CUET hurts rural, female students: Experts

- March 21, 2023
| By : Mohsina Malik |

Implementation of the Central University Entrance Test in an ‘unplanned’ manner has seen a drastic reduction in enrollment of female students besides harming the chances of students of financially weak backgrounds

IMPACTED: Female and financially weak students have been hit the hardest after the implementation of CUET

Following the implementation of the Central University Entrance Test (CUET) in various central universities of India for undergraduate programmes (UG) from the 2022-2023 session, the total number of students admitted to Delhi University (DU) has dropped by a quarter. The enrollment of girls has taken the biggest hit.

“Just after the lockdown, when students were struggling to cope with change in the academic pattern, CUET added to their burden. The CUET admission process was so confusing that many students misfiled their application forms, which eventually led to the cancellation of their admission. Many of those who had managed to fill the forms correctly, found the question paper pattern incomprehensible,” said Shar-da Dixit, a retired school principal to Patriot.

According to reports, enrollment of girls decreased by 25% in undergraduate programmes at DU in 2023.

The Sunday Express has reported that DU’s enrollment has hit a five-year low from 73,374 students in 2018-2019 to 64,915 in 2022-2023.

While enrollment of girls in undergraduate pro-grammes has dropped by almost 38% in 2022-2023 — from 54,818 in 2021 to 34,120 in 2022-2023, the enrollment of boys has witnessed only a marginal drop of 1,585 — from 32,380 in 2021 to 30,795 this year.

In this session, girls made up 52.5% of the total undergraduate student strength at DU as opposed to 62.87% in 2021-22. As a result, the proportion of male students increased from 37.13% in 2021-22 to 47.44% this session.

The 2022-23 academic session was the first time that central universities switched to CUET from the earlier system of using Class 12 board exam marks for admission to undergraduate programmes.

Of the 9.68 million students, who appeared for the CUET exams in 2022, there were 29 million girls and 5.38 million boys across India.

The National Testing Agency administers the Central Universities Entrance Test (CUET), an all-India test for admission to various undergraduate, integrated, postgraduate, diploma, and certification courses as well as research programmes at 45 central universities as well as several other state universities and deemed universities in India.

It was formerly known as the Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET) and was conducted between 2010 and 2020 by the Central University of Rajasthan for 12 central universities.

“The implementation of the CUET was done as part of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which is nothing but a blueprint for the privatisation and commercialisation of the education system,” added Sharda.

The former principal of BMSBM school in Bawana also said that students, who come from weaker financial backgrounds, suffer the most.

“The problem was especially observed among students coming from financially weaker backgrounds, the ones who were not able to avail expensive coaching and preparation guidebooks. This led to the exclusion of these students from the race. The CUET is definitely a device to deprive students of their basic right to education.”

Educationist Naresh Misra added that CUET has been implemented without planning.

“CUET is a problem as it was implemented without any proper infrastructure which created confusion among students and raised questions over the policy. As enrollment of girls at the university has decreased, it can be a tough challenge for them in achieving goals. The girls are already in a constant struggle against the existing patriarchal society,” said Misra.

“Amid all the confusion created by CUET, many took admission in open courses or did away with their dreams to make it to their dream course or college. All these have resulted in low enrollment,” he added.

“Moreover, if we scan the entire admission process, we will find that the process is not at all transparent for the common students,” Misra said further.

The students claim that misinformation and lack of proper instructions regarding CUET is the reason for reduced enrollment in the university.

Monali Rao, a 21-year-old student at Jesus Merry College, told Patriot, “The percentage of admission in CUET was reduced because a very harsh marking scale was designed. The conversion of marks into normalised scores, instead of actual marks significantly reduced the marks of the students. Even students who had scored really well got a score much below their expectations because of this normalised scale.

Monali mentioned the lack of guidance in filling up forms.

“For the filling of university forms, there was no proper guidance on how one should go about making his or her choices. Therefore, a large section of students either got no college or a college which was much less than they deserved and the disappointment level was very high among students. Eventually, many students joined other universities or were left devastated.”

She added that it affected the mental health of students and stressed them.

“It has really affected the mental health of students and stressed them. It seems a way for the government to cut down on admissions. Due to low opportunities in future, students will be burdened so much that they will be unable to perform to their potential. The government should ideally conduct an examination that has open-ended questions and assess the abilities of the student instead of devising a crude method. The government should have informed the students well in advance about the blueprint of the system and the guidelines on how to fill forms, among other things,” Monali added further.

Avidesh Sharma, a graduate student from St Stephens College at Delhi University, said, “In the previous years, students used to be selected on the basis of their class 12 marks but now the time has changed and the selection takes place on the basis of entrance exams.

“I feel that there should be proper infrastructure and policies by the government. There are several students from rural areas who, on an everyday basis, are suffering due to fewer resources available to them. Now, CUET is another way to push them back, especially when there is less information available regarding it.”

Jitendra Meena, an assistant professor at Delhi University, said that CUET was thrust on students by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

“CUET was not implemented. It was imposed by the University Grant Commission (UGC). UGC should have given information about it but it didn’t happen that way. Most of the universities were forced to opt for it even though several universities opposed it. Also, no time was given to review it to make it teacher and student-friendly and the question paper pattern was sent all of a sudden to the universities. With less time available, students did not have the proper information regarding it.”

Meena added, “One of the practical problems students faced was language. Hindi was made a compulsory or optional language in several courses. In this case, one had to opt for it. Due to this, many students couldn’t compete with others.

“There were many other problems. The admission process, especially in the case of DU, was very late. The admissions happened till late October and the session commenced in November. In private universities, the session started in July itself. Students here were late by six months compared to other universities. Due to this, many students got enrolled in private universities. After admission, the ratio of boys and girls dropped all of a sudden. On campuses like DU, girls used to be more than boys but this time, the enrollment of girls has decreased due to CUET.”

He also said that this system is favourable to students from urban backgrounds.

“DU had students from all over India with various backgrounds — rural, semi-urban and urban. But we have seen that this system is favourable to urban students. The questions and patterns were standard with the urban students, neglecting rural students. Students from Dalit and Adivasi backgrounds come to urban spaces for graduation and post-graduation. They do their schooling in their home cities in rural areas. Their percentage has dropped drastically.”

Meena also pointed out that language became a big problem since English medium students got preference.

“Language became a big problem as it was favourable to students from the English medium. Students who studied languages like Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, and Marathi were impacted negatively. Due to this, seats are vacant not only at DU but in many universities. These are mostly reserved category seats and the new system had thrown them out.

“Apart from it, when UGC announced the introduction of CUET, the coaching mafia came up all of a sudden in urban spaces like Delhi, Allahabad, Lucknow and Jaipur. Parents were forced to send their children for coaching with the mindset that they won’t get admission to graduation if they don’t avail of coaching. In today’s world, a big coaching mafia market has come up, especially for admission to graduation,” says Meena.

“CUET and NEP is a step to destroy the public education system. If it had been implemented, it should have been well-researched and debated in the parliament rather than passed quickly. CUET has been proposed for publicly-funded universities, not for private universities. If a student is free after giving exams in March or April. The entrance exams take place immediately after that and the students have to wait for enrollment till November-December. Will his or her parents wait that long for admission? No, they won’t. They would want their ward to enrol right away. The families will force the students to go to private universities.”

However, a few students have been in support of the implementation of CUET in central universities.

Radhika Mohan, an undergraduate student in Delhi says, “CUET has eased the process of entrance exams and opened ways for the students. I am hoping it will make a student more prepared for the competitive life ahead.

“Last year, when I gave my entrance exam through CUET, it was very easy for me and I was hopeful of cracking it even if there was tough competition for admission. Many have opposed it but I do not think there are loopholes in it. It is just that one has to work hard for everything and make their way,” Mohan added.