The Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET) was launched in 2010, a year after 12 new central universities had been set up under the Central Universities Act, 2009. Ever since the National Education Policy, 2020 advocated this, the University Grant Commission (UGC) has been keen on bringing over 45 central universities under the ambit of the CUCET. Last December, the UGC set up a seven-member committee under Professor RP Tiwari, Vice-Chancellor of Central University of Punjab, to chalk out a plan to implement CUCET, at the earliest. The committee, earlier this year, recommended CUCET for both undergraduate and postgraduate admissions, and NET score for admission to PhD programmes. If the suggestions are to be implemented, the National Testing Agency will be tasked to conduct a common aptitude test as well as specialized common exams for different disciplines at least twice a year, for admission to bachelor’s in central universities. The newest push in this regard came on November 22, when the UGC wrote to the vice-chancellors of the 45 central varsities that, “after detailed deliberations”, it had been decided that the National Testing Agency would conduct the CET from 2022-23.
The push for a common entrance test comes at a time when unrealistic cutoffs for admission to premier institutions like Delhi University (under the back drop of Marks Jihaad controversy) have underlined the need for alternatives. A nine-member panel constituted by Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Yogesh Singh under the chairmanship of Dean (Examinations) Professor DS Rawat has examined the reasons for over and under admissions to last year undergraduate courses, studied the board-wise distribution of admissions in all undergraduate courses, and suggested alternative strategies for optimal admissions in undergraduate courses. The Committee was of the considered view, “that as long as undergraduate admissions in the university are cut-off based, there is no way that fluctuations, sometimes significant, can be avoided to maintain equity”. It has further advised that the varsity maintain a common entrance test to ensure ‘substantial objectivity’ to the method of admission by maintaining absolute equity in admissions across all the higher secondary boards spanning over various states and union territories of our country. The move will further prevent over-admissions in a particular course of study and ensure that merit and only merit of a prospective applicant will be the sole criteria in his/her category of admission. The University, on Friday, 10th December 2021, in its Academic Council meeting approved the decision to hold a common entrance examination for admissions from 2022. Thus, the common entrance test has now become a certainty for getting admissions in all central universities including Delhi University. However, the modalities of the same will be worked out after approval from the Executive Council.
Ultimately, students the prime stake holders don’t always have much of a say in what standardized tests they do or don’t have to take. That decision is generally up to schools, universities, college admissions system, and graduate and professional programs. No matter where you come down on the arguments for and against standardized testing, there’s a good chance one is going to have to take a few of them over the course of one’s education. Nevertheless, being knowledgeable about the subject can make you a more informed and prepared test-taker. Knowing what the goals of these tests are, as well as their potential downsides, will ultimately be an advantage as you navigate the process.
The test, which has been advocated under the new National Education Policy and is one of the key schemes that the Ministry of Education is pursuing actively to bring about uniformity and orderliness against the prevailing chaos in admissions. It will be a single entrance test like the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET), for admission to non-technical programmes at the undergraduate level. This multiple-choice, computer-based exam will likely have one general aptitude test to gauge language proficiency, numerical ability, etc. and a second subject-specific test for assessing domain knowledge. As the JEE Mains/Advanced for engineering aspirants or the CAT for management aspirants are benchmarks for almost every existing institution of their respective field, across the country. This test will facilitate student by making him/her aware that if he/she scores X marks or attains Y rank, he/she qualifies for A, B, and C colleges/universities. The exam will not only put an end to soaring cut-offs it may improve the chances of regional language aspirants as it is expected to be conducted in minimum 13 languages in which NTA is already conducting JEE and NEET examinations.
The biggest argument proponents of standardized testing make: it’s fair. It’s a single test, taken under equal conditions, to measure student achievement fairly. By measuring students against that universal standard, it becomes easier to evaluate and rank them. One of the primary positive implications of a common entrance examination would be the introduction of a same level playing ground. Because standardized tests are not tied to any one high school curriculum, they can offer an inclusive opportunity for students to highlight their successful performance. This shall knuckle down several stumbling blocks- from disparities in the scores of students from social science streams versus those from science streams to the highly moderative and lenient evaluation methods adopted by a handful of state boards, resulting in a series of 100 and 99 percenters which have forced college cut-offs to skyrocket. The question papers in the board exams also differ from state to state and there is no standardization of evaluation or moderation policies. This is believed to have affected the admission of many deserving students. The CUCET is also touted as a means to provide equal opportunity to candidates across the country, especially those from North-East, rural areas, and would be equally enabling for the young women of ‘New India’ seeking admission to preferred universities. Undoubtedly, a single entrance examination for admission will provide the options of admission to several universities without much hassle. Uniformity would be brought about in terms of admission and assessment, not to mention the reduction in stress, time, money, and human energy expenditure of the students.
On the other hand, critics to CUCET do not consider standardized testing to be a valuable or valid assessment tool for evaluating student performance. The argument made is that the higher education system in India has to be inclusive and social justice driven, however, the new criteria will further complicate the process of assessment of merit and delay the process of admission. Just the way the board exams is more about cracking the technique of scoring more marks and not necessarily about intelligence or merit, the CUCET may also eventually become all about mastering techniques of cracking it. This will result in the mushrooming of coaching centers and poor students will not be able to obtain admission in centralized system. It is believed that the economically and socially deprived students will be left behind and will not get more chances to get into top-tier universities. The best-coached students will have more chance than the deprived ones. Another propagated rationale against CUCET is that the entrance test might work to the disadvantage of students who aim to shift streams after Class 12. For instance, a science student may want to shift to a non-science course for graduation and vice-versa. Such students might find the entrance test inconvenient. Also, they proclaim many students suffer from test anxiety, this will result in their underperformance as they find the experience of test-taking so stressful.
In a stratified and grossly unequal society with equally hierarchical and discriminatory schooling systems, there cannot be a fair and equitable common assessment framework for distributing/withholding limited rewards. At most, one can hope for a competent and practical solution which serves the needs of the society, schools, educational institutions and students. The basic concept underlying the Common Entrance Test (CET) for higher educational institutions is to free students from the stress of various examinations, besides providing them the opportunity to test their caliber through the same yardstick of assessment across the nation. The introduction of the Common Entrance Test is definitely a need today. CET for all central universities, instead of separate examinations by each university, will save the resources of the universities, government, and the nation. But schools must work on coaching the students from underprivileged backgrounds so that they may be able to undertake the test in better spirits. A quality online free coaching for three to four months, by using only a small fraction of the savings of crores of rupees, on account of a single entrance examination, could be provided to SC, ST, OBC, EWS category students, girl students, and other disadvantaged sections of the society. Governments and various educational institutions could join forces in this regard. The problem of changing streams could also be tackled, by deduction of 2-3 % of marks from the entrance score of a student who opts for a change of course. Moreover, to ensure that no student is deprived of taking the examination due to any reason, CUCET must be conducted at least twice annually, just like JEE and NEET.
Thus, blatantly negating a system because it has few shortcomings is not the answer, rather a cohesive approach to overhaul a system which is in favor of student, national and societal interest and upliftment of education in general should be promoted by all quarters. Any exercise which instills a system of equity across all stakeholders will have the potential of sending a clear message about the level of objectivity being followed, CUCET does that perfectly.
( The author is Dean, Students' Welfare, Central University of Jammu)