(This story was first published on 2 May 2022. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives in light of Delhi University reiterating that St Stephen's will have to admit students in the general category solely through CUET.)
As one of the few colleges to conduct interviews, St Stephen's admission process has been synonymous with the interview for the longest time. The interview aimed at ensuring that students are not selected solely on the basis of marks. However, with the implementation of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET), this might change.
Delhi University’s Academic Council has said that minority institutes need to conduct admissions through CUET. However, the institute requested the university if they could conduct interviews and give 15 percent weightage to the interview and the remaining to CUET.
The stand-off in between the Delhi University and the minority institute has led to the question of whether St Stephen’s still needs interviews as part of the process or not.
While the current principal of the college Professor John Varghese is in favour of interviews, former principal Valson Thampu opines that interviews can be ‘notoriously subjective', and can often be ‘slanted in favour of the elite’.
The History of The Interview at St Stephen’s
Nandita Narain, former Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) president and a professor in the college, said that since the cut-offs were so high and so many students had the same mark, a difference of 0.5 percent mark in the interview could make all the difference.
“The Supreme Court had allowed it in 1992. It is true that there was some logic behind it at the time. It was the only way we could take into account, the general knowledge and extra curricular achievements of the candidate,” she told The Quint.
This is the admission process – time-tested, proven, and guaranteed through a landmark judgment delivered by the highest court of the land that will be followed for admission to the college.Principal John Varghese in a statement
Nandita said that over the years, a lot has changed. There used to be three members in the interview panel – two from the department and a chairperson. In 2015, this was changed to a panel of four – two members from the department and two nominees of the principal. This reduced the academic weightage in the interview.
However, with CUET, which aims at being an equaliser, the point of the interview is in question.
Does CUET Wipe Out The Need for Interviews?
While explaining the main reasons why the institute has conducted interviews for so many years, Narain explained that students from different boards would have marks in different ranges and since there was no common indicator to the merit of the candidate, the interview would serve as a tool to assess one's merit.
While speaking to The Quint, Valson Thampu said that since there is now a uniform method of establishing academic merit, the interview should be scrapped altogether. He said that the interview could be slanted in the favour of the elite as students coming from posh private schools, who have better access, are likely to perform well. He added that there is scope for personal interest as well.
He said that till 1991, the interview weightage was 12 percent. But this changed to 15 percent after that. The college needed it because marks scored in class 12 was not always the best indicator of candidates’ competency. He added that sometimes students were unclear about which subject they wanted and this could be ascertained in the interview.
He said, "While this is a seemingly plausible argument, it is not actually this simple. That is because students would only get three minutes in the interview.”
The institute however, believes that the interview still has its place in the admission process. Narain said, "there are many skills that would be tested besides marks. These would include one's writing skills. It was the only place where we could take a candidate's extracurricular activity into consideration."
Do Interviews Arise in Social Elitism?
Thampu said that he was uncomfortable with the weightage awarded to interviews all along. He said, “The merit of the institution is driving on social elitism and I wanted that to switched to intellectual elitism.”
I recall interviewing a girl from a tribal community in Rajasthan when I was the principal. She was from a Hindi-medium school and the interview can be intimidating for someone who is not comfortable in English. She was trembling when she came in. Eventually I interviewed her in Hindi and my broken Hindi made her comfortable.Former Principal, Valson Thampu
The same student went on to perform brilliantly. However, he said that she could have been disqualified if the questions were asked in English.
The Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS), a student organisation protested outside the college on 22 April, highlighting similar points. Harish Gautam, a member of KYC said, “A student’s privilege and cultural background could determine how well they do in the interview. A Dalit student from a small town might work hard and get 99 percent. But he could be disqualified if he is not comfortable with the language or is not confident enough…”
‘It Was the Only Way We Could Prove Ourselves’ Former Student
Even though some believe that the interview process can be skewed, a few former students told The Quint that it was the only way they could prove themselves.
A student from Tamil Nadu who was admitted to the college in 2013 said that the interview was really important for her as she had studied science in Class 12 but wanted to pursue English Literature.
During the interview, they did not discuss marks. They asked me about why I wanted to study literature. I am not sure how the decision was taken but it was important for me as my science marks would not have given them context to how I could perform in a humanities subject.A student from the 2013 batch
She added that there were only two options for her in Class 12 – commerce and science. Her parents wanted her to become a doctor but she was inclined towards literature. She said the interview was one reason why this switch was possible at the time.
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