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CET: confusion every time

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The exam muddle: What fate awaits students this year?
The exam muddle: What fate awaits students this year?

DEEPA KURUP

Why upset the applecart, ask private managements

Every year the decision on the nature and mode of the all-important Common Entrance Test, which determines admissions to professional courses in Karnataka, stirs up a hornet's nest, often leaving the hapless student in the lurch till weeks before the examination.

Last year, as late as February, members of the State Government were engaged in a public debate on whether they should do away with the entrance examination for allotting seats in professional colleges. The confusion over whether the CET score will be required for dental seat aspirants remained unresolved till late-March, just weeks before the CET, with government orders being scrapped and recalled till the last minute. This week, however, the government's announcement to conduct the CET on April 28 and 29, confirms that the CET will indeed be conducted. However, there is little clarity on anything else.

Along with this announcement, the State Higher Education Minister brought to the table a suggestion which is again bound to create some panic. In line with its decision to move from a one-day CET to holding the competitive examination over two days, in an attempt to “de-stress the examination experience,” the government proposes to do away with the dual-window system of admissions. This implies that the Under Graduate Entrance Test (UGET) conducted by the Consortium of Medical, Engineering and Dental Colleges of Karnataka (COMED-K) for admission to the private colleges in the State will be scrapped, and the government's Karnataka Examination Authority will take on the job of allotting seats to all colleges. Private college managements, who have not been consulted on this contentious announcement, are miffed and are unlikely to agree, sources in COMED-K say.

Counterproductive

Members of the consortium, who spoke to The Hindu EducationPlus in the days following this announcement, maintain that they are averse to this idea. On the topic of reducing exam stress, in this day and age of multiple competitive examinations, they feel this is part and parcel of the entrance game. M.R. Jayaram, Chairman of the M.S. Ramaiah Medical Hospitals and Gokula Education Foundation, says the move is “definitely counterproductive” and not in the interest of colleges, and of maintaining the transparency of the system. Since 2006, professional college admissions operate in a dual window mode: students from Karnataka are allotted seats by the Karnataka Examinations Authority, the erstwhile Common Entrance Test cell, and through the exam conducted by COMED-K. Every year the government signs a MoU with the managements to decide on seat sharing and fee limits in courses. The objective of starting the UGET was to simplify this very process, by separating private quota admissions (involving seats at a much higher fee) from the government quota seat allotments (where seats in private colleges are offered at a subsidised rate).

‘Interference'

The move is being perceived as one that is aimed at upsetting the applecart, and increasing government control in a fairly transparent process. Reminding all that the move to hold separate exams was to simplify the process and make it more accountable, Mr. Jayaram asks: “When our colleges are abiding by the law of the land (the Supreme Court verdict allows colleges to conduct their own entrances to fill in management seats) and are able to run a fair and transparent process, then what is the need for any intervention?” Those who wish to retain the present system have another important point to make: a fair majority of students appearing for the consortium's UGET are outstation candidates.

For instance, out of 65,259 applicants in 2009, 50,210 were from outside Karnataka. This is reflective of the number of students who come to study in Karnataka every year, a statistic that several top colleges consider valuable and even a part of their USP. Panduranga Shetty, president of the Karnataka Unaided Private Engineering Colleges Association, says: “How will they solve the problem for those of us who want our institutes to be open to taking non-Karnataka students? Today, we are moving from mass education to quality education, and the government in its plans must accommodate for this shift,” he explains.

Irked by the proposal, members of the Karnataka Unaided Private Engineering Colleges Association claim that far from allowing for one entrance, they propose to place a list of proposals in front of the government this time. Their demands are likely to include an increase in their seat share (by increasing the ratio of seats allotted under the management quota to government quota, in private colleges), an increase in the management quota fees and even reconsidering the terms of the “poor and meritorious category,” Mr. Shetty told The Hindu.

The ‘poor and meritorious category,' introduced by the government where 25 per cent seats in all private colleges are earmarked for those whose parents' annual income is below Rs. 2 lakh, besides other conditions, has deeply impacted revenues of colleges, private managements claim.

“Angry managements have asked why they should bear the financial brunt of a government subsidy,” Mr. Shetty says. However, the Karnataka Government had proposed this subsidy as a trade trade-off with private managements who took home an increased share of seats in the seat matrix last year. But private managements, particularly those of tier-II colleges, insist that they had to pay a huge price this year. It may also be noted that out of 13,683 engineering seats in private colleges across the State, 6,889 were vacant last year, thus adding to the problem.

The Principal of a tier-II engineering college near Mangalore says that with reduced intake in engineering courses, his college is running in negative deficit as far as the 2009 batch goes. This year, 18,120 students were allotted seats in the new category. “Understandably, most of these students landed in tier-II colleges, which are already under pressure. The system of randomly allotting seats to us, without a cap on how many students will go to each college, was unfair,” the Principal said. Ask students what they feel about being offered the privilege of writing one exam instead of two, and most of them feel it does not make a difference.

Given the fact that most students write a plethora of exams starting with the IIT-Joint Entrance Exam, the All Indian Engineering Entrance Exam and then various state and national-level exams, students are used to the idea of this compartmentalisation.

‘National feel'

Says Jayesh Warrier from the National Public School: “I certainly do not want the UGET to be scrapped. While the CET paper caters solely to the State board student, the UGET paper is all-India and is more in line with what I study in school.” His friend, who studies at the same tuition centre, is preparing more for AIEEE.

He has a different idea to offer. “What would really work is all the governments coming together and entry to all colleges being made through a single examination like the AIEEE or even using a generic score, like the system that exists in the U.S.,” he says.


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