Thursday, June 14, 2012

Discussions on Govt's proposal for Common Entrance Test (CET) for IITs, NITs and other engineering schools

People have been discussing a lot on this and I felt it’s good to put up in this forum all those we’re having between us.

The contentious issues are as follows:
1. It’s proposed that the CET would have some weightage on the +2 scores of the various central and state boards – many people are not liking this
2. A common test for all schools may also dilute the brand of IIT – this is a very controversial topic
3. Few people feel govt. is interfering too much into IIT, the autonomy is being lost
4. There’s one interesting angle is being also pointed out by few – a conspiracy theory where politicians are alleged to be trying to destroy the brand IIT (Interesting)

These are discussions:

Anandaroop Bhattacharya

I also do not endorse the Common Test proposal.

However, during my short stay in IIT-B, I had some first hand experience of seeing the present JEE and interacting with some of the students. Let me simply say that the JEE today is not the same that we took in our times. Today's format is purely based on multiple-choice questions where there is hardly any scope for testing "funda", We were given credit for "how" we tried to solve a problem irrespective of whether we succeeded at arriving at the correct answer. That format is a thing of the past. To quote my good friend in KGP, Prof. Suman Chakraborty (one of the most brilliant young profs in KGP today - check his website) "In today's JEE, the students try to eliminate wrong options rather than trying to arrive at the solution." And this is the skill the coaching centres of today impart in the students, most notorious among them being the ones in Kota, Rajasthan.

So, while I do not endorse Sibal's proposal, I strongly feel that the present JEE needs a major revision

In a related context, I would also like to mention that perhaps very few examination systems in the world can match the JEE/GATE in the way it is conducted. It is really unbelievable that such a fair and efficient system is possible in a Govt. organization in India. In so many years, there has been only one instance of paper leak in JEE (1997) - compare that statistics with any other exam in our country including CAT!!


Kamalesh Ghosh

Folks, anything has a scope for improvement, no matter how good it is. Of course, IIT entrance could be too.

The question to be really asked is, was it higher priority to look at it than numerous other problems facing
the education sector as a whole? Do I need to point out those problems and the seriousness of their nature?

My point is, why has the HRD ministry taken so much interest lately in shaking up the whole IIT system
with various moves like this?  I am a total conspiracy theorist  in this matter.

I have a firm belief that a lobby of powerful politicians and maybe foreign powers too, have a  definite interest
in destroying/ diluting the IIT brand. Every step has been a measured one towards that goal, be it providing 27% obc
quota, opening up 10 more IITs or now this master stroke, to destroy the JEE altogether. Inclusion of board
marks means everything will go haywire as politician's children in Jharkhand and Bihar can get 99 % marks
in board exams if they ask their papa.

We really should try to understand the game behind the scenes and not view this thing as a simple administrative



I agree with you 100% on this. Actually, I had posted something very similar in the IITians FB page sometime last year. Essentially, it's almost identical to what you are alluding to. 

"Through contacts, money and muscle power, one can get his son or daughter a seat/job anywhere in India and maybe even to some of the top univs in the world. BUT NOT AT IIT or IIM. Our politicos find this extremely hard to digest!! Therefore, be it MM Joshi, Arjun Singh or Kapil Sibbal and irrespective of party lines, the effort to kill the JEE/GATE/CAT based system has been there for a long time. I hope like in previous instances, IITs push back strongly .... let's see."


Rahul Mehta


I fully support the points raised in the last two posts on this forum. In fact, I saw something similar in an article by Prof Kanchan Chowdhury. This article can be found here:

Quoting from this article,

For a long time, the IIT system has been the sore point of the moneyed and powerful persons of the country as it allows (apart from close to 50% socially disadvantaged) only the brilliant students to get into the system. Many rich and powerful have sent their children abroad because they could not get into the IITs. How long can this situation be allowed to continue!

Many private institutions have come up with large investments. Foreign Universities (not necessarily the best ones) would be allowed to set up their campuses on Indian soil very soon. How would they get competent faculty? Therefore, it has become absolutely necessary to frustrate the existing and future IIT faculty, particularly the younger teachers, by giving them a raw deal in salary and perks so that they finally decide to switch to systems that can serve the rich and the influential. The plot seems perfect in planning and execution. The first battle has been won by those opposed to IIT system. But Friends, we have to reach to the nation and the people, who are supreme and placed higher than even the Government that has let us down so badly, explaining them the present situation and projection of the future. That is our hope and the only hope to rescue IIT system from extinction.

Not to be offensive, but I think this pro JEE bias stinks of a certain kind of casteism - where people who have gone through the grind somehow feel they are superior to those who haven't. If the onus is entirely on the entrance exam to define a population that's capable of growing into competent engineers, it easily leads to an institution that can abdicate it's responsibility towards it's students, since the blessed ones will sail through and shine, no matter how inferior the quality of courses and teaching. 

The GRE or SAT, in spite of being  "easy" exams, still serve as a major part of the admission criteria to institutions with much higher standards than the IITs.

There is immense scope to democratize access to the IITs, and give our teenagers the quality of life they deserve. But whether that is the motive behind the HRD ministry's moves or not, I don't know.

CET for IITs and other engineering schools in India

Recently the government has announced that there would be a common entrance test for IITs and many other government engineering colleges. This means the IIT-JEE would be replaced by a CET and would be the basis of entree to not only the IITs but many other colleges.

Subsequent to the announcement, there has been lot of debates in many forum. People are happy, disgusted, frustrated, angry and the most interesting part is that even the IITs are also not unanimous with their decision whether they should accept this or reject.

Here are some reactions:

Chetan Bhagat: Strongly against (He has written extensively on this in several news paper)

Many others are saying that many premier institutes like St. Stephens and others take students based in +2 scores, and a similar thing (as announced as a part of the CET) for IITs should be also OK.

Dhananjay (IIT KGP):

Let me put it on record that I am personally all for one and only one test similar to SAT and admission based on 12th Standard scores (using some weightage for ICSE, CBSE, IB, PU, etc.). It is ridiculous why these guys again want two tests on the same day. Instead, they should focus on designing one test that can grade student effectively. English scores should also be one of the criteria for admission into IITs - maybe we can consider TOEFL scores if we dont want to design our own course.

Let us also accept that current JEE is not producing desirous results. First year classes are filled with coaching school products who are just not able to cope.  NRN talks about this in his interview in today's newspaper. IITs are not producing students like old times and are now focused on mass production. Maybe that is the call of the day and I dont want to get into this discussion.

Once again, I am for one exam (not the current two exam format too) all India based on which students can apply anywhere.


Sharmik (IIT KGP)

First off, I would like to thank Subhashis for including me in the conversation that deals with a matter close to all our hearts.

Let me start by saying while I strongly agree that one can find many things to "crib" about regarding the quality of the faculty at IIT-KGP, I think this issue is not directly related to the question at hand: Is it a good idea to have one common entrance exam for all engineering colleges and/or make the admissions criteria "broader" (including board marks, scores on personality tests, taking into account extra-curricular activities etc.)

IMHO, the answer is "no" for the following reason:

I saw the JEE as a test that tries to identify the top 1% students in mathematical / scientific ability/achievement at the 12th grade level. Not only that, it is also designed to distinguish between the top 0.001% (the truly outstanding) from the mere top 1-2%.
In such a test, it is very likely that a student who is at the 90th percentile (top 10%) and a student at the 80th percentile will be indistinguishable from each other.

On the other hand, a test designed for the purpose of selecting students for many engineering colleges will necessarily have to distinguish between the 80th and the 90th percentile student - and in doing so will no longer be able to identify the top 0.01% student from the mere top 1%.

Let me illustrate this further: In KGP, my friend Debraj (not from my dept) was much better than me in Math. In our 1st and 2nd year courses, he breezed through the Math with Ex-es, whereas I struggled to get a D (and not because I did not study). In fact he  had a much higher JEE rank than me (in the low 100s vs. in the 1200s for me). The JEE was successful in being able to distinguish the brilliant (him) from the merely good (me). However, in the GRE exam, both of us got the same high mathematical ability score.

You may have noticed that for the math GRE, a score of 800 corresponds to a the 95th percentile. Please note that the GRE did the job it was designed to do - distinguish between students at the 40th, 60th, 80th and even the 95th percentile in ability. It cannot be used to identify the top 0.1% (or even the top 1%) from among the top 5%. I fear that in moving to a system where the same test is used for a variety of colleges, we'll have to necessarily make the test more like the GRE in its resolution than the JEE of yore.

So for a very technical reason alone, I think the idea redesigning the JEE for use by a large number of universities is a bad idea. I would be happy to hear the thoughts of all people here on this.


I also confess to have a different, and much more optimistic, outlook on current admissions.

Regarding tuitions: As a steel-town boy in the mid-90s, I was perhaps near the epicenter of the tuition mania - and one thing I can attest is the following: I never encountered a single instance of a not-the-sharpest-tool-in-the-shed type of guy making it to IIT based on the benefits provided by tuition. Over 1000 students used to take tuition from the most sought after teachers. only about 25 would make it to JEE - and maybe 100 more to the more competitive schools like RECs, BIT etc.  (The teachers would use this as publicity to attract the next bunch of suckers, er. sorry customers). The prime function of the tuition was to make sure we studied with regularity. Had it not been for the tuition, I would have probably slacked off too much to make the cut. Motivated students, like my school senior Abhishek Chandra who was AIR 10 in 1993, did not bother attend tuition.

Stress and the ripples of under-performance (dropout, even suicide) were with us even during our times (Chetan Bhagat captured some of it well in FPS). I may be mistaken - but I don't seem to think that they have increased that much (our 24-hour news channels would be on any suicide in a micro-second and make it a recurring story for a month). My personal opinion is that we could do a better job in helping students who fall behind - but that's a totally different topic.

Regarding "Personality tests": I think they have some serious issues here (a) they can be easily gamed by the intelligent-but-unscrupulous, and (b) some truly intelligent people - of the sort that make real innovative breakthroughs - have contrarian personailities - and would flunk any HR-administered tests (if they answered honestly - which they are more likely to do when young). I for one, would want to have them in IIT - not weed them out.

Once again, I welcome the opportunity to express my opinions on the matter - and look forward to hearing from others as well

~Shramik Sengupta
(Class of 98 - LLR; Biotech)

My comments:

I think any decision is good as long as it's debated, and decided after taking into accounts all the sides. There has been discussions in forum like this, but what's unfortunate is that similar things might not have happened at the highest levels, and that's why even IITs are divided now. This is surely not a good sign that few IITs have 'broken out'. I feel that's the most important thing to take care now. IIT as a system has been working with a common goal and if they are now divided the entire system breaks down. I believe IIT alumni should try to assert their influence and make sure that the IITs are not divided like this - that's a very bad precedence. There should have been enough debates and discussions, which I feel is totally missing and people are taking unilateral decisions.