Common test for central varsities will curb grade inflation
It would entail students taking a computer-based test with a general aptitude component and a subject-specific component conducted by National Testing Authority.
Earlier this year, the HRD ministry reduced the burden for IIT aspirants by striking down Class XII scores as a barrier to engineering education; although the JEE is primary criterion for IIT admissions, a student was still required to either score 75% or secure a place among the top 20% of the students who passed the senior-secondary examinations of the Board she studied under to be eligible for admission. Over-reliance on senior-secondary scores for gatekeeping entry into higher education has perpetuated a culture of competitive grade inflation, where boards try to out-compete each other on liberal marking and colleges keep posting ridiculously high cut-offs. AICTE, MCI and national law schools have successfully eliminated over-reliance on boards and got colleges to agree on a single admission test, but UGC has failed in this endeavour. However, the ministry of education, in line with the New Education Policy 2020, is now planning to create a single exam for admission to graduate (with honours) courses at central universities. As per a Times of India report, the education ministry has constituted a seven-member committee that will decide on modalities of a common entrance test for admission across all central universities starting academic year 2021-22. Under the new format, students would need to meet a specific eligibility criteria, but the entrance test would form the basis of admission. It would entail students taking a computer-based test with a general aptitude component and a subject-specific component conducted by National Testing Authority.
The proposal is to conduct the test twice a year, on the lines of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in the US. However, for 2021-22, the exam would be conducted only once.
Given how grade inflation has been rising each year, there is a dire need for colleges to switch to a new format. For instance, while the economics honours programme had a cut-off of 90% in top-rung colleges under Delhi University a decade ago, this has now reached 98%. Despite Covid-19 impacting the conducting of senior secondary examinations this year, an analysis of data shows that the number of students securing over 90% under various boards actually increased from 94,000 in 2019 to 1.6 lakh in 2020. Those scoring over 95%, on the other hand, rose 2.18 times, to 38,688, as compared to last year. While the idea of a common entrance test has merit, convincing universities to agree to a common entrance examination will be an uphill task, given the various course structures and curricula. Though the Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET), administered by the Central University of Rajasthan, has been around for a decade now, only 14 central and four state universities admit students through this route; the list of 14 doesn’t include any big names like Delhi University or BHU. Over time, a common entrance test will also help lesser known universities move up the pecking order as students prefer these over peers in the pool—this will help such universities attract teaching and research talent apart from industry collaborations for placement.