Thursday, June 14, 2012

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.

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