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Entrance exams? How to make IIT selection free of 'extortionist' coaching shops

By Sandeep Pandey*

In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic threat a raging debate is going on at present regarding the holding of the Joint Entrance Examination Mains, the preliminary examination required to be cleared for admission to prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and other engineering and technology institutions, during September 1-6, 2020, by the National Testing Agency, in which 8,58,273 candidates are to appear.
Subsequently a JEE Advanced will be held for 2-2.5 lakh candidates selected from the abovementioned for final admission to IITs and other institutions. Some students approached the court with an objective to get the JEE Mains postponed but court has decided to support the NTA’s decision to conduct the examination. Now there is pressure being exerted through various channels including leaders of Bhartiya Janata Party and its allies for the postponement of this examination.
Some IIT professors think the examination should be postponed in view of the imminent threat of Covid-19, some think only one round of examination should be conducted and some are suggesting innovative alternatives like Professor Kannan M Moudgalya of IIT Bombay, through an article in “Indian Express”, has suggested postponing the examination by two years and allowing the students to enroll in a branch of their choice in any engineering college during the interim and use NPTEL/SWAYAM video courses to study.
Professor PRK Rao, formerly of IIT Kanpur, has suggested an admission process without entrance examinations in which students seeking admission to IITs would not be eligible for non-IIT engineering institutions and vice-versa. Students seeking admission to IITs will be allowed to specify a maximum preference order of 2-3 IITs with a maximum preference order of two branches. 
Students admitted to IITs will give an undertaking that they will withdraw from the programme if their performance falls below a specified level. Admission process will follow a first-come-first-served rule in a fixed time frame.
There are 23 IITs now in the country, one in each state in mainland India, except for Uttar Pradesh which has two, and for the entire Northeast and Sikkim there is only one in Guwahati. There are total of 15,53,809 seats available in 3,289 engineering colleges of India which are recognized by All India Council for Technical Education.
The ideal situation is one where nobody who has an aspiration to study engineering is denied admission. The number of students appearing in JEE Mains held two times a year is about the same as number of seat available in all engineering colleges. Hence, it is physically possible to accommodate each aspirant without conducting any examination for elimination.
Each of the 23 IITs should take responsibility for assigning seats available in their state (region, in the case of Northeast and Sikkim) to the students from their state (region). For example IITs at Kanpur and Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi will take responsibility for allotting 1,42,972 seats available in 296 colleges of UP to students from UP. Of course, any excess students in any state will have an opportunity to fill vacant seats in a state of their choice.
Considering that 15,53,809 (equal to number of seats available) students have to be offered admission, each IIT’s burden will be about 67,557 students. Assuming that there are an average of 200 faculty members at each IIT, each faculty member over a 15 minutes one-on-one interview during 8 hours a day on an online platform, after verifying the identity of the student, can interview all the 338 students in his/her share in ten-and-a-half days evaluation process.
This evaluation process will essentially determine capability of the student and accordingly allot him/her to an institution whose rigour can be matched by student’s capability. The choice of branch of study should be left to the student. The selection process should be mindful of allotment of appropriate number of reserved seats to students from that category in each institution.
A good proportion of girl students should also be allotted to each institution to maintain the gender balance to the extent possible. This one online interview will replace the JEE Mains, JEE Advanced and the counseling which decides the Institute and Branch choice for admission.
This seat allotment process will be subjective as different faculty members at different IITs interview different set of students and individual inclinations will come into play. A deterrent to selecting an undeserving candidate for a seat will the public knowledge about who selected whom displayed on the particular IIT’s website. To exclude the possibility of individual biases panels can be formed, which will obviously be interviewing a larger number of students.
Each faculty member would need to conduct 15 minutes one-on-one interview eight hours a day on an online platform, after verifying the identity of the student
But it is important that all faculty members are involved to share the load. As a correction mechanism, just as there is provision for branch change within an institution at the end of first year depending on the performance of initial year, an opportunity can be given to the students to change their institute based on their performance.
Hence a student who was not allotted an IIT in the first year can by his/her hard work move from a private college or state engineering college or a National Institute of Technology to an IIT in the second year. For a student not sufficiently prepared a reverse process can also be adopted.
The entire seat allotment process will save time, resources and bureaucracy invested in conducting the JEE. Additionally, the students will be attending an institution close to their home akin to the idea of neighbourhood school. This will correct the regional imbalance in representation among student community at IITs and also that created because of coaching institutions.
The biggest gain will be making the selection process free from extortionist and grueling coaching institutions, which is one of the stated aims of New Education Policy recently delivered to the country. There will be simply no need of them. Every desirous student will be able to study engineering. This is akin to universalisation of education, a long cherished dream of every educationist.
It is also likely that a major complaint of faculty members at IITs that students coming through the coaching institutions are not interested in engineering but they just need the IIT brand to move on to something more lucrative, like a career in finance, will also be addressed to some extent. It is high time we encourage students with an interest in particular subject to which s(he) is seeking admission, like in other countries to which Indian students migrate for undergraduate or graduate education.
The suggested seat allotment process could be studied for a few years. If it appears to be advantageous over the current selection process, then it could be adopted in long term too.
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*Magsaysay award winning social activist-academic, Prof Pandey has taught at IITs at Kanpur, Gandhinagar and BHU, Varanasi and has conducted examination free evaluations of students in all his courses

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