Students dream of studying at Delhi University (DU), among India’s most-sought after institutions of higher education and a big talent feeder for a variety of industries in the nearly $3-trillion economy, Asia’s third largest. However, the cut-off-based criterion is seen to have distorted the admission process, prompted some state boards to inflate grades so that their students could have a better shot at admission, hurting a national university’s aims to recruit students from diverse backgrounds.
For admission into in-demand undergraduate programmes such as those in Computer Science, Political Science, and Economics at elite colleges of the university, the cut-off is often pegged at an astounding 100% marks in the 10+2 board exams, to the dismay of educationists, parents, and students.
Recently-appointed DU Vice-Chancellor (V-C) Yogesh Singh has said he’s not in favour of the current cut-off-based admission system, which puts students from the boards where the marking is “strict” at a disadvantage. Stressing that it’s time to take a fresh look at various processes that are in place, he said the admission criteria could change next year.
The university currently admits students on the basis of the cut-off lists, which are prepared according to marks obtained in the board exams.
“We have many options for admission – to continue with the existing system, the second could be normalisation of marks of various boards, third could be an entrance test and the fourth can be giving 50% weightage to entrance test and 50% to (board) marks. Let the Academic Council and Executive Council take a call,” he said earlier this week.
Faculty members and students at DU say there’s certainly a need for change in the admission process, but warn that there are no easy answers and alternatives.
'Common entrance test a flawed idea'
Vijaya Venkataraman, professor of Hispanic Studies at the Department of Germanic and Romance Studies, thinks that a common entrance test for admission to undergraduate programmes is a flawed idea, as it will devalue the Class XII exams.
“It will also encourage coaching centres and put students from the economically weaker sections at a disadvantage.”
Normalising Class XII marks, that is, putting the highest marks of each board at the same level, could be a better idea, she adds.
“If you look at the data, then CBSE takes the maximum share (in terms of college seats), doesn't it?, And that's an all-India board. The problem with cut-offs is that they are unpredictable and often lead to over-admissions. We need to evolve a more scientific system but an entrance test is not the answer. Look at the experience of IITs and medical entrance tests, with a mushrooming of coaching centres,” Venkataraman explains.
The DU V-C himself is wary of the loopholes that any admission criterion could potentially entail. “If the student has cent percent marks, what will normalisation do? Even if we take out some average, it will be high. The entrance test is also not a fool-proof system. People say it encourages coaching and causes unnecessary stress for students. Then, the Central Universities Common Entrance Test (CUCET, the Union government has decided to conduct it) is also an option,” he said.
Venkataraman argues that a single entrance examination can hardly determine merit and suitability of hopefuls across courses and subjects. “If all students have to take one centralised exam, how will we differentiate between the needs of different courses? Will there be one, same exam for those wanting to do Physics honours and Sanskrit honours? Does that make any sense? Will this centralised test be immune to paper leaks and coaching centre scams that plague other entrance tests,” she wonders.
‘Differential marking scheme a major problem’
Diversity is Delhi University’s biggest charm, as the institution, founded in 1922 in the national capital during colonial British India, draws students from across the country as well as from abroad.
Richa Misra, an assistant professor at DU’s Sri Venkateswara College, says a complete transition to a common entrance-based admissions at the undergraduate level would lead to students relying on coaching centres, mostly at the cost of school studies.
“So, there is no easy alternative to the cut-off-based admissions. The main problem remains the differential marking scheme of state boards. One of the main charms of any DU college is the diverse representation of students from different states and if it is getting skewed due to the differential marking pattern of any particular state board, it should be properly addressed,” she adds.
‘Adopting a hydrid model can help’
Not in favour of the current admission process, New Delhi-based Akansha Saxena, a recent DU graduate, says that the normalisation of cut-offs becomes a difficult task, as marking and evaluation followed by different boards vary.
“I feel we can adopt a hybrid mode, if not completely entrance-based, as that might still increase the chances for those who deserve. Entrance tests give a universal ranking based on which disparities would be reduced. A gradual shift towards these methods will ensure equal opportunities for all students irrespective of the state or regions they belong to. Education is the right of every student in our country, so we need to improve systems in order to ensure that it’s feasible for all and there are no distinctions being made,” she adds.
After a college announces a cut-off percentage, all applicants who meet the bar have to be given admission regardless of the number of seats on offer.
This year, as many as 74,667 students secured admission against 70,000 undergraduate seats on offer at DU, with some of the constituents like Hindu College seeing over-admissions.