The University Grants Commission (UGC) said on Monday there will now be a common entrance test (CET) for admission to undergraduate courses in India’s 45 central universities. The National Testing Agency will conduct the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) starting this year.
Class 12 Board exam marks will no longer play a role in undergraduate admissions, according to the UGC.
The move has drawn mixed reactions from around the country. While its supporters say it will simplify the admission process, others say it is unfair to students, who will make a beeline to coaching institutes.
Also, it is viewed as a gross violation of the federal set-up, with the Centre infringing on state rights.
Massive protest planned
Visva Bharati, West Bengal’s lone central university, is gearing up for a massive protest against the decision.
The Students’ Federation of India (SFI), which will spearhead the agitation, said the CUET will lead to mushrooming of private coaching centres, just as it happened in the case of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Undergraduate), or NEET.
“This will promote class division in the education sector in the name of competition. Those who can afford to pay a hefty coaching fee for the CUET will get a natural advantage. Students from poor and rural backgrounds will be deprived,” said Somnath Sow, a leader of the West Bengal unit of the SFI and also a student of the Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan.
“The UGC has announced that the first ever entrance test will be held in the first week of July. Before that we will launch the agitation. I am told that the SFI is planning a similar agitation in other states too to protect the interest of the students, particularly those from the underprivileged section,” Sow said.
Concerns in Tamil Nadu
Jayaprakash Gandhi, an educationist from Tamil Nadu, raised similar concerns. “These kinds of new entrance exams will slowly turn schools into coaching centres. A large section of schools doesn’t teach beyond their board syllabus. Once more importance is given to entrance exams, gradually schools will focus more on coaching for them,” said Jayaprakash Gandhi. He said the move will affect students from semi-urban and rural areas and economically weaker sections.
“As far as education is concerned, the states should be given more rights. In entrance exams, the states should fill 85 per cent of seats for the benefit of their own students, and 15 per cent of seats can be filled by the Union government.”
D Nedunchezhian, educational consultant and founder of India College Finder, said the Union government has introduced this move without any understanding of entrance exams.
“Conducting a common entrance test for central universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University, the English and Foreign Language University, Delhi University, etc are impossible because every university has its own and unique form of entrance exams. For example, the EFLU in Hyderabad entrance exams will focus more on testing the language skills, and the entrance exams for five-year integrated courses would be different. Like that each and every other central university has their own model of entrance exams. So conducting a common entrance test will pollute the higher education system,” he said.
Nedunchezhian said by conducting various entrance exams, the government will collect students’ data.
“Many of the central universities in north India don’t have proper and basic infrastructure. Because of that many of the students from Tamil Nadu who went to those universities have discontinued their studies and came back,” he said.
Constitutional rights, states autonomy
Condemning the move, Dravidar Kazhagam chief K Veeramani said that CUET will not only affect universities’ autonomy but also constitutional rights and state autonomy.
“This move is a gross social injustice. The New Education Policy [under which these exams are introduced] intends to create centralisation, commercialisation and corporatisation. Instead of having a bottoms-up approach, the NEP formulates an education system which has a top to bottom approach,” he said in a statement.
The move is also academically wrong, said Prince Gajendra Babu, general secretary of Tamil Nadu’s State Platform for Common School System. “The UGC move is academically wrong,” said Babu. “Most of the students taking up the UG courses are aged below 18 years. At a time when the school education department is evaluating and certifying the students based on the syllabus framed by them, why do we need another evaluation process?
“The move to conduct a common entrance test is nothing but a filtration process which prevents all the students from taking up higher education. The move would commercialise the education system and it would make the students run towards the tuition centres which teach the techniques to crack the entrance tests. The students would lose interest in the classrooms where actual critical thinking and learning processes take place.”
Separation of powers
Pointing out that the UGC has said it may consider conducting entrance tests even for state universities, Babu said such a step would be in violation of the Constitution, as it would by stepping into the State List. Under Schedule 7 of Article 246, which speaks about the separation of powers, the Centre should concentrate only on setting up standards in higher education and the admission process falls under the State List, he pointed out.
Coaching classes vs schools
Parichay Yadav, former president of Pondicherry Central University’s student council, rued that the move would favour coaching classes. “The CET dissolves the purpose of the school education system. With these tests in place, parents would start sending their children to coaching classes instead of allowing them to focus on schools,” said Yadav. “And, not all the students could afford to pay the hefty fees at the tuition centres and as a result, only students from certain sections of the society would enter the universities.”
He further said: “It should not be seen as a single incident. All the moves taken by the Central government in recent times are aimed at limiting the competition in higher education. The recent hike in university fees and reducing the scholarship amount are also done with the same aim. A few years down the line, only people from the elite section of the society would be pursuing higher education.”
Karnataka Minister hails decision
Karnataka Minister for Higher Education, CN Ashwathnarayan, welcomed the move. “UGC has now announced CUET in 13 languages across India. The move benefits students, and helps them avoid giving multiple entrance exams for UG courses,” he said on Twitter. Ashwathnarayan added that the interests of students studying in these languages, including Kannada, would be protected.
There is a need for a CET for central universities, agreed BG Bhaskara, president of the Federation of University and College Teachers Associations in Karnataka. “Each university is not able to conduct exams and students are not able to write exams for each such university. So there should be one examination.”
Bhaskara said a CET should also ensure that students are able to attend the central universities located in their home states and not be made to move elsewhere. “There should be some fixed reservation of seats for students from the state where the university is located. But merit should be based on this common test,” he said. “My opinion is at least 50 per cent should be reserved for students from the [home] state.”
(With inputs from Nivedha Selvam, Ajay Sukumaran, Samir K Purkayastha, and N Vinoth Kumar)