New Delhi, April 18: The National Eligibility Test (NET), through which university and college teachers are recruited, may face temporary suspension for the first time in 33 years because the agency entrusted with the task has said it is bogged down by other exams.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which took over the NET from the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2014 under instructions from the human resource development ministry, has said it is unable to hold the test in mid-2017. Over 5 lakh candidates take the exam every year.
Students and academics have criticised the uncertainty over the test, which is supposed to be held in June-July. The results of the exam are used for various other purposes, including the awarding of the Junior Research Fellowship to students.
The uncertainty has been created as no notification regarding the exam has been issued by the CBSE. The UGC has not clarified the reasons behind the delay, increasing the anxiety of students.
"The UGC and the CBSE are silent on the NET. This is frustrating. I am preparing for the exam. I cannot imagine the test being suspended," a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University said.
The UGC used to hold a test for awarding the Junior Research Fellowship since 1984. The government asked the UGC to conduct the eligibility test for lectureship in 1988, following which the commission rechristened its earlier test as NET.
The NET is conducted twice a year - in June and December - on subjects such as humanities, social sciences, environmental sciences and computer science and applications.
Students clearing the NET are recruited as assistant professors in universities and colleges. The top scorers are also awarded the Junior Research Fellowship depending on the availability of slots. The awardees are exempted from appearing in entrance tests in universities for admission to PhD courses.
The CBSE usually issues a public notification announcing the NET on its website around three months before the exam. Last year, the CBSE issued the notification on April 4 for the exam held on July 10.
The last NET exam conducted by the CBSE was in January this year. The notification had been issued in September.
CBSE chairman Rajesh Kumar Chaturvedi had written to the HRD ministry six months ago expressing inability to hold the test because the board is already overloaded with multiple exams such as the JEE-Main, the Central Teachers' Eligibility Test and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, apart from the board exams.
A senior CBSE official said the chairman had also informally told board officials that it would not hold the NET any more. Extra exam work affects the board's core responsibility of ensuring quality schooling, Chaturvedi is believed to have said.
An UGC official said they had not received any instruction on which agency would hold the NET.
An HRD ministry official said the government was in the process of setting up a national testing agency to conduct all kinds of education-related competitive exams.
Rajesh Jha, who teaches at Delhi University, said if the NET was suspended, it would affect lakhs of students, many of whom could have started their career in academics in 2018.
"When there is a dearth of faculty, the suspension of the eligibility test would further deepen the crisis. I hope the exam is not cancelled," Jha said.