By Mohammad Naushad Khan
The Central Universities Entrance Test (CUET) has some advantages and disadvantages. Experts have shared mixed feelings and have also shared their views in detail about its limitations, challenges and above all implementations based on the ground realities, rural and urban divide, lack of infrastructure to support such an initiative and its impact on minority institutions and marginalised students.
The Central Universities Entrance Test (CUET) is not a new idea. It was initially held in 2010 for admission to 1,500 seats in undergraduate, postgraduate, and integrated courses at seven central universities. A dozen Central Universities, including Assam University, University of Karnataka, University of Kerala, and University of Haryana have already taken admissions through CUET through the academic year 2021-22. The National Testing Agency (NTA) is in-charge of administering the CUET exam.
The arguments in favour of this initiative is that the unified entrance test for all universities will put an end to ever-increasing cut-offs (as seen at DU) and will instead focus on building students’ critical thinking abilities rather than rote learning. Because no uniformity is followed across different boards in awarding 12th marks, there is always a kind of discrimination based on 12th marks, and it does not provide equal opportunity for students seeking admission to all of the prestigious colleges. CUET will also consider students from different boards on an equal footing.
Dr. Furqan Qamar, presently Professor of Management at the Centre for Management Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, who has served as the Secretary General of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) and also as Advisor (Education) in the Planning Commission of India, said, “Countries with world-class universities do not require admission to higher education programmes exclusively based on the results of a single national-level entrance examination. Instead, they delegate authority to universities. To identify and select students for admission to their undergraduate, graduate, or research degree programmes, the majority of them employs a holistic, multi-faceted, and multi-dimensional strategy.”
Dr Qamar added, “National institutions and central universities only account for 0.78 per cent and 1.93 per cent of all students, respectively. The experiences and anxieties of such a small segment cannot be extended to the great majority. After all, a few states still believe that subjecting medical students to a national-level entrance exam was unjust on the basis of merit and inclusivity. CUET does not currently prescribe centralised counselling or seek to meddle with institutions’ existing admission and reservation policies. Many institutions are concerned, however, because the possibility of centralised counselling cannot be ruled out.”
On the advantage and disadvantage of CUET, Ranjit Singh Ghuman, Professor of Eminence (Economics), Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, said, “Like any other entrance test, it has both pros and cons. On the positive side it shall provide an equal opportunity to all the aspirants, irrespective of their score in the 12th class and graduation as there is wide variation in the syllabi, examination practices and score across the various boards and universities due to multiple reasons. On the down side it would give an impetus to the coaching centres as is being witnessed in the country to crack other entrance tests.”
On its impact on parents and students, Professor Ranjit Singh said, “The parents will have to spend hefty amounts to arrange coaching for their wards. Besides, the students, teachers and parents will give less attention to studies in the schools and colleges and focus more on the entrance tests. The tendency to get dummy admissions in schools and colleges will increase and in the process it will put double financial burden on the parents. Those who cannot afford will be out of the race and certainly many meritorious students would be deprived of getting higher education and the society will be deprived of their merit and contribution. Who knows how many Manmohan Singhs and Abdul Kalams would not be able to have the benefit of higher education.”
On the rural and urban divide, he said, “Rural students in general and poor students in particular would have very low probability to crack the entrance test. This is mainly because of the poor quality of education in the rural schools, particularly in government schools having dismal infrastructure and huge vacant posts of teachers and very high proportion of students from the marginalised strata. It is an established fact that rural students are far behind their urban counterparts, not for lack of IQ but for lack of overall environment for quality education.
“The very structure of the entrance test based on English Language, Numerical Ability, Logical & Analytical Reasoning, and General Awareness is heavily loaded against the rural and marginalised students as they are generally weak in these areas. Computer base test would also go against the rural and marginalised sections because far poor facilities in rural areas.”
Citing studies to substantiate his claims, he said, “Our own studies (‘Professional Education in Punjab: Exclusion of Rural Students’, 2009 and ‘Rural Students in Universities of Punjab’, 2006; both published by Punjabi University Patiala) had revealed that the share of rural students in higher professional education was only 3.71% and that in the universities of Punjab it was just 4.07%). If this is the situation of a developed state like Punjab what would be state of affairs in the laggard states, particularly when about 65% population is still residing in rural areas. In view of the above there is a strong case to review this decision so as to provide level playing field to all the aspirants.”
“The Common University Entrance Test (CUET) is a praiseworthy decision in multiple aspects. It has the potential to streamline admission processes by avoiding the overstressing on multiple entrance tests and thus reducing financial burden. The Universities will also save their time, energy and resources to conduct their own entrance tests. Equally important is the fact that there are many Universities lacking financial resources, infrastructure as well as poor enrolment,” said Afroz Alam, Professor and Head of Department of Political Science Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU).
He added, “CUET may prove a boon for these universities. There is a higher possibility of creating equal opportunities for the students belonging to poor, marginalised and rural sections as it may make the education more accessible. CUET may help the students choose a university for further studies from a pool of a large numbers of universities.
“Be that as it may, the UGC has to take care of certain genuine issues that may arise due to CUET. For instance, UGC needs to bring certain guidelines to minimise the adverse impact on poor and marginalised students particularly belonging to rural areas due to the likely growth of the coaching industry as we have witnessed for JEE and NEET. For the sake of fairness, special care is needed for balancing the multiple senior secondary boards, diverse syllabi, integrity of 10+2 examinations, regional variations, remotely located colleges, and autonomy of minority institutions and so on.”
Dr. Amir Ali, assistant professor Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, “The CUET will create a needless uniformity that does not take into account the specific strengths and unique aspects of different universities. The decision does not seem to be well thought through and while the apparently convenient and students-friendly move will immensely harm the already frayed and damaged University structure in India.”
Fawaz Shaheen, National Secretary, Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO), while sharing his perspective on the ongoing debate, said, “The idea of ‘One Nation One Entrance Test’ being pushed by the central government appears to be yet another attempt at needlessly centralising higher education system of the country. It could lead to disastrous consequences if implemented without due diligence and caution.”
He added, “The introduction of CUET as the single entrance test for admissions across central universities has been touted as a necessary measure in overcoming the disparities in class 12 board scores of various educational boards and streamlining the admission process. However, we believe that the availability of low number of seats compared to a large number of aspirants and non-fulfilment of teaching posts in the central universities lies at the root of the problem.”
“The centralised entrance exams tend to favour aspirants from privileged background, promote coaching culture, induce an unhealthy competition, anxiety and mental health issues among students, aggravate academic burden and encourage test-oriented study in place of comprehensive learning. Without necessary checks and balances in place, there’s a real danger of CUET end up becoming another National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET),” he said.
“The test should be limited to central universities and no attempt should be made to foist it on state universities and other institutes which can conveniently admit students through board marks. The exam itself should be made more inclusive by ensuring a common-minimum syllabus, normal difficulty level, sufficient number of test centres in every part of the country and availability of test in maximum languages. Most important of all, universities must be constantly encouraged and given appropriate resources to expand enrolment and fill vacant teaching positions,” he argued.