Central University Entrance Test: Benefits and Concerns – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Education is the foundation stone for overall well-being of an individual. Realizing this, the government is undertaking numerous reforms in the spirit of the New Education Policy. On March 21, 2022, the University Grants Commission (UGC) announced the introduction of the Central University Entrance Test (CUET), which is now mandatory for undergraduate admission at any of the 45 central universities in the country. It would be a computer-based exam conducted by the National Testing Agency in 13 languages and substitute the current practice of admission based on a candidate’s score in 12th class. 

What is the background of CUET?

Several governments, over the years, have made attempts to replace multiple entrance tests with a single common test. In 2010, the government had launched the Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET) however it failed to gather steam since only 14 central universities had adopted it until last year.

CUET is a revamped version of CUCET and it is now compulsory for all 45 central universities to adopt it. This has come after the announcement of the new National Education Policy (NEP), which advocates the need for an entrance test for university admissions.

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What are the features of CUET?

The National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts entrance tests such as JEE (Main) and UGC-NET, will also conduct CUET for all central universities in the first week of July. A student’s Board marks will have no role in determining her admission to a college or a programme. Admission will be based only on her CUET score. The Universities can use Board marks as the minimum eligibility criteria for admission though.

For skill-based courses that have major practical components, such as music, painting, sculpture and theatre, universities will be allowed to conduct practical exams or interviews along with CUET. For professional programmes such as engineering and MBBS, central universities will admit through the entrance exams JEE (Main) and NEET respectively.

What will be the process of CUET?

It will be a 3.5 hours computer-based test that will be held in two shifts and can be taken in 13 languages — Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Urdu, Assamese, Bengali, Punjabi, Odia and English.

CUET will essentially have three parts.

The first part will test a candidate on a language of her choice. This will consist of reading comprehension, questions on vocabulary, synonyms and antonyms, besides other things. There will be a choice of 13 languages.

The second part is focused on testing a candidate’s domain-specific knowledge. This section offers a total of 27 domains, and a candidate can choose to have her knowledge tested in at least one and a maximum of six domains.

The third part of the entrance test will be a general test with questions on general knowledge, current affairs, general mental ability, numerical ability, quantitative reasoning, logical and analytical reasoning.

Apart from the compulsory language test, a candidate’s participation in the domain-specific part of CUET and the general test will depend on whether a central university wants it for the programme she is applying for.

What is the scope of CUET?

At the moment, CUET has been made compulsory for central universities but the government is open to other institutions, including private universities, adopting this examination instead of conducting their own.

Further, conducting admissions to postgraduate programmes through CUET is not compulsory for central universities. Therefore, they are free to adopt CUET for PG admissions or stick to their own admission process for now.

Why is the need of CUET?

Diversity in Evaluation: The government did not favor using Board marks for admission because of the ‘diversity’ in evaluation methods adopted by different Boards. Some Boards like CBSE are more generous than others in marking and this gives some students an unfair advantage over others. 

Unrealistic Cutoffs: The current pattern has led to generation of unrealistic cutoffs in many universities e.g., many colleges of Delhi University released their first cutoff at 100%. 

Second Chance: It would give students another opportunity to show their potential even if they are unable to score well in board examinations. 

Improper Pandemic scores: During the pandemic, many schools awarded marks in an arbitrary manner or inflated the marks of their students. In such a situation, the 12th marks don’t show a true picture of a candidate’s capability. 

Easing of Burden: The students need to give just one entrance test rather than multiple entrances for all the central universities which would save a lot of time and release considerable burden on them.

What are the concerns associated with CUET?

Burden on the Marginalized Section: Some academics have expressed fear that CUET will result in additional expenditure towards coaching. This would put financial strain on the marginalized section. 

Reduce relevance of Board Examinations: With CUET in place, students might pay less attention to 12th class syllabus and school learning. They would focus on CUET and may even start skipping their regular classes as is done by many students who are preparing for JEE in Kota, Rajasthan.

Curtailing the Autonomy: The new system will curtail the autonomy of institutions to respond to ground realities. Cut-offs are decided so as to have desired over-admission to ensure that seats do not go empty after closure of admission process.

Infrastructure Deficit: It is not clear whether CUET will be conducted on a single day or multiple days. If it is conducted on a single day, then many cities especially tier 3 would not be able to provide the requisite number of computer labs and equipment for conducting the test.

Lack of Vernacular content: CUET can be taken in 13 languages but experts have expressed concerns over the quality of content that would be provided in vernacular languages versus English.

What lies ahead?

First, there should be a minimum weightage of 12th marks so that students don’t completely ignore their board examinations for CUET.

Second, the teachers of government schools should give additional classes to students for preparing for CUET. This would reduce the financial burden of marginalized sections.

Third, the government should give extra funds for spending on education so that more computer labs are built for conducting CUET. The National Education Policy has prescribed raising expenditure to 6% of GDP on the country’s education.

Fourth, the government can make a provision of common counseling sessions for CUET students in the future to ease the admission process as is done in the JEE(Main) entrance test.  

Fifth, the NTA should deploy additional vernacular experts so that students of local languages don’t feel at a disadvantage in comparison to English medium students.

Conclusion

The CUET can be a game changer in the sphere of higher education and help in curtailing the divide created by evaluation methodology of different education boards in the country. However, a greater degree of equity can be infused only when the issues surrounding CUET are duly addressed in a timely manner. 

Source: Indian Express, The New Indian Express

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