Miranda House, Abha Dev Habib, blames it on the newly introduced four-year undergraduate course at the university. “Earlier, DU offered a wide spectrum to students but the integrated course forces students into a particular system," she says.Prof. Habib adds that the newly structured BTech courses have created further problems. “DU now calls all its applied courses as BTech, and given the demand for engineering in India, there is a flood of applications for this course," says Prof. Habib.

The Central Board of Secondary Education class XII results declared last month showed a steep rise in the number of high scorers, with over 28,000 students scoring above 90%. Prof. Rampal says steep cut-offs become an inevitable reality when the different education boards generously assesss their students. “It’s not just the CBSE doling out generous marks. We have seen how many state boards have also followed suit. Big marks help the boards better their records but make no real difference in assessment of students who are passing out of school," says Prof. Rampal. “At the higher education level, we don’t have much avenues and access to education for a large number of students. A skewed marking system only demotivates students," she says.

Many feel that for undergraduate admissions, entrance exams work best. “All subjects need to be assessed differently. I believe that for courses such as English and journalism, an entrance exam is very important," says Pooja Gupta, a second-year English literature student at Miranda House.

DU officials, however, insist that even those who’ve scored 60% can find a place at the university. Many also expect the cut-offs to come down with the third and fourth lists. “Students can opt for subjects that have lower cut-offs, or look at evening colleges,’’ says Dinesh Varshney, deputy dean of students’ welfare (south campus) at DU. Then there are the correspondence courses. “The course and the syllabus is the same; the qualifications of the teachers are the same. It makes no difference," Varshney says.

Not all students, and parents, would agree.

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