The competition for this year's joint entrance examination (JEE) for medical and engineering courses is going to be the toughest, if only for the sheer number of examinees.
Compared with last year, around 37,000 more students will take the state-conducted JEE 2006, though the number of seats remains the same.
Sources in the West Bengal JEE board attribute the 'abnormal rise' in the number of examinees to the state government's decision ' effective since 2004 ' of lifting the bar on students from other states from taking the test.
More than 40 per cent of the lakh-odd examinees who enrolled for the JEE this year are from outside the state, said an official.
'A large number of examinees from other states are appearing in the entrance exams. This proves that our institutions are in great demand among students outside Bengal,' said Abdur Rauf, additional member secretary in the JEE board.
Till 2003, students living outside Bengal were not allowed to sit for the JEE.
In 2004, following the lifting of the bar, the JEE board recorded a marginal increase in the number of examinees ' from 46,000 a year before to around 48,000.
The figure shot up to 63,000 in 2005, and to a staggering 99,600 this year.
Sources in the education department said the government had two primary intentions while lifting the 'domicile' curb on examinees.
The first aim was to attract talent from outside the state, so that the private engineering colleges in the city and elsewhere in the districts got an opportunity to fill up their seats with meritorious students.
For want of deserving candidates, many of the 40-odd private engineering institutions were forced to keep some of their seats vacant.
The government realised that the private colleges might finally close down if the situation did not improve, as the students' fees are their only source of income.
The second intention of the government was to give the JEE a national character and prove that the colleges here are of the same standard as the reputed institutions in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Delhi.
The private colleges have welcomed the growing trend of students from other states sitting for the JEE.
P.K. Roy, director of MCKV Institute of Engineering, a private college in Howrah, said: 'We will be able to admit good students from across the country. Most of our students are from Bengali-medium schools. Their communication skills will improve a lot once they get an opportunity to interact with students from outside Bengal.'
There are 14,500 seats in the 50-odd engineering colleges and around 1,100 seats in the nine medical colleges in the state.