The Curious Case of 100% Cut-off
Delhi University announced the first cut-off list of marks for admission in under-graduate courses on June 15 and by the next morning all hell broke loose.
The reason: the prestigious Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) set a near-impossible cut-off of 100 per cent for those who had studied science in Class XII and now wanted admission in the college’s B.Com (Honours) course.
The shock and dismay of the morning newspapers turned into ranting and raving by television news channels by the evening.
By prime time, the debates on news channels had turned ludicrous. “Bright” students were brought in to express outrage for having been denied early admission in Economics and B Com Honours graduate programmes despite scoring more than 95 per cent marks. They cribbed that they were being victimized for having chosen the science suite in their senior school. Curiously, the TV anchors suffered a collective amnesia. There was hardly a mention of the fact that these students had the option of studying their ‘favourite’ subjects in 80 other Delhi University colleges.
A simple fact is that Delhi University, which started in 1922 with three colleges – St Stephens, Hindu and Ramjas – and only 800 students, now has more than 2.5 lakh seats in more than 80 colleges. So, there is no dearth of options for somebody interested in a particular subject. But there is a preponderance of the brand or bust mentality, and everybody queues up to join the few ‘exclusive’ colleges.
The good thing about this brouhaha, however, is that it has highlighted a longstanding and pernicious problem with the admission process in Delhi University.
The new system of no pre-registration and only cut-offs deciding whether a student gets into his or her preferred college or not is clearly flawed. It fails to ensure fair competition. In comparison, even the earlier system of having a centralised form was better.
Ideally, there should be a system of matching study programmes with suitable students where board marks should be only one of the many criteria. Most institutes of higher learning in the West have a comprehensive system of evaluation of candidates, which includes long write-ups on why they want to study a particular subject or what is their aim in life. Interviews and group discussions are then undertaken for further screening of students.
If the government’s aim is to minimize subjectivity in admissions and reduce the pressure of screening process on students, then resorting to vanilla cut-offs is not the way to do it. The way forward should be to have an entrance exam for each Honours course on the lines of CATE (Combined Aptitude Test for English). This would ensure that all students in a particular course have a minimum required level of domain knowledge.
Most importantly, it would prevent the practice of high-scoring science students blocking commerce and humanities seats while waiting to get into some engineering or medical college. This will also ensure that the students who have studied commerce and humanities for two years in their senior school are not displaced by domain novices with higher marks.
The new admission system is actually forcing colleges into this absurd behaviour. With screening of the students denied to them and the number of seats being a fraction of the number of applicants, colleges are trying to take control of the admission process through preposterous cut offs.
In fact, SRCC has done a great service by setting the absurd cut off. It has highlighted not only the pernicious shortcomings of the admission process but also the farcical scoring system in board exams.
By the board marks’ measure, India is overflowing with young geniuses. The number of students scoring more than 95 per cent marks in Class XII has gone up significantly this year, as the total population of students increased by nearly 15 per cent, which has been the average increase for a few years now. It is hard to know if the number of board exam evaluators has increased commensurately. CBSE’s annual report is silent on this.
The problem in board scores stems from the variation in faculty quality in schools across the country, in both the private and the government schools. So, CBSE has tried to idiot-proof the evaluation process by making significant parts of the question papers objective type. Even the descriptive answers are marked based on use of certain jargon or keywords. This attempt at objectivity ends up denying credit for nuanced comprehension and articulation. So, too many students come out of schools certified perfect or near perfect.
If the board exams cannot be trusted as a measure of excellence or suitability, admissions in the coveted courses and in coveted colleges ought to be based on evaluation by the respective faculty and the colleges themselves. Higher education should not be divorced from aptitude for the sake of convenience.
SRCC deserves kudos for its apparent madness, as it has got everybody thinking about the lacunas in the admission system.
Shalini Sharma is Head-Higher Education, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), New Delhi. Her forte is policy advocacy with the government on behalf of the industry and aiding the government in international discussions on higher education.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily represent those of the organisation she works with or this website.
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