HRD and IIT council invent a horrendous new exam
A new exam system has been approved for admission into the 16 prestigious IITs starting from next year, the 2013 batch. This breaks an elongated deadlock between the IIT Council and the HRD Minister Mr Kapil Sibal (Congress).
Despite Union Minister Kapil Sibal not attending the the meeting of the IIT Council held today, the directors of the IITs have reportedly decided on a compromise formula under which only the top 20 percent of students from each educational board will be allowed to give the preliminary IIT entrance exam.
Unfortunately, the news reports are not very good in explaining how this works. Let me give it a shot.
- The overarching rule is this : Only students who rank in the top 20% of their respective boards are eligible to even enter the IIT.
- There will be two exams after the board exams, called the ‘main‘ and ‘advanced‘.
- All students can write the ‘main’ exam. Presumably used for NIT.
- Only the top 50,000 ranks of the main exam (or as per some reports 1,50,000) can write the ‘advanced’ exam.
- The merit list is prepared based on the advanced exam only. After the merit list is prepared those students did not rank in the top 20% of their respective boards are kicked out (even if the student got a ‘advanced’ rank of 1)
This is the most bizarre selection machine ever to be designed in my opinion. It will fail to solve any of the problems which necessitated such tinkering in the first place. Not satisfied with being merely useless, it will introduce massive social problems as you will see in the rest of this post.
Boards and percentiles
Today there are about 40-50 different boards in India. I dont know of any board that states a percentile score. Note that a percentile is nothing but a rank. This necessitates a massive change in state board infrastructure and some states like Tamilnadu are sure to oppose giving a rank to each student. It is supremely ironic that the HRD Ministry which trumpets the grading system on the logic that a student scoring 91 is the same as student scoring 99 – is eager to introduce a percentile system ( to 8 decimal places no less) to even be eligible to take a shot. This is beyond cruel if you factor in rampant grade inflation.
Also keep in mind there is no underlying sanctity behind the canonical cutoff percentile of 80%. Tomorrow someone could change it to 90%, 95% and one would have no grounds to either support or oppose the move.
Not an open exam anymore
Most if not all selection processes in India stipulate a nominal minimum qualification mark followed by open exams (which can be multi paper). I use “open exam” in the sense that any Indian student who meets minimum qualifications gets to take a shot. This new proposal turns the concept of open exams on its head. This exam unfairly and in my view unconstitutionally excludes students not on grounds of minimum qualification but on performance of others. For even trying to access a publicly funded resource.
Blow to the needy
Like all schemes designed by anointed intellectuals in India, this one robs the very people it pretends to help. It is so embarrassingly easy to prove this. You can substitute the word “Rural” for your favourite victim group.
- Rural can throw up more in the top 20% in boards
- Rural will fail to rank well in IIT Advanced without coaching
- So Urban who access coaching and pull into top 20% (not that hard) can absolutely dominate the rankings because if any rural student who by chance makes it will rank lower.
- Since the advanced exam is the sole criteria it is a massive win for Urban.
The fallacy of the advanced exam
I was initially confused about this. Why would a student who knew that he was not in the top 20% even bother to write the advanced exam ? I talked to a parent who told me that it is a matter of exam dates. Many boards do not announce the results until after the entrance exam season. With this new harebrained scheme, students will have to write the exams and pay exam fees knowing they can be made retroactively ineligible. Even if they top the advanced exam, the scores in which are ironically the sole basis for the merit list. To borrow a phrase from a media personality. Wah !!
The quota problem
Last but not least, I am amazed that such concentrated brain power in one room could ignore the impact of percentile system on reservation.
If you select the top 20% ranks, will you not disqualify a massive chunk of SC/ST/OBC from the colleges ? If you raise this pertinent point, the smart ass answer would be a swift “Fine, lets prepare different percentile lists for each community”. It appears we make laws by thinking on our feet as and when anomalies crop up. Suddenly each student has to be issued two percentile marks – his overall percentile and his community percentile. How many boards will want to do this ? If you end up doing this, you still need to adjust for the relative percentages of quota due to the fact that reserved candidates can also take open seats. The whole system needs a supercomputer (CDAC project?) to work.
Even if you ended up issuing a community wise percentile, the effect on meritorious open category will be nothing short of tragic. A student of community X might be studying in IIT with 75% in board exam but a student of community Y will be debarred from even appearing despite scoring 95%. Once again note that it is not a matter of getting a lesser course, but one of outright disqualification to even try. More fuel for communal heartburn, more demands for reclassification and sub quotas, caste and religious divides and blockades.
This is what the government is doing to the country as the media sleeps.