Confusion prevails over whether the marks of the qualifying examination will be considered for admission to engineering/ medical colleges in Kerala in 2011 even as the State government busies itself giving a final shape to the rules relating to the entrance examinations.

October 30, 2010 was a significant day as far as engineering/ medical entrance examinations are concerned. On that day the Supreme Court — by approving the admissions made to vacant seats in 10 self-financing medical colleges — drew a line beneath the brouhaha about admissions to professional courses in Kerala.

That very day the Union Health Ministry opposed in the apex court a move by the HRD Ministry to introduce a common entrance test for engineering and medical courses. During the hearing, a judge even wondered whether this was an inter-departmental fight (The Hindu dated October 30).

Far removed from the world of government files and inter-departmental tussles are thousands of students who have started preparing for the engineering / medical entrance examinations of 2011. Saying that they — and their anxious parents — are confused would be putting things too mildly.

What will be the warp and the weft of the engineering/medical entrance examinations in Kerala in 2011? Would it be the same as its immediate predecessor or would it be as is proposed in the Kerala Professional Institutions (criteria for admission) Bill 2010 which has been sent to the Central government for concurrence?

The 2011 entrance examinations will be held from April 18 to 21. The prospectus for these examinations has to be prepared and released at least by December, 2010. The problem is the office of the Commissioner for Entrance Examinations does not know what to print in the prospectus.

Sources in the government told The Hindu-EducationPlus that hectic discussions are on to give a final shape to the rules relating to the examinations for 2011. “The CEE's office has to be told what to put in the prospectus at least by the middle of November. By that time there is no hope of getting central clearance for the Professional Institutions Bill. There is a growing body of opinion which holds that the reforms can be implemented for the engineering entrance alone,” a senior government official associated with the discussions explained. The next round of discussion has been slated for November 4.

A major stumbling block in factoring in the results of the qualifying examination while preparing the entrance rank list will be the availability of data. While it can be assumed — only assumed — that the data from the State higher secondary and vocational higher secondary departments would be made available to the CEE on time, the same cannot be said about the marks of the boards in other States. What if a candidate comes with the certificate of a board from which no details are forthcoming? Would such marks be unquestioningly accepted?

Again, even if details including the mean and standard deviation of a board's scores for a year are made available, can Kerala map those scores on to its own higher secondary scores? The government is also exploring the option of making students from other boards write a special examination. The marks of that examination would then be counted as the score for the qualifying examination. Though the entrance reforms committee has suggested a method of normalising the scores of different examination boards, the government is yet to finalise a formula for this.

Government officials who spoke to The Hindu-EducationPlus on these issues were of the opinion that if a final call cannot be made on all these problems by the middle of November, it would be best for the government to announce that the entrance examinations of 2011 would be conducted on the lines of this year's examinations. This, the officials pointed out, would put to rest the anxiety and confusion in the minds of parents and students.

The other half of the story is that the overhaul of the higher secondary and vocational higher secondary examinations suggested by the entrance reforms committee are also only in the ‘committee stage.'

The reforms committee was at pains to point out that the integrity and transparency of the higher secondary examinations must be beyond reproach. In short, even if reforms are effected to the engineering entrance examinations alone in 2011, it would be — going by the logic of the reforms committee — like putting the cart before the horse.

Post-entrance woes

The headache for the government — and in a different way for parents and students — does not end with the successful conduct of the entrance examination. What about the fee for different categories of seats? Will 2011 see a re-run of the discussions between the government and managements, the signing of agreements, court cases challenging such agreements…? What can be done to avoid such problems?

For starters, the whole question of deciding the fee can be left to the Fee Regulatory Committee (FRC). Now, the FRC's role is limited to giving approval to the agreement signed between the government and the association of college managements. This is something that the Committee was never expected to do.

The FRC has the power to inspect colleges, verify facilities and expenses and to decide the fee accordingly. Ideally the discussions on fee should take place between the FRC and the associations. But then, if the government feels that it also ought to be involved in finalising a seat-sharing formula and the fee, these discussions can be a tripartite affair, involving the FRC.

When the Supreme Court asked the P. A. Mohammed Admission Supervisory Committee (ASC) to conduct an examination for filling up 97 vacant seats in some self-financing medical colleges, the ASC had to turn to the office of the CEE for help. It is an open secret that the entire process of the examination was handled by the CEE. At least next year the ASC should conduct, not ‘supervise' in a vague sense, the entrance examination for admission to management quota seats. The committee should also carry out the allotments to these seats.

“There should never be a situation when the fee regulatory committee or the admission supervisory committee has to say, in court or otherwise, that it did not know what transpired between the government and the managements,” an official of the education department said.

As far as students and parents are concerned, the onus is on the government to ensure that the entrance examination and the admissions are conducted in a smooth manner. Decisions taken by the government in the next couple of weeks would be crucial. Each court only serves to de-legitimise to that extent any engagement between the government of the day and managements of professional colleges.