The higher education regulator, the University Grants Commission, is going to introduce a new examination, Common University Entrance Test (CUET), from the coming academic session for admission to undergraduate and postgraduate courses in central universities in India.
The only official information regarding CUET is available in a public notice on UGC’s website, according to which the test will be held in 13 languages in all UGC-funded Central Universities.
“Application for CUET will be available in the first week of April,” the notice said.
The notice informs that the detailed structure of the examination is available on the website of the National Testing Agency (NTA). However, as of now, no further details have been uploaded on NTA’s website.
There are 54 central universities in India and all of them haven’t given their consent to join the test. Newspaper reports say 45 central universities will give admission to students on the basis of the marks that they will score in CUET.
The UGC has also requested other universities to join CUET and make the test the sole admission criterion for institutions of higher education. In India, there are 1,027 universities which include 54 central universities, 444 state universities, 126 deemed-to-be universities and 403 private universities.
M M Ansari, former member, UGC, said, “There are roughly 4 crore admissions taking place in undergraduate, postgraduate, PhD and research streams in all 1,027 universities. Central universities cater to only 5 per cent of them. If we talk about only undergraduate admissions, 1 to 2 per cent of total UG admissions take place in central universities.”
The test is in line with the New Education Policy which envisages the need for an entrance examination for admission to universities. According to reports, the purpose of the test is to have one standard of evaluation for admission to central universities. At present, various education boards evaluate students in their own way and their marking system is also different ranging from lenient to moderate to strict.
A section of educationists and social activists have opposed the introduction of CUET due to following reasons:
It is being implemented in a hurry
Almost all the experts agree that the students should have been given time to understand and become familiar with the modalities and format of the test.
Adarsh Khandelwal, co-founder and director of Collegify, a global education services firm, said, “After a pandemic year and a radically transformed Board exam split into two terms, students are now expected to grapple with a tremendous change. As if the disorientation of the modified Board exam wasn’t enough, now students are expected to suddenly come to terms with the reality that the Board exams they have so painstakingly prepared carry no weight.”
He added, “It is hard for students and educators not to be sceptical about a system that seems to be changing abruptly without any vision or concern for the disorientation that students are bound to face.”
“I do not understand the hurry to implement it. Students are already under stress due to online classes, changes in the exam schedule, paper patter, assessment plan, etc. CUET will add another burden of test on them,” said a reputed private school teacher.
Along with that, they also feel that there should be clarity about existing tests being conducted by individual central universities or colleges affiliated with them for various courses.
“If a college takes an entrance test for, let’s say, journalism, will the college scrap it in favour of CUET or the students will have to appear in that test along with CUET? There is no clarity on that. We should wait for NTA’s detailed guideline for that,” said a professor in one of the Delhi University colleges. The UGC notice doesn’t say that CUET will replace all available tests in Central Universities for different courses.
A test cannot address the challenges of limited resources
Some experts say that the problem of higher education in India is that seats are very limited in good institutions. So the objective of a test is to find out a candidate’s eligibility for a seat in some institution.
Gurumurthy Kasinathan, director and lead, education and technology, IT for Change, a Bengaluru-based NGO, said, “But that’s not the real purpose of an examination. The objective of the test is to know what the student has learnt. But this objective becomes completely submerged and the objective becomes how can you be eligible for a seat in some institutions.”
He added, “Learning has to be local and contextual because 80 per cent of people live and work in their own state where they get education from. The exams have to be local. What somebody learns in Bihar may not be the same as the one that learns in Tamil Nadu.
Ansari also agreed that the focus of the government should be on creating more seats and more opportunities in higher education rather than utilising resources on creating another burden of a test.
Competitive exam is the pro-rich concept
Once any test or examination is centralised, the elite class gets a clear upper hand and capture it. This is true with all competitive exams.
Ansari said, “It is because they can afford expensive coaching, good teachers whereas a poor student cannot afford all these things. So a rich student can get good marks, however, a poor candidate cannot compete and lose out. It is not a level playing field.”
Kasinathan added, “Another fact is that these rich students get subsidised education but don’t serve the country and go abroad. So it is an irony that while marginalised groups don’t get good institutions, elite people get the benefit of resources, which is already quite scarce, and utilise their learning in some other countries.”
Promote offline/online coaching business
Whenever a new examination or test is being introduced, the private coaching industry rushes to get its benefit. Parents and students cannot resist it because the competition is so fierce that every single mark matter to them.
Experts say that one of the drawbacks of this drastic change will of course be the very thing that the CUET is supposed to address – “one nation, one test” sounds good on paper but not every student across the country will have the same support in terms of tutoring or guidance to adapt to the changed reality.
“Let us not forget that another exam is just another billion dollars spent by the families and parents for acquiring tutoring. An undeniable beneficiary of this new test will of course be the coaching industry,” an education counsellor said.
It cannot judge the true potential of a candidate
Educationists say that if one looks at the top universities globally, one can see an emphasis on holistic development. From interpersonal communication to the ability to set a course for one’s own learning journey, admissions criteria are variegated and focused on judging the true potential of a candidate.
Khandelwal said, “For example, Harvard receives more than 54,000 applications with 3 per cent acceptance rate. Does it focus on just one criterion? The idea that a common entrance test will empower college admissions with a highly effective method of sieving through applications is a utopian dream. We need to look at the more system-wide change that shifts the emphasis of education from tests to learning. An entrance test no matter how objective it is, will not be a magic solution to our educational woes.”