Girls may soon have an easier path into the male-dominated Indian Institutes of Technology under a bold but potentially controversial plan to pick them over boys if they are tied in the entrance test.
The human resource development (HRD) ministry has asked the IIT Joint Admission Board (JAB) – the highest admission-related body of the institutes – to consider the plan for the 2013 two-tiered entrance test, top government officials have confirmed to HT.
The proposal, penciled by a panel set up by the ministry under former atomic energy chief Anil Kakodkar to create a blueprint for reforms at the IITs, aims to correct a severe gender imbalance at the premier engineering schools. Girls repeatedly form just under 10% of the students admitted to the prestigious undergraduate programmes at the IITs.
Though the IITs have already released the prospectus – and the tiebreaker formula for admissions – for the 2013 entrance test, the JAB can issue a correction detailing the new policy. The first stage or mains test will be held on April 7 and the final or advanced test is scheduled for June 2.
"There’s no problem in doing that because there’s enough time left for the test," said a member of the JAB – which consists of IIT Directors and entrance test organizers. "But we will need to take into account all the implications of this plan."
Currently, the IITs use a tiebreak formula that compares subject scores of students with the same overall scores. Physics, chemistry and math are tested in the entrance examination. Scores in the subject that students found the hardest that year – reflected in the lowest average performance among the three subjects – are compared first. So, if student A and student B scored the same total marks, but A scored more in the subject that witnessed the poorest performance overall from all test-takers, A is ranked ahead. If students who received the same overall score also perform equally in the toughest subject, their scores in the next toughest subject are compared.
But under the new admission proposal the JAB is now mulling, girls among the group of students with the same total scores will automatically be ranked higher. The current tiebreaker formula will only be used to separate between girls, and independently, between boys. So, if A, B and C are girls, and D and E boys, and all five score the same totally, A, B and C will be ranked among themselves based on the tiebreaker formula, but all three will be ranked ahead of D and E even if the boys performed better than all three girls according to the formula currently used.
This will mean many girls securing more popular engineering streams than their scores would fetch at present, and would also help many girls who would not have gained admission earn a seat at the IITs. Though 11.9% of students who qualified in the 20132 admission test were girls, only 9.7% of those who gained admission were girls. The IITs pick 1.3 times the seats available in their list of qualified candidates, and the lower admission rate for girls suggests that girls figure disproportionately higher among the lower ranks of the qualified candidates – and would directly benefit from the proposed new rules.
For Delhi-based class XII student Aditi Mukherjee, the proposal if accepted means a better chance of breaking into the IITs that have remained male bastions half a century after their birth. Her father and three male cousins all studied engineering or physics at different IITs, but no woman in the family has breached that glass ceiling, yet.
"I don’t think I’m inferior to any guy and I don’t need any help to get through," Mukherjee said. "But in India, girls do not have the same opportunities growing up that boys enjoy, and I think it’s only fair that if guys and girls are equally good, girls get an opportunity that’s been denied to them for decades."
Several educationists and policy makers have argued in recent years that India’s largely patriarchal society placed girls aspiring to become engineers at a disadvantage compared to boys. As the competition for seats at the IITs has sharpened, admissions have increasingly become skewed in favour of those who can access and afford coaching classes that train aspirants in cracking the entrance test. Former HRD minister Kapil Sibal took on coaching classes, arguing that the likelihood of parents preferring to send their boys instead of girls to these classes made it hard for the IITs to achieve any gender parity.
In 2012, the IITs waived the application fee for girls, hoping that this would encourage more girls to apply. It did. While 23.4% of registered candidates in 2011 were girls, this number jumped to 33.2% in 2012.
But the number of girls who qualified (11.9%) and were finally admitted (9.7%) were no improvement on 2011 (11.2% qualified and 9.9% admitted) or 2010 (11.2% qualified and 10.2% admitted).
To Mumbai boy Rahul Gokhale however, the new proposal is "grossly unfair."
"Girls need a leg up, but this is no way," Gokhale said. "Will I be denied an opportunity to live my dream only because I’m a boy?"