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JNU veil on exam outsource deal to National Testing Agency

Move prompts teachers and students to suspect the university has been diverting academic funds to pay the agency

Basant Kumar Mohanty New Delhi Published 16.01.21, 01:25 AM
 Jawaharlal Nehru University

Jawaharlal Nehru University File picture

JNU has thrown a veil over a two-year-old deal under which it outsourced its entrance exams to the National Testing Agency, prompting teachers and students to suspect the university has been diverting academic funds to pay the agency.

Both the university and the NTA, an autonomous body set up by the central government, have stonewalled RTI applications seeking details of their deal, including the financial terms.


A group of JNU teachers, who wish to remain unnamed, had filed the applications last November after the university had for months refused to reveal the terms and conditions of the deal.

The JNU teachers’ association on Thursday demanded that the details be made public and alleged that the deal was not preceded by proper discussions at the academic council or the executive council.

Till 2018, JNU itself conducted pen-and-paper entrance tests for its MPhil-PhD, master’s and bachelor’s programmes. Since 2019, the NTA has been holding the exams, now converted into computer-based, objective-type tests.

In 2019, the NTA had conducted the tests while JNU teachers prepared the question papers. In 2020, the NTA took over complete control of the process, from preparing the questions to hosting the exams and declaring the results.

Till 2018, JNU charged a fee between Rs 250 and Rs 300 per subject for the entrance exams. It spent between Rs 2.5 crore and Rs 3 crore on the conduct of these tests every year while making a surplus of Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore, varsity sources said.

In 2019, the NTA announced an exam fee of Rs 800-900 per subject but student protests forced it to stick to the earlier fees of Rs 250-300.

Former JNU students’ union president N. Sai Balaji said varsity officials had told him the cost of holding the entrance tests had risen threefold after they became computer-based. Balaji suggested that JNU may be diverting its fellowship and hostel management funds to pay the NTA.

“Students entitled to the non-NET fellowship and the Merit-cum-Means Scholarship haven’t received their stipends for the past six months,” he said.

“Our hunch is that JNU has diverted the fellowship funds to the NTA for the conduct of the entrance tests. This expenditure could have been avoided had JNU continued to conduct its own tests.”

JNU’s one-line reply on December 2 to the RTI application had said: “The information sought is not available with the Admission Branch.”

The first appeal was then disposed of with the answer: “Reply has already been provided as per available records. No further information is available.”

Moushumi Basu, secretary of the JNU teachers’ association, said: “This is remarkable --- the university doesn’t know how much it has paid or owes the NTA.”

The NTA, replying to the RTI application filed with it, referred to a letter sent by the JNU administration in December 2018 about the outsourcing of the entrance tests, but was silent on the details sought. Nor did it provide the text of the letter.

However, it said it had suffered a “minimum” shortfall of Rs 2.57 crore in revenues from the JNU entrance tests in 2019. It added that the 2020 accounts had not been finalised.

“It’s noteworthy that the NTA doesn’t provide a precise figure even for 2019 but only says the shortfall was a ‘minimum’ Rs 2.57 crore,” Basu said.

“Whether JNU is expected to compensate the NTA for this shortfall or whether the NTA is going to foot this expenditure is not clear.”

Basu said an appeal would be filed with the NTA, and another with the Central Information Commission in connection with the JNU’s failure to reveal the deal’s details.

Emails sent to vice-chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar and the NTA seeking the reasons for the shroud over the details of the deal brought no response.

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