Friday, February 24, 2012

Single national engineering entrance exam to replace multiple tests draws ire of IIT faculty

The decision to hold a single entrance test for all centrally-run engineering institutes from next year has stirred a hornet’s nest, with three bluechip IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) writing to the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) opposing the proposal. Faculties of IITs in Delhi, Mumbai and Kanpur have voiced their concerns, saying introducing the test without normalising marks across state boards in too little time could affect current Class 12 students and lead to a bunching of candidates at the top of the rank list. The Indian Science Engineering Eligibility Test (ISEET), which will eliminate multiple admission tests including the IIT-JEE, is expected to reduce stress on students. The three IITs that have protested, along with the IITs in Kharagpur and Guwahati, are counted as the best among India’s 15 IITs.

The institutes’ primary concern is the impact on the batch of Class 12 students who appear for IIT-JEE and other exams this year. At an emergency senate meeting last week, IIT-Delhi faculty members expressed concern that introducing ISEET from next year will “not be feasible and will be unfair to the current class 12 students”. This is largely because while two attempts are allowed for JEE, the current batch of Class 12 is unaware that in the new scheme of things, their board scores will carry 40% weight. “If they do not make it in 2012, then in 2013 their Class 12 marks will get counted but they were not aware of this when they appeared for Class 12,” states a note prepared by the faculty, a copy of which is with FE.

IITs are also miffed over providing weightage for Class 12 examinations without specifying a formula for normalising marks from India’s 42 secondary school boards. The JEE system so far has used Class 12 marks only as a cut-off. The institutes worry that a deadline has been set to implement the normalisation, without specifying how the process would take place. Normalisation has not been tried even in 15% of the boards and even data prepared by the Ramasami Commission evaluating the feasibility of the JEE revamp have data from only four school boards.

The institutes feel there should be at least one dry run of normalisation before implementing the formula. “It would be advisable to have a dry run. Any changed system should come after the consent of the IIT senates,” says Prof. Sanjeev Sanghi, President of the Faculty Forum of IIT-Delhi. Normalisation is seen as a herculean task involving obtaining data from all boards representing a heterogenous mix with different levels of complexity, grading and scores, and that too by the first or second week of June. The experience of BITS, Pilani indicates that such an exercise was turning lop-sided in favour of a couple of state boards and hence that Institute shifted to an entrance exam. IITs are also apprehensive about the methodology and reported malpractices in some state board exams.

The IITs feel that at best, the normalised/percentile scores should be used as a filter and not contribute to final scores. The IIT-Kanpur senate resolution passed earlier this month is firmly of the opinion that board marks should not be used for ranking. IITs also feel that if expectation levels in different exams are different, a single test is not the cure. Such an exam will lead to bunching at the top with perhaps over a thousand students could score the same marks, complicating the rank allotment process. It is also being felt that the single test won’t be able to reduce stress or curb the so-called ‘menace’ of coaching. In fact, if school exam scores are included, coaching classes could get more business. As long as there is a big gap between the number of seats in good colleges and the number of students, it will be difficult to stop candidates from seeking extra help.

The premier IITs have proposed a two-tier JEE with a first level of multiple-choice questions (MCQ) and the second one a subjective type exam. The MCQ exam should be used only as a screening test and a second exam based on subjective type questions in physics, chemistry and mathematics administered to a manageable number of students (say, 40,000 to 50,000). In addition, if it is strongly desired by all, there could be a component of Class 12 marks, either suitably normalised or on a percentile basis, which could be weighed along with the MCQ exam, but this score is only to be used as a filter for the second exam. Finally, the responsibility of conducting these exams should lie with IITs. The IIT Bombay faculty forum meeting held a week ago recommended that the undergraduate admission process should go back to the two-tier format that existed earlier.

IIT faculties also feel slighted that they were kept in the dark by the ministry while taking such a major decision. IIT-Delhi note categorically points out that “such important decisions are being taken without proper discussions” with IITs, which are not only directly impacted by this change but will also be nodal in implementing it. “The immaculate reputation of the JEE is due to the commitment and involvement of the IIT faculty at all stages. So, if there is a problem with the JEE, the solution too should come from IITs,” said a senior faculty member of a leading IIT.

Source: The Financial Express, February 24, 2012

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