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Scrap JEE for common test, Sibal signals to IITs

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  • Published 24.03.10
Testing time

New Delhi, March 23: The human resource development ministry has asked a panel of IIT directors to consider scrapping the four-decade old joint entrance examination and replacing it with a general aptitude test.

The panel of directors, headed by IIT Kharagpur chief Damodar Acharya, was set up by HRD minister Kapil Sibal last month to examine possible JEE reforms.

But under the panel’s terms of reference the directors have been asked to specifically focus on whether the IIT-JEE can be buried altogether, along with other national and state engineering entrance examinations, The Telegraph has learnt.

This is the first time any HRD ministry has moved towards ending the highly competitive JEE that the IITs have sworn by since the mid-1960s as a common entrance examination for the apex engineering schools.

Any move to end the JEE is likely to ignite opposition from within the IIT community and from sections of the political class.

The IIT-JEE has been ravaged by controversies in recent years, especially in 2006 when the IITs violated their cut-off determination procedure, denying seats to close to 1,000 deserving candidates — as was exposed by The Telegraph. But these blemishes apart, the JEE is credited by many for the success of the IITs.

Sibal had last month announced plans to introduce a common high school syllabus in the sciences and mathematics, and a common examination for admission into colleges along the lines of the US-based scholastic aptitude test.

When he was questioned at the time on whether such a common test would replace institution-specific examinations — specifically the IIT-JEE or the AIIMS entrance test — Sibal had not given a direct answer.

The terms of reference prepared by the HRD ministry, however, unambiguously ask the panel to “examine the possibility” of replacing the IIT-JEE and other engineering tests conducted across the country with a common entrance test (CET).

This CET, the detailed notification of the panel’s work profile says, should focus more on testing the general aptitude of students than on quizzing them on mathematics, physics and chemistry like the IIT-JEE and other examinations.

The notification, representing the vision of the ministry, suggests that the panel of directors work out a mechanism under which students are selected based on their scores in the Class XII board examination and the CET.

As the board examination in any case tests students in mathematics, physics and chemistry, the CET need not, the HRD ministry’s notification argues.

Apart from Acharya, the HRD ministry has made IIT Madras director M.S. Ananth, his Bombay counterpart Devang Khakhar and IIT Roorkee director S.C. Saxena members of this panel.

The CET will not just admit students to the IITs and other institutions that select students through the JEE, but will also replace All India Engineering Entrance Examination and state-specific entrance examinations, the notification says.

The AIEEE, which will end with the proposed CET, currently admits the majority of Indian engineering aspirants into colleges. Scores in the AIEEE are used by all central engineering colleges other than the IITs and to fill 50 per cent seats, even in colleges affiliated to state universities.

States fill the remaining 50 per cent seats of their engineering colleges based on their own entrance tests — which, too, the CET aims to end.

Sibal has argued that the multiplicity of entrance tests — where students often have to prove their ability repeatedly — hurts the interests of students.

But a nationwide CET that all institutions will be forced to accept rails against institutional autonomy, critics of this plan are likely to argue.

The IITs, for instance, have for long refused to admit students through the AIEEE — even though most students who appear for the IIT-JEE also appear for the AIEEE.

They have argued that the IIT-JEE — which they prepare — is specifically modelled to select the kind of students the IITs want.

The IIT-JEE in its current format also has many votaries in the political sphere who argue it allows students from non-elite backgrounds to enter the hallowed portals of the IITs.