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This story was first published on 26 August 2022. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives in light of CUET results that are expected on 15 September.
In March 2022, the University Grants Commission (UGC) chairperson, Jagadesh Kumar Mamidala, announced that the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) would be mandatory for admission in central universities from this academic year. What were the drawbacks of implementing the decision at such short notice?
Nandita Narain, a professor at Delhi University's St Stephen’s College, and former president of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) speaks to The Quint about what ails CUET, starting from technical glitches to the burden on students, and how students – who can afford it – are reluctantly enrolling in private universities.
There have been reports of technical glitches, cancellations, and issues with admit cards as far as the CUET is concerned. Do you think the decision was taken at short notice?
We were absolutely shocked when the announcement was made because we wondered what were the preparations made for something like this? I have been talking to students from class 12 and they are depressed.
The centres have been changed at the last minute, and students are not allowed to give the exam or there are technical glitches. Some students are so frustrated that they have refused to come for the next round of the exam. And now, they have been forced to take admission in private universities, which were not their first choice.
It is unfair to the students. They have been treated like guinea pigs. We do not know about the credibility of the results. If this is the credibility of the technical levels of the organisers, then there is no credibility in the results that will come out. It is unfair to those who have been topping year after year and might not be able to perform on that one given day. They will then not be able to get admission based on that one exam.
One of the reasons given by the UGC chairperson for the implementation was that that the CUET will ensure that the test evens the ground for all students. Do you see that?
Firstly, students from modest backgrounds cannot afford the coaching classes that have come up for CUET. Further, depending on where a student lives, they might have to come all the way for the test and then go back when it gets cancelled. Someone has to bear the cost. But why? Education should be free for all. In a country where people have already lost their jobs and livelihood, especially in the last two years, implementing the CUET is an unkind thing to do.
They should be making education more accessible for all because it is the only way for people to empower themselves. But in fact, what they are doing is making it more difficult to access education. They are adding to the cost and the stress.
How do you see the CUET as a professor? Does it affect the autonomy of the universities?
We are all very upset because our academic calendars were disturbed due to the pandemic. But that was out of our hands. This time, however, the delay has been caused by this rash decision to implement CUET.
Besides every university has its own admission process. If you look at Delhi itself, there is Delhi University which focuses on undergraduate admissions, Jawaharlal Nehru University which focuses on research, IGNOU which conducts distance learning programmes, and Jamia Millia Islamia, which has its own special character. We design the admission processes based on our own needs.
They want to bring about uniformity across universities that are very diverse, which does not work. One shoe does not fit all.
Ideally, how should the CUET have been implemented?
14 central universities that were set up in 2009 had been experimenting with the common entrance test in the past. We should have looked at their experiences, seen the glitches they have faced.
Even though we were opposed to it in principle, surely the UGC could have spent a year preparing for it instead of this complete mess.