Stung by audacious, almost Bollywood-style attempts at admissions fraud in 2012, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are dumping an online tool that they believe critically helped fake students get into the institutes without clearing the entrance test.
The IITs have decided to insist on students coming to campuses in 2013 for verification of their identities before seats are finally allotted to them, ending online counseling, after two students used digitally doctored admit cards to cheat their way into the institutes.
The two students were caught. But the fraud attempts - reported first by HT on November 25 - have sparked a first-of-its-kind identity verification drive scanning first-year students across the 16 IITs, amid fears at the premier engineering schools that other unqualified students may have also sneaked into their prestigious undergraduate programmes. About 10,000 students were admitted to the IITs and the Indian School of Mines (All India Engineering Entrance Examination), Dhanbad on the basis of their scores in JEE 2012.
"With online counseling, people look for wrong methods to get into the IITs," Professor HC Gupta, the organizing chairman for the 2013 IIT Joint Entrance Examination (advanced) told HT. "That's why we have decided to change the counseling process this year."
In 2013, students selected for the IITs will need to come to campus during a four-day physical counseling process, Gupta said. A second, two-day long physical counseling session will then be held to fill vacant seats, and a third one-day session if seats still remain unfilled. Though students will fill in their choices online, these will not be confirmed - unlike now - till they undergo the physical verification.
"Unless we verify identities physically, we get into all kinds of trouble with people trying to cheat the system" Gupta said. "It's better to spend seven days to verify IDs."
In 2010, the IITs left their decades-old policy requiring students who cleared the JEE to come to campus for counseling where seats were allotted to them, and their identities verified, turning instead to technology as a solution. The shift was aimed at saving students the hassle of traveling to an IIT to wait and watch while their seats were allotted to them based on their rank in the JEE and their preferences.
Once they disclose their results, the IITs send admission offer letters to students ranked in the merit list. The online counseling facility, used in 2010, 2011 and 2012, allows these students to type in their roll number on their computer screen, see the options of the IITs and the courses they can pick based on their rank, and select their choice. The online counseling starts with top rankers picking their choices and goes down the merit list, so students who go online know what choices are available to them based on their rank.
With the selection done, students just need to show their admit cards to admission officers when they actually come to campus to start classes, and can then begin their stint at IIT.
But the physical anonymity that the online counseling facility allows also makes it vulnerable to misuse, as the IITs discovered this year.
Two students - a boy who claimed admission to IIT Bhubaneswar and a girl who joined ISM Dhanbad - procured admit cards of students who had actually cleared JEE 2012 this past April. The IITs believe the successful candidates may have sold their admit cards.
These two fraud students then filled in their choice of course and IIT online based on the ranks of the successful candidates, and got the seats they wanted. They then digitally doctored the photographs on the admit cards, to pass off as the successful candidates. The IITs believe they planned to subsequently claim a legal 'name change' to revert back to their original identities. The fraud attempts resemble plots of Bollywood blockbusters Munnabhai MBBS and 3 Idiots.
The two students were caught after officials accepting their admit cards when the fake candidates came to campus grew suspicious. But the Joint Admission Board of the IITs, the highest admissions body of the engineering schools, decided that it could not rule out the possibility that other fake students may have passed their vigilance, JEE 2012 organizing chairman Professor GB Reddy told HT on Friday. The identities of first year students are now being verified as they appear for their first semester examinations across the IITs.
Between 4.5 lakh and 5 lakh students appear for the IIT JEE each year, competing for about 10,000 seats, making the test among the most competitive in the world.
From 2013, the JEE will be conducted in two stages. A JEE (mains) will replace the current All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) taken by about 10 lakh students, which admits students to all other central engineering schools and to 50% seats in state public engineering colleges. Only the top 1.5 lakh students in the JEE (mains) can appear for the JEE (advanced) which the IITs will hold on June 2.
Students clearing the JEE (advanced) will be admitted, if they are also among the top 20 percentile students in the class XII examinations conducted by the board to which their school is affiliated.
The top 20 percentile requirement means that the IITs will need to scrutinize an extra document compared to earlier years, another reason for the physical counseling from 2013, Gupta, the JEE (advanced) chief said.
"We simply can't take a chance," he said.