The concept of entrance examination was laid down in the National Policy on Education 1986 and the Programme of Action Plan of 1992, and it was decided that “the movement towards entrance tests for admission to institutions of higher education will be encouraged and promoted by the UGC and the State Governments. The services of the National Evaluation Organisation (NEO) should be utilised by the university system for developing, designing and administering entrance tests for admission. During the next three years (by 1995), all universities should devise entrance tests for admission to postgraduate courses and prescribe ceilings for admission to postgraduate and professional courses, keeping in view the availability of teachers, libraries, laboratories, etc. It should be ensured that entrance tests do not militate against students belonging to the weaker sections of society and rural areas, who may not be proficient in the use of the English language and lack communication skills.”

Following this, various committees have been constituted by the Statutory Councils of the government of India to frame rules and regulations for admission to professional institutions in the past 18 years and more often, the efforts were scuttled for various reasons, including political. It is unfortunate that this policy decision which should have galvanised Indian higher education is still kept in cold storage.

For instance, when the Tamil Nadu government in 1984 introduced an entrance examination abolishing the interview system, a hue and cry was raised that the new system would affect rural students. It was argued that a rural student “pulled out of his village surroundings and made to write an entrance test is bound to suffer from bewilderment and confusion.”

In the High Court of Madras, Justice S. Natarajan (later on, a Supreme Court judge) held that “in the first place, with modern transport, communication facilities, rural electrification, mass media facilities, etc., being made available all over the State, it cannot be said that the students in rural areas are still leading a life totally different from that of the city students. It is apposite to mention here that only students who secure 60 % marks in subjects and 70 % in the aggregate are eligible to apply to the professional courses. Secondly, there is no hypothesis for holding that all students living in the cities are bright and knowledgeable persons and all students living in the districts and mofussil areas are not so bright and knowledgeable. Even as there will be a percentage of mediocre students in the city schools, there will be a percentage of bright students in the schools in the mofussil areas and small towns. It cannot therefore be said that as a rule all the city students will fare better and all mofussil students will fare badly in the entrance test examination.”

The High Court added that “the entrance test system has now come to be universally accepted and more and more countries in the world are resorting to it and the students are able to face it without any trepidation. It has the advantages of speed, uniformity, and accuracy, all of which the interview system can never hope to achieve. The advancement of technology has made the entrance test system so foolproof that no country can afford to miss the advantages offered by it.” The judge dismissed the writ petition.

Whilst so, advancing the same argument after nearly 25 years that the rural students will be at a disadvantage is unacceptable. It amounts to accepting that rural development has not reached the students for the last 25 years. Are we to accept that no improvement has been made in rural high schools and higher secondary schools? Are we to agree that the benefit of growth in transportation, telecom, IT and other multimedia facilities has not reached the rural population? Is the rural development index of students, measured on the basis of productivity of money spent, is abysmally low?

(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA University, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. His email id is: sethuraman@sastra.edu)