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CUET: A Boon or Disaster in Making?

CUET is no exception and is continuing the existing system where the focus is not on learning but assessment. “Any kind of arrangement which seeks to impose uniformity becomes discriminatory. The proposed system will not be more just and fair”.

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On the 21st of March 2022 an official notice making CUET – (Common University Entrance Test) an only means to get into 45 central universities was passed by the varsity’s executive council during its meeting on Friday. The decision however was intended by the UGC to be taken in the year 2019 but had been pushed due to the Covid crisis. CUCET is a familiar face that was introduced in the year 2010, for seven central universities accounting for  1,500 seats in 41 undergraduates, postgraduate and integrated courses.

It is to be noted that in the 2nd quarter of 2021, the vice-chancellors and controllers of examination of the Central universities had been invited to a consultation on the usage of CUET. About 45 Central Universities have consented to the exam and were told by the NTA (National Testing Agency) that they would be holding the CUET this year for all aspiring students.                                                                                                                                                        

Nevertheless, not surprisingly the older and more prestigious institutions such as the JNU, Delhi University (DU), Jadavpur and Shantiniketan initially were not keen on CUET since they had their own admission tests.

However, a report went on to quote the DU vice-chancellor PC Joshi who had said “that if the education ministry approves the use of the CUET, it would be implemented for admissions”. Similar statements have been made by the JNU as well to consider the CUET for its undergraduate admissions if the government directs it to do so. It is quiet an absurd statement that the Vice Chancellor has given, given that such a decision needs to be taken after a top to bottom consultation, preparing a report in respect to the various state board, central board syllabus’s and answering a number of concerning questions.

A notion is being created that the cancellation of board exams has increased the demand for CUET and conducting some form of an exam for admissions at central universities, knowing that the unrealistic cut-offs to get admitted at premier institutions have underlined the need for an alternative. However, CUET will only additionally encourage the coaching industry further.

 Associate Professor Abha Dev Habib (Physics) at DU’s Miranda House college, believed that merely by increasing the number of filters one cannot overcome the challenges posed by the vast differences in marks obtained by students from different state boards and those from the CBSE. Also, former secretary of Democratic Teachers’ Front in DU expressed “Having a filter of common entrance will encourage the coaching industry and put additional burden on parents and students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

It is interesting to note that when one tries to understand CUET and its need one does understand the need for introducing it as the Government did not favour using Board marks for admission because of the “diversity” in evaluation methods. Additionally, the possibility that “Some Boards are more generous than others in grading system gives their students an unfair advantage over others,” said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Irrespective of the noble intentions of the NTA, some of the expert comments shed light on the issue with much empathy. Professor Disha Nawani, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Mumbai), stated CUET is no exception and is continuing the existing system where the focus is not on learning but assessment. “Any kind of arrangement which seeks to impose uniformity becomes discriminatory. The proposed system will not be more just and fair”. 

The experts have noted that be it CBSE, CISCE or the different state boards in India all tend to have different evaluation patterns which make it unfair for students applying for central universities with a wide diversity in evaluation patterns.

Another blow with the CUET, came with the announcement that each university will admit students based on a merit list prepared by NTA, and there will be no common counselling. Though the UGC claims that the CUET will not affect the quota of reserved seats at such institutions, they will have to mandatorily admit all students through the common test i.e. CUET and the reservation policies and ordinances of the universities will remain unchanged.

The claim in itself is a bogus one. What really is of concern is as rightly stated that “Common entrance tests undermine the autonomy of universities. Every university designs its own standards to assess students. CUET does not take into account the interdisciplinary nature of the university system,” said Aditya Narayan Mishra, former president of Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) and the Federation of Central Universities’ Teachers’ Associations (FEDCUTA), speaking at a recent online discussion organised by Academics for Action and Development (AAD).

Additionally, Ashok Barman, former general secretary of the All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisations (AIFUCTO) and current president of the Forum of Concerned Teachers, has stated: “CUET is a centralised bureaucratic decision and part of the grand design of NEP 2020. This inflexible system will be imposed on state universities too. The teacher organisations from the central and the state universities should join hands to oppose such centralised tests.”

Unfortunately, it seems like the issues that has been raised during NEET will seem to continue and persist with the introduction of CUET. As per the statement of AAD (Academics for Action & Development) academics have voiced a major concern regarding hardship for poor students and marginalised sections. The New criteria will further complicate the process of assessment of merit and further delay the process of admission and implementation of CUET. This will result in the mushrooming of coaching centres and poor students will not be able to obtain admission in centralised universities. Only the best coached students will get admission, depriving talented students coming from socially and economically weaker backgrounds.

The Assistant Professor of History, Richa Raj, at Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University, said despite claims of providing a level playing field for all students, the centralised exam actually does the opposite. It has “a pro-upper class bias and pushes further to the margins students from economically and socially deprived sections”, she said during the AAD online discussion ‘CUET and its Perils’.

Academicians have continued to speak out and express their fear that a centralised exam could lead to a boom in the private coaching industry that would disadvantage marginalised students. Acknowledging the wide gap within the rich and the poor in India, a former DU executive council pressed for advocating a more “inclusive admission” policy, having seen several research reports documenting centralised tests such as CUET, which have concluded that they have favoured people from affluent backgrounds who have access to better study material.

A Sad reality is there have been some, who have viewed this issue very simplistically stating that the solution to this problem is not difficult in this age of technology. Claiming that the Governments and various educational institutions could join forces in this regard. Examples are cited that the Yogi Government of Uttar Pradesh which has started free coaching for JEE and NEET for students belonging to the weaker sections of society.

The example cited precisely is the issue. It is the government’s responsibility to reduce the burden of the students not to increase it. Opening ‘free’ coaching institutes is the testament of the fact that the government understands and knows that a student who merely studies in a state board school cannot clear the exam be it NEET or CUET.  

There is a need for civil society to be vigilant in its response to safeguarding the educational institutions of our nation. As the TN – Tamil Nadu state government has rejected NEET at the state assembly echoing the people’s voice, the civil society hopes that the state takes such steps to ensure the democratic voices of the people are heard and valued.

Education is not a business entity, instead of a free entity and needs to be made accessible. Forms of affirmative action need to be taken to achieve social justice. Civil society needs to be represented by active citizens by being responsible members of a community, society, and institution. The citizens need to understand their role and place in the society, their rights, and the discriminations that they and their fellow Indians experience. Being empathetic and raising our voice is a necessary role of a citizen.

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