Covid-19 presents an opportunity for UGC to push for US SAT-style common entrance exam
Covid-19 and the need for distancing pose complex questions for the education sector in the country. Even as schools, colleges and universities mull over truncated syllabi for the current academic year, with the admission season now here, universities have a much more difficult task at hand. Infection is on the rise, so, the government will likely not allow the exams of the various boards, including states’, that had been suspended to avoid congregation of lakhs of students at exam venues, to get conducted in the usual manner.
While the boards can perhaps allow schools that offer senior secondary education to promote Class X students on the basis of internal assessments, schools and universities will have to imagine a way for Class XII students to get into undergraduate courses. Those appearing for examinations like NEET and JEE for admissions in medical and engineering courses can still be accommodated.
But, universities like Delhi University (DU) that admit on the basis of Class XII scores will have to reconsider their approach. The possibility of grade inflation rules out accepting internal grades as a metric of merit, though this is an old problem that universities have been facing with boards indulging in what is called moderation—inflating student scores to give them an edge over students of competing boards in university admissions. Universities, therefore, must give serious thought to a US SAT-style common entrance exam.
While AICTE, MCI and the national law schools have been successful in getting colleges to agree to a single admission test, UGC has miserably failed in this endeavour. Even though the National Testing Authority that conducts the JEE, NEET and a host of other exams successfully has been roped in to conduct the central universities common entrance test (CUCET), UGC has not been able to persuade most central universities to join.
Only 14 central universities—a Delhi University or an Allahabad University or a BHU is not in this list—and four state ones admit students through CUCET; this is perhaps because universities have followed their own entrance procedures, and because getting affiliated colleges to agree to a common entrance test has also proved difficult in the past—for instance DU’s discarded experiment with a common entrance test for English Hons.
But, with higher education institutions grappling with the changed context that Covid-19 presents, the UGC should bat on the frontfoot for a common entrance test.
Even if states agree to a common state-level exam and the central universities take admissions based on CUCET, it would still be a win-win for UGC and the students. Universities will have to compete to attract talent, and this would also influence their rankings as students will make choices based on parameters like faculty, facilities, research, and placement. It will also allow private universities like Ashoka to showcase their strength.