CUET sets off a race: will good scores open the gates wider?

- March 30, 2022
| By : Anmol Nath Bali |

Gaining admission to a central university is no longer going to depend on Class 12 Board exam results, replacing the old system of huge cutoffs in prestigious institutions  

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Thousands of students around the nation will be soon attempting the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) to secure undergraduate seats in India’s top central universities. Application forms will be available in the first week of April and the exam is scheduled for the first week of July.

CUET will be used by all 45 central universities for admission in undergraduate courses. This entrance exam will be a computer-based test and will be conducted by the National Test Agency. 

Delhi University (DU) is one of these 45 universities which will adopt CUET for admissions in undergraduate courses. Once known for its high cut-off percentages and cut-throat competition to get admission, DU has to let go of its traditional practice of admitting students.

The University administration has started chalking out plans to roll out new criteria for admission. On 17 March, the Delhi University Academic Council decided that aspirants need minimum 40% marks in senior secondary Board exams to appear for the test and to get admission in the university.

The seed of the idea behind CUET was sown in the New Education Policy 2020. “The principles for university entrance exams will be similar. The National Testing Agency (NTA) will work to offer a high-quality common aptitude test, as well as specialised common subject exams in the sciences, humanities, languages, arts and vocational subjects at least twice every year. These exams shall test conceptual understanding and the ability to apply knowledge, and shall aim to eliminate the need for taking coaching for these exams”, reads the New Education Policy. 

It further says, “Students will be able to choose the subjects for taking the test, and each university will be able to see each student’s individual subject portfolio and admit students into their programmes based on individual interests and talents.” However, this system could not be implemented last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Delhi University guidelines, candidates are only allowed to take CUET in those subjects which they have studied in class 12. If the subject studied in senior secondary does not figure in the CUET list, then the candidate has to appear in a subject that is closely related to a subject not mentioned in the list. 

For example, if a student wants to appear for biotechnology, but it is not mentioned in the list, then the student will opt for biology or another similar subject.

The CUET question paper will be divided into three sections. The first section will be a language-based test comprising comprehension, verbal ability and grammar. Candidates have to choose from the pool of 13 languages that includes English, Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Odia, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Urdu. 

The second section will cover questions related to domain subjects for which the candidate has applied. The third section will have questions related to general knowledge, current affairs, reasoning and other abilities.

While talking with The Indian Express newspaper, UGC chairman M Jagadish Kumar stated that this exam will not be as tough as the IIT entrance exam and a team of experts will look at the difficulty level. He further stated that questions for CUET will be from the Class 12 NCERT syllabus.

On one hand, UGC is saying that this exam is only meant to test basic knowledge and aptitude of students, but on the other hand, experts are saying that this will give a boost to the coaching industry. Students from well-off families can afford coaching but several others cannot.

A spokesperson of a leading coaching institute, Career Launcher, while talking with Patriot said, “Enquiries related to CUET have increased, and many students are opting for online classes. Students are confused and worried because this is the first time an exam like this is being conducted. Currently, we are offering two kinds of courses: premium and non-premium. In premium, students get interactive classes where they can chat with teachers, and in non-premium, this interactive feature is not available. Our target is that more students get into top universities.”

The institute will soon roll out offline classes for the aspirants after board exams are over. “Currently, students are not in a state of mind to get full-blown coaching for CUET. Their main focus is on Board exams. Amid this situation, we are helping them out by providing them study material and notes, which is making preparation easy for them”, the spokesperson said.

Not only Career Launcher, but big players in the market like Byju’s have also rolled out preparation programs for CUET, and according to these institutes, the number of students aspiring for coaching will increase after Board exams.

When we asked the spokesperson for Career Launcher about the poor students who are not able to pay hefty amounts for coaching, they said, “We have scholarship programs. Like, a student who scores more than 95% in Board exams, is given a rebate in tuition fees.”

Radhika, a student of class 12 of St Mary’s School, Dwarka is a bit tense about the new system. She is planning to pursue graduation from Delhi University in Psychology. “I’m a bit worried, because on one hand, we have to study for the Board exam, and at the same time, we have to prepare for CUET too”, she says. 

According to various media reports, NTA is planning to conduct the CUET in the month of July, and the Board will conduct senior secondary examinations in the months of May and June. In this case, students will only have a period of one month to freely prepare for CUET. “Last days of July are the best time to conduct CUET, because it will give us more time to prepare”, says Radhika.

She has opted for online coaching to prepare for the entrance exam, and currently, her tutors are teaching her basic reasoning and quantitative methods. “Overall, I think this new pattern of admission is good. First they used to judge us by our marks in Class 12, but now, they will judge us based on our intelligence”, comments Radhika. 

When we asked about her Plan B if she doesn’t get a seat in DU, she said, “I will go for GGSIP University in this case.”

Saumya Una, a student of Dwarka’s Bal Bharti Public School, is also preparing for the CUET. She is thinking of joining coaching classes, and her strategy for the exam is to solve more sample papers. 

While talking with Patriot, she said, “For two years, schools were closed. We had a lot of free time. In this time, we could have prepared but the new admission policy was not announced at that time.”

“This system will give a fair chance to everyone”,feels Vian Dehria, a student of 12th (Commerce) with Maths at Mother Divine Public School, Rohini.  He is aiming for Mathematics (Hons) for undergraduation. He is currently seeking a good coaching institute near his home, to start preparations for CUET. 

“Earlier, it was a dream for students scoring  60-70% in senior secondary examinations to get into Delhi University, but now the game has changed. Everyone will get a chance to compete for the seats. Now, your internal marks or external marks won’t matter. Now, intelligence will matter”, is Vian’s reading of the situation.

Ria Sharam, a humanities student of Class 12 at Kendriya Vidyalaya, Keshavpuram wants to do graduation in Sociology from DU, and she has started preparing for the grand exam. But she is worried about many of her friends. “Many students in my class are confused about the new system and the format of the exam, and many are not even aware about CUET”, she says.

University Grants Commissions (UGC) has recently written a letter to the vice-chancellors of universities and principals of all colleges to adopt CUET as the mode of selection for admissions in UG programs. In this letter, UGC secretary Rajnish Jain writes, “Many state universities, deemed to be universities, private universities, and other higher education institutions in the country also use either marks of 12th Boards or conduct entrance test for admission in UG programs. To save students from appearing in multiple entrance examinations conducted on different dates, sometimes coinciding with each other, and to also provide equal opportunity to all students from different boards, UGC invites and encourages all state universities, deemed to be universities, private universities and other HEIs to adopt and use CUET score from 2022-23 onwards for admissions of students in their UG programs”.

Yaman Sangwan, a third year student of B.Sc (Physics) at Motilal Nehru college, South Campus, Delhi University is happy with this decision. He recalled his days of admission when he was worried about admission into university despite scoring 93 percent in 12th. “But now level playing field will be provided,” says Yaman.

In his class, all students have scored more than 90% in Class 12 but now he thinks diversity will increase on campus.

According to various education experts, this new system will wipe out disparity among students from south and north India. One expert says: “School Boards from states like Kerala are known to give good percentages to students in school exams, which used to give them an edge over students from other State Boards and Central Boards but, competition exam will reduce inequality.”

Last year in December, Delhi University VC had formed a panel of nine members to look into this matter. DU VC noted that the number of admissions from southern Boards is higher than the boards of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab despite the fact that these states are Delhi’s neighbouring states.

Parents are worried that this system will make Board exams irrelevant and many are confused about the pattern. While talking with news agency PTI, Chairman of UGC M Jagadesh Kumar said, “The Common University Entrance Test (CUET) will neither make the board exams irrelevant nor give a push to coaching culture.”

He further stated that CUET will not just be limited to admissions in Central Universities as several prominent private universities have indicated that they would like to come on board for using the scores from the common entrance exam for undergraduate admissions.

“To begin with, CUET will be conducted once this year but NTA will consider conducting the exam at least twice a year from the next session. The entrance exam will not just be limited to Central Universities but also private ones. Several prominent private universities have indicated that they would like to come on board and admit students through CUET”, he said.

“The exam will simply not require any coaching so there is no question of it giving a push to coaching culture”, he added.

Heema Sharma, who is teaching Commerce to senior secondary classes for the last ten years, currently at BVM Public school Najafgarh, explained the  current state of mind of the students. “Toppers of the class are sad because they think they are good in learning but not in aptitude. Middle scorers are happy with this decision. But this will surely affect Board results. Students are a bit puzzled, torn between preparing for Board exams and CUET”, she said.

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