Explained: What do universities think about a common entrance test?

While those in favour say a common entrance exam will streamline the admission process and do away with skyrocketing cut-offs, those who oppose it believe that it may change the “nature of their campuses”
The present format of CUCET is quite similar to the one suggested by the committee. The exam consists of two parts of objective questions. There is also negative marking – 0.25 marks will be deducted for each wrong answer (Sanchit Khanna/HT Archive) PREMIUM
The present format of CUCET is quite similar to the one suggested by the committee. The exam consists of two parts of objective questions. There is also negative marking – 0.25 marks will be deducted for each wrong answer (Sanchit Khanna/HT Archive)
Updated on Dec 14, 2021 06:50 PM IST
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New Delhi: With the Union government indicating that a common entrance test will be introduced for all undergraduate and postgraduate courses in central universities from next year, a plethora of voices have emerged both in support and criticism.

While those in favour say a common entrance exam will streamline the admission process across the country and help do away with skyrocketing cut-offs, those who oppose it believe that it may change the “nature of their campuses” and give a further push to the already-thriving “coaching culture”. In addition, officials of minority universities say that the common entrance exam may make it difficult to implement their reservation policy.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) in a letter dated November 26 addressed to the vice-chancellors (VCs) of all 45 central universities – which includes the Delhi University (DU), the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Banaras Hindu University (BHU) among others – asked them to start preparing for the implementation of the Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET), which may be conducted from the 2022-23 academic year.

UGC joint secretary Jitendra K Tripathi said in the letter during the meeting with the VCs of all the central universities on November 22 that the recommendations of the committee that was constituted to draw the modalities of CUCET were discussed. “After detailed deliberations, it was resolved that the common entrance test for undergraduate and postgraduate courses may be conducted for central universities from academic session 2022-23 through NTA,” the letter said.

As per the UGC communication, CUCET will be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) – an autonomous body under the Union ministry of education. The NTA already conducts all the major entrance exams in the country, including the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET).

The origin of CUCET

A year after 12 new central universities were set up across the country, the CUCET was introduced by the government in 2010. Initially, seven of those new central universities opted for it. As of this year, 12 central universities, including central universities of Gujarat, Haryana, Kerala Jammu and Punjab, have become a part of the CUCET.

The National Education Policy (NEP), approved by the Union cabinet in 2020, also recommends a common entrance exam for all universities. To implement this recommendation, the UGC had last year set up a seven-member committee headed by RP Tiwari, the VC of the Central University of Punjab, to prepare the modalities for CUCET. After several rounds of discussion, the committee submitted its recommendations in December last year and suggested that they should be implemented from the 2021-22 academic year. However, the UGC had put it on hold in view of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The structure of the exam

The CUCET is a computerised exam that will be conducted in 13 languages: English, Hindi, Gujarati, Assamese, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. The test will cover various streams like the sciences, humanities, languages, arts, and vocational subjects.

While the UGC and the union ministry of education are yet to finalise the format, a member of the committee created to recommend the modalities said on condition of anonymity that CUCET will have two components – an aptitude test and a subject-specific test. “The aptitude part will consist of questions on reading comprehension, verbal ability, logical and analytical reasoning and general awareness. The second part will be subject-specific, where questions related to the stream in which the candidate wants to take admission will be asked.”

The committee had also recommended allowing universities to use a combination of CUCET and class 12 scores for admission to undergraduate courses, and a single application form for multiple universities. “The committee also recommended that CUCET should be conducted twice a year,” the member added.

The present format of CUCET is quite similar to the one suggested by the committee. The exam consists of two parts of objective questions. There is also negative marking – 0.25 marks will be deducted for each wrong answer.

Voices in support of CUCET

The Delhi University (DU), which follows the cut-off-based admission process for all but nine undergraduate programmes, constituted a committee in October to suggest an “alternative strategy for optimal admissions in undergraduate courses”. The committee in its interim report, submitted last week, advocated an entrance-based admission process, concluding that granting admission on the basis of cut-off lists “was fraught with unavoidable fluctuations”.

Rajeev Gupta, dean of students’ welfare and chairman of the university’s admissions committee, said CUCET will not discriminate against students from boards that follow strict marking in class 12. “In the existing cut-off system, DU has a deficiency of students from some large education boards in UP, Bihar and Rajasthan. All these boards are very stringent. CUCET will give an equal opportunity to all students and provide a level playing field,” he said.

The problem with cut-off based admissions was evident this year, when eight DU colleges announced a 100% cut-off for entrance to 11 courses. The academic council of the university last week approved the proposal of conducting undergraduate and postgraduate admissions through a common entrance test.

Similarly, officials in BHU said that the common entrance exam will make things “easier for students”. BHU controller of examinations MK Pandey said, “A common entrance exam has already been tried and successfully implemented in admissions for medical and engineering courses. It will help the candidates, who will not have to apply to many universities or appear in different entrance examinations. BHU is in favour of being a part of the CUCET.” The University already conducts entrance exams for admission to various courses through the NTA.

Voices of concern

Several faculty members of JNU, which is known for its research work and unique course combinations, raised concerns over the implementation of CUCET. JNU Teachers’ Association secretary Moushumi Basu said, “Different universities have different characteristics. How are they going to conduct the same entrance exam for all central universities? In JNU, we have some courses which are not being offered anywhere else in the country. Besides, it will also favour students from urban areas and metropolitan cities. That’s going to be a problem because JNU is known for its diversity.”

A section of DU faculty members also believes that CUCET may encourage the “coaching culture” that will favour students from privileged sections. Rajesh Jha, a political science professor and a former member of the university’s executive council – the highest decision-making body – said, “DU, a premier central university, attracts students from all over the country who are from diverse and unequal social and economic bases. The scale of our intake is quite big and complex. The admission process has evolved over the years and has been improved when required. An abrupt change without due deliberation will be disruptive. Any centralised test like CUCET favours upper-class, upper-caste students from urban areas who went to English medium school. It will give rise to the coaching culture that is seen in NEET and JEE.”

Jha said that CUCET cannot be the only solution to high cut-offs. “We can’t introduce something disastrous in the name of providing a solution to an existing problem. The government should come up with a plan to check this issue right from the school level,” he said.

In Jamia, which conducts its own entrance exam for admission to all undergraduate and postgraduate courses, officials said that CUCET may become a major issue for minority institutions. Jamia reserves 50% seats for minority candidates in each programme. “We are expecting that CUCET doesn’t affect our existing reservation system. The UGC has assured us they will take care of it,” a senior official said, requesting anonymity.

A senior official in the ministry of education, who wished not to be named, said, “The ministry has considered the issues of minority institutions and universities which have internal reservations when common entrance examinations for medical and engineering courses were introduced. The government will do the same in the case of CUCET.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Fareeha Iftikhar is a principal correspondent with the national political bureau of the Hindustan Times. She tracks the education ministry, and covers the beat at the national level for the newspaper. She also writes on issues related to gender, human rights and different policy matters.

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