India has of late witnessed a mushrooming of entrance coaching centres which are as much about drilling in the skills required for responding to questions as they are about deepening the understanding of the subject. (Representational Image/ DC File)
The decision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to introduce a Common University Entrance Test (CUET), to be conducted by the National Testing Agency for admissions to undergraduate programmes in all the 45 central universities from academic year 2022-23 is a big change that comes with definite advantages while raising some serious concerns, too.
As per the UGC, the test will have a compulsory general paper and six subject-specific papers which the students can choose from a large bouquet. The scores in the test will be the sole criterion for admission to undergraduate courses, making the marks a student scored in the school board examination inconsequential. The scores can be used by private and state universities for admissions, as per the UGC. It has been clarified that there will be no change in the reservation patterns in the admission process.
The CUET will undoubtedly bring in some uniformity in university admissions in a country where there are one too many agencies supervising school education and examinations. There has hardly been a standardised format for the education or the examination and valuation patterns. The CUET will introduce a single platform on which the skills of the students will be tested and scores given.
It will also obviate the need for the students to appear for multiple tests for admission; a single scorecard will now enable a student apply for admission in all the 45 central universities.
But there are some concerns, too. Universities admit students based on several factors, and the entrance test score is usually one of them. Board exam scores, which are arrived at by assessing the performance of the student over a period of time and over various modes of testing also offer a clue to the student’s academic abilities. Doing away with it completely could lead to a situation where students reduce the importance they attach to classroom learning and instead rush to coaching centres.
India has of late witnessed a mushrooming of entrance coaching centres which are as much about drilling in the skills required for responding to questions as they are about deepening the understanding of the subject. This could demand investing of more time and money, which could impact students from socially and educationally backward communities as well as girls. The digital divide is another factor. As per the National Statistical Office, only four per cent of rural households have access to computers, compared to 23 per cent in urban households, raising concerns about the new system further widening the urban-rural divide in higher education. There are also doubts as to whether the same pattern would fit all streams including science, humanities and language studies.
A level playing field is a great idea as long as the players come from similar turfs. Hence the UGC must reconsider its plan to make all undergraduate admissions on CUET scores and discard the board exam marks altogether. The commission and the Union government must initiate discussions on ways to make university admission fairer. Education is too important a topic to be left to individual agencies that manage it.