We need to move to a system of standardisation in entrance exams, whether it is for engineering or medicine.

The Centre has done the right thing in deciding on a common two-part joint entrance examination (JEE) for the undergraduate engineering programmes in all the 60-odd institutions under its jurisdiction. From 2013 onwards, there would be a JEE (main) and JEE (advanced) paper to select candidates for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) as well as the National Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Information Technology and other Centrally-funded engineering educational institutions. Moreover, candidates will be assessed not only based on JEE ‘main' and ‘advanced' performance, but also their Class XII Board marks, with these accorded respective weightages of 30, 30 and 40 per cent. Even for the elite IITs, while the final rankings are to be based on JEE (advanced) performance, there would, however, be a prior screening stage where the JEE (main) and Class XII Board results will form the basic eligibility criteria for selection.

Both these moves — having a common JEE system and taking into account Class XII performance — are laudable. The first one saves students the bother of preparing and writing multiple entrance exams, often in different locations. Considering the school-leaving exam results, apart from that of the main and advanced JEE, would mean assessing students on the basis of their scores in three papers, rather than one ‘knock-out' exam. That probably will translate into a much better measure of merit. It would also be fairer: Not all parents can, after all, send their children to private tutorial centres that would ‘prepare' them for entrance exams. Besides addressing the inherent inequity in students from less affluent backgrounds not being able to compete with those undergoing special coaching in such centres, the weightage to Board results would restore to the teaching of science subjects at the secondary school level, the primacy that it has sadly lost in recent years.

The proposed reforms in the engineering entrance examination system would have greater impact if they force State Governments to also follow suit. Ideally, they should bring their own engineering colleges under the purview of the JEE, so that students writing it are eligible to apply to these institutions as well. True, education being a concurrent subject, the Centre cannot impose anything on the States. The fact that there are reservation quotas, varying from State to State, poses added complications — though it may not be difficult really to use the scores from a common exam for admission to engineering colleges across the country, even while adhering to the quotas fixed by the respective States. But the fundamental point is that we need to move to a system of standardisation in entrance exams, whether it is for engineering or medicine. By taking the initiative for its own institutions, the Centre may set the right example for not just State Government-run, but even private engineering and medical colleges to emulate. The market, too, would ultimately place more value on students selected from a common nationwide exam.

(This article was published on May 30, 2012)
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