Wednesday, August 4, 2021

The cut-off story of DU

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The next college admission season at Delhi University (DU) is set to begin within few months.

With the 12th board approaching, students are worried about their future colleges and courses. Last year, we saw the usual stories about insanely high cut-offs. Ram Lal College, which is rare in the news for its academics, hit the headlines with a 100% cut-off in Computer Science. DU officials were on TV and talked about how some seats are still available in a few courses. Weekend supplements carried articles for students and parents on reducing stress on the child and the family as a whole and how failure doesn’t really matter. We awaited the customary second, third and fourth lists until the gates were closed.

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A tiny fraction of students who scored near-perfect scores in their board examinations made it inside the DU fortress. The rest twiddled their thumbs or settled for one of the many private colleges that spend more money on television ads than on real research and academics. As soon as the season ended, the media went back to their usual stories of scams and communal politics after the selection of the so-called “best students and future leaders.”
A student who scores 95% is unlikely to be worse than a 98% student who gets the seat.

The more insane the cut-offs, the less the difference between the students who are selected and rejected.

And yet, we continue with this practice, ignoring a child’s talent, personality, communication skills, ability to work in teams, motivation, dreams, vision, imagination, creativity, values, convictions, and opinions. Anyone with substantial life experience would point out that board marks are hardly the primary determinant of future success. So, when the admission comes down to minor differences in scores, it becomes almost irrelevant.

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The more subjective and broad admission procedure will ensure the inclusion of the best talent. The US, for instance, has an elaborate admission process for its top colleges. The selection is based on academics, essays, extracurriculars, letters of recommendation, and achievements outside the classroom. This impacts the students who finally get in and influences the rest who aspire to get there. Until we go ahead with these reforms, all this talk of ‘there is more to life than marks’ will ring hollow. If there is indeed more to life, change the admission process. Make it more subjective over a wider range of topics and choose people who deserve to be society leaders.

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A word of caution on the word ‘subjective.’ The moment anything is made subjective in India, and nepotism creeps in. The brutal cut-offs may have many flaws, but the ‘highest marks get in’ criterion reduces the scope of manipulation. Given how our country works, it is quite likely nephews, nieces, and neighbors of the admission committee officials will be seen as outstanding all-rounder candidates. Any reform must ensure that the new admission process is just as accountable, even though subjective. The Army does it, the UPSC does it, and the MBA schools also have multiple criteria. There is no reason DU cannot do it, possibly with the help of independent advisers. Robust talent identification and promotion system are essential for a progressive society. We’ve not focused on it enough, and that has led to a warped education system.

Let’s not have another admission season go to waste.

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