The line “What will happen to my child?” Where will he be able to enroll?” is constantly heard. I can recall these distraught exclamations made by a mother as she confronted me during the time I was serving as the vice-chancellor of University of Delhi. Upon enquiring, I discovered that her son had obtained an aggregate score of 95% in his school leaving examination and the mother seemed frantic and even upset by his performance. I was at a counselling session thronged by admission seeking students and their parents.
This was not an isolated incident.
This lady was the first off the mark, soon to be followed by almost the entire gathering of several hundred, all of whom had identical concerns. Their causes for frustration were the high cut-offs that the entire body of colleges had announced for gaining entry into their programmes of study. Was the above a one-off incident? This occurs on a regular basis year in and year out during admissions season at DU. In fact, for the past decade or so, I have been sought and confronted earnestly and with fervour, by news media organisations, parents and students alike, with a common and vociferously enunciated refrain. Why does DU announce such high cut-offs?
Before proceeding further — for the sake of those rare individuals who are not so familiar — let me elaborate on the connotation behind the term cut-off. These so called cut-offs refer to the atrociously high and seemingly unreal threshold for required scores at the school leaving examinations that are mandated for gaining admission to the more than 60 undergraduate institutions of Delhi University. Make no mistake, these scores are essentially the only means of being eligible for admission. How unreal are these cut-offs? I checked a few days ago and one of the colleges of Delhi University had announced an aggregate of 91% as the minimum required score for a particular programme of study.
This is not an isolated occurrence.
A causal glance at the minimum mandated scores put forth by almost all the colleges indicates a similar situation. These unreal cut-offs seem to be the bane of all segments of our society. I am also gratuitously and in large measure, accorded dollops of advice — by all and sundry — on the ways and means of remedying the situation. I have now evolved into a veteran of sorts at handling these onslaughts. However, as a means of ‘public service’, I have decided to take recourse to this column in an attempt to set the record straight once and for all and to suggest ways and means of alleviating the pain and disappointment of so many. To set the tone and tenor for this discussion, let me enunciate some facts and figures.
University of Delhi is a so-called central university, which essentially means that it is governed by an act of Parliament. This mandates that the doors of Delhi University shall remain open to all citizens of India within the realm of the dictates of the Constitution. All aspiring students across the length and breadth of our glorious nation shall have equal access to the portals of Delhi University, or DU, as it is known colloquially and affectionately. All together, almost for a decade, Delhi University has been bursting at the seams in terms of its student numbers. It has the capacity to admit a little under 60,000 students annually into its undergraduate programmes.
This number cannot be enhanced for several reasons but chiefly because of the limitations dictated by the physical infrastructure. Administering the university is already a major challenge and even if the numbers could be stretched, it would amount to a token rise in the number of students admitted when contrasted against the large number of admission seekers.
Now, take a look at the number of students that graduate from high school in India annually. This year, between the examination boards of just Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the CBSE there were more than 35 lakh successful students.
The country-wide figure is staggering.
A large number of these students wish to get into DU and the number seems to rise each year. What options does the university have but to admit the top scorers so that it can subscribe to the criteria of ‘merit’? So, the high cut-offs are a direct consequence of an ever-increasing number of students applying against an unchanging number of available seats. Even if the various examination boards decide to deflate the high scores they award, the odds of gaining admission would remain unchanged as the number of seats stays unchanged, and the number of admission seekers keeps rising.
An obvious remedy lies in adopting some major changes in our examination processes, so as to judge the true merit of a student. However, let no one be in doubt. The real remedy lies in ensuring that there are a large number of good universities across the length and breadth of India. We also must ensure these universities are equipped with all requirements of the 21st century so that quality higher education is available to all students.