Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Centre postpones key meet amid JEE tussle

The central government has postponed a meeting of the nation’s highest education policy advisory body that was to decide on a combined entrance examination for all engineering colleges after the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) opposed a plan to scrap their 50-year-old joint entrance examination (JEE). The Central Advisory Board of Education’s (CABE’s) meeting was crucial to build consensus on a common entrance for all engineering colleges by merging IIT-JEE and All India Engineering Entrance Exam (AIEEE), and convince states on the need for a number of higher education reforms that are pending in Parliament before the second leg of the budget session begins on 24 April.

The IIT faculty and alumni associations have opposed the move in a meeting last week. According to a government circular, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has now postponed the meeting from 23 April to 6 June. “Looking at the JEE issue, it was felt that it is better to postpone the meeting to June,” said a ministry official, who declined to be named. “Unless you have something substantial on your plate, it won’t be fair to hold a high-level meet. The states are likely to question that since the central institutes such as IITs and NITs (National Institutes of Technology) are yet to come on board, there is no point getting state approval for a sensitive issue such as JEE,” the official said.

According to the circular, HRD minister Kapil Sibal also proposes to “hold education ministers’ conference to have wide ranging discussion on various issues concerning both sectors of education” on 5 June. Higher education reforms have made little progress in the past one year and at least a dozen draft Bills on education reforms are pending in Parliament. The ministry expected the CABE meeting, with representation from state education ministers, would help it garner crucial political support to push through the Bills.

The Educational Tribunal Bill, the unfair practices Bill, the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill, the Right to Education (RTE) Amendment Bill are some of the key Bills that are awaiting the assent of lawmakers. While the unfair practices Bill aims to bring transparency in the education sector by curbing payment of donations or capitation fees by students for admissions, the tribunal Bill has provisions for setting up a quasi-judicial body that can speed up dispute resolution related to the sector. The NCHER Bill proposes to bring all the arms of higher education regulations such as University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education and National Council For Teacher Education under one overarching body.

Himangshu R. Vaish, President of the IIT-Delhi Alumni Association and Managing Director of Instapower Ltd, said the ministry’ proposal will affect the IIT brand. “IITs are global brands because of quality students and faculty, and there is no need to take popular measures by putting quality at risk,” Vaish said. “If you go by the proposal, it will mess up the selection process at undergraduate level in IITs; what about the brand. The alumni association, which met Sunday, also decided to oppose any such attempt.”

Sanjiv Sanghi, head of faculty forum at IIT-Delhi, said that the faculty associations and senates of IITs have told the IIT Council and the ministry that they are working on a mutually acceptable proposal. “We understand that no system is perfect, but we will submit our proposal within a reasonable time,” Sanghi said. Another faculty member of IIT-Delhi said: “The ministry wants to be politically popular at the cost of IIT-JEE. Unless we have a tried and tested alternative, you can not impose a new format.” The faculty member declined to be named.

The ministry’s “plan to give 40% weight to class XII marks is unfair as this may dilute the quality of intake” as the process of normalization of education board results across states proposed by the MHRD are yet to be tested on a large scale. “The normalization of state board exam results is a difficult thing, IIT senates are not convinced,” the second faculty member said.

Every IIT has a senate comprising senior professors, and some invited experts such as those from the alumni and industry. Sibal had told reporters on 22 February that they are merging JEE and AIEEE from the academic year 2013.

Source: Mint, April 18, 2012

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