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What went wrong with the JNU entrance exam

From incorrect answer keys to a lack of transparency in cut-offs, 2019’s entrance exam was riddled with irregularities

Recently, Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University witnessed a complete refurbishment in the entrance procedure. The university, which has an established tradition of carrying out offline exams, conducted entrance exams for the MA, MPhil, and PhD courses from May 27-May 31, 2019. The results were announced from June 28 onwards.

Before and after, the entire process was the subject of plenty of criticism. There were accusations that question papers were leaked, answer keys were incorrect, applicants said some questions were erroneous in the exam. A number of people complained to the university’s students union (JNUSU) which then conducted a survey across social media platforms after the exam; 96 per cent of 310 respondents even voted in favour of filing a PIL or RTI to raise the issue as a matter of public concern.

So, what went wrong? Newslaundry decided to find out.

In December 2018, the JNU administration issued a notice declaring that the entrance exam for the new session would be conducted in the Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) format. This decision was opposed by the students and teachers of the university. However, the proposed amendments were not withdrawn by the administration.

Prof. Saugata Bhaduri, who teaches at Centre for English Studies, JNU, told this reporter: “For humanities courses, students’ creativity, their eye for aesthetics and their interpretation of a situation should be the focus of any examination. I believe that maybe a subjective exam would have been better suited in judging a candidate’s potential.”

The conduction of the exam was outsourced to an external agency called National Testing Agency (NTA), citing efficiency lapses. The exam was conducted in hard-to-reach examination centres in areas like Najafgarh and remote areas of Sarita Vihar. With a complete absence of volunteers from JNU, many cases of cheating have been brought to the notice of Jawaharlal University Students’ Union (JNUSU).

The Union also claims that the question paper for BA Prog. was leaked on WhatsApp way before the exam. The Union claims this was brought to the notice of the VC but he took no concrete action.

Students claimed that many questions were incorrect in the examination, some options made little sense, while a few others had more than one correct answer. Many questions were directly lifted from entrance books and websites like examveda, edugoog, and pdfquestion, to name a few.

The answer key released by the NTA was not free from discrepancies too.

The students were only given a window of 48 hours to challenge the answer key and they had to pay a whopping sum of ₹1,000 to challenge one question.

It didn’t end here. JNU declared the marks of individual students and a cut-off for all the courses after the declaration of the initial results.  Some students alleged that they met the cut-off but were not summoned for the interview while other candidates who got the same cut-off received call letters. JNUSU led protests in the campus and demanded the VC’s resignation. The administration responded by suspending students involved in the protest.

One of the students dismissed is JNUSU president Sai Balaji, infamous for his open letter to the PM for the protection of the rights and interests of JNU. When asked about his opinion on JNUEE 2019, Balaji said, “What nature of public entity is the NTA? It’s not registered as one and it outsources the administration of the exam to other private bodies. How can we then trust its accountability? There were instances when the students claimed certain answers as wrong in the answer key issued after the examination, and yet the NTA did not make any changes to it.”

Does he think there’s a biased approach in the selection procedure? Balaji said, “I can’t comment on that at this point in time but I feel there is a change in the fallout, in the nature of students who appeared for the interview. A few panellists felt that there was an absolute lack of knowledge and awareness in some of the interviewees.”

A student who appeared for the MA Political Science exam said, “The exam was the biggest fraud I have ever seen. First, it’s unfair to judge someone’s ability in a theoretical subject through an objective pattern. Secondly, I think there was a lot of discrimination and deception. I appeared for the Political Science exam and yet it says ‘absent’ in my result sheet. When my friend added his phone number to check his result, it displayed someone else’s result to him. I want to get my paper rechecked. I am certain that I would have cleared the exam had there been a free and fair procedure.”

The JNUSU conducted a Google survey across social media platforms to note the responses of JNU aspirants. When asked about the answer key, 95%  of 310 people said that they were dissatisfied with it, while 89.9% felt that the process was not sufficiently transparent. Around 96% voted in favour of launching a PIL or filing an RTI to raise the issue as a matter of public concern.

These statistics show the magnitude of irregularities in the entrance procedure. Urja Nayak, a student of Hindu College, said, “The JNU exam conducted by NTA this year was extremely arbitrary, not only in terms of how it was conducted but also the kind of question papers designed. It took me one hour to complete a three-hour test. Moreover, the answer key I received had multiple discrepancies about the answers I marked and also what the correct answers ought to be. The final result turned out to be even more disappointing and unjust without any actual score sheet but only a mere declaration that said ‘not selected’ .”

Nayak added, “The JNU exam failed to be a just parameter for judging a student’s calibre … [which] makes me question its legacy.”

The JNU administration meanwhile, has made no statement with respect to the controversy. Newslaundry tried to contact the VC and the Director of Admissions via telephone and e-mail for over a week, but they abstained from commenting. The story will be updated if a response is received.

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