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Entrance tests : boon or bane?

Wednesday 8 June 2005, by JAYANTH*V.

Students were fed up with a spate of entrance tests. But is doing away with all entrance tests the solution?

TAMIL NADU Chief Minister Jayalalithaa pulled a rabbit out of the hat on Monday, throwing the system of entrance tests for admission to professional courses out of the window. Students will henceforth be admitted to these courses solely on the basis of marks secured in the Plus Two examinations. There was considerable relief in most quarters over the announcement, but there were fears and concern too. The new pattern of admissions is bound to create new problems and spark fresh litigation.

As a Dean of a private self-financing college put it: "This announcement is like shifting the finishing post after the race has begun." Most of the Deemed Universities in the State have conducted their entrance tests and completed the admissions. The Tamil Nadu Professional Courses Entrance Examinations have already been held and results declared. Plus Two results were announced in the last week of May and June 3 was the last day for submission of applications to the professional courses under the Single Window System of counselling. After all this came the announcement by the Chief Minister.

Legal questions

Initially, some legal questions were raised. Can the admissions be made merely on the basis of the marks in the qualifying examination or is an entrance test mandatory?

On the basis of the Supreme Court ruling in the Islamic Academy vs. State of Karnataka case, many States set up Permanent Committees to monitor the conduct of entrance examinations by private self-financing colleges, which are under no obligation to follow the test conducted by the Government or its designated agency.

Legal circles say that though an entrance test was envisaged in the scheme of things, the discretion lies with the State Government or university to decide the methodology. The bottom line is that admissions should be on the basis of merit.

The apex court ruled: "The merit may be determined either through the common entrance test conducted by the university or the Government, followed by counselling or on the basis of an entrance test conducted by individual institution, and the method to be followed is for the Government or University to decide."

As such, administrators are convinced that it is well within the powers of the State Government to scrap the entrance test and order a different system or admission, while sticking to the norms of merit.

The question now is whether other States will follow Tamil Nadu’s lead and do away with entrance tests. As the process has already been set in motion, none of the other States may be willing to derail it. But the move is expected to set the others thinking.

Ms. Jayalalithaa’s decision was apparently aimed at ensuring that students in the rural areas got their due share in the seats of professional courses.

But many educationists doubt this will be achieved. They say the examination system and the coaching that begins even from Standard IX is heavily weighted in favour of students from urban and semi-urban areas. The condition and infrastructure in most of the rural schools leaves a lot to be desired.

Schools in the Namakkal-Salem-Rasipuram belt are known to produce "outstanding results" in Plus Two.

It is quite another matter that many toppers from that belt fail to make the grade when they join the best medical or engineering colleges, where they gain admission because of their high marks.

Consideration for rural students needs to be translated into improving facilities there and filling up all the teaching vacancies that have arisen over the years.

`Scaling’ formula

Over the next three weeks, Anna University and those who will manage the Single Window System of admissions have their task cut out. With the entrance test out of the reckoning, they have to rework the ranking of students, also taking into the pool new applications that can come in. Perhaps the most important task will be to evolve a "scaling formula" that can deal with different streams of Plus Two students and a tie-breaker to handle a large number of students who would have scored equal marks. University sources say they already have a scaling and tie-breaker formula in use. But it needs to be modified and updated to suit the changed circumstances. "There are bound to be dozens of students with a 200/200 or 600/600 score as we calculate it. Each one of them may want the same course in the same college. But when we rank them, we will do so on the basis of a formula taken in sequence. We will then go only by the ranking. The exercise will be slightly more difficult when we do not have an entrance test mark because that also provides a grading," explains a senior hand involved in the admissions process. Anna University has this experience in the admissions to the post-graduate courses.

Students who have already taken the entrance tests are worried they may lose the edge due to the "levelling" by the Plus Two marks. They feel the Government could have introduced this system from the next year so that the students know from the very beginning about the importance of just the school marks.

They are also afraid that admissions may be delayed this year both because of the fresh start to the process and the "real threat" of litigation. They advocate a medium term admission policy that will not change for at least three to five years and not frequent changes and tinkering with the exercise as it affects the future of hundreds and thousands of students.

See online : The Hindu

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