The Common University Entrance Test (CUET) was introduced in 2022 and now it’s almost time for the second edition of CUET UG. This exam aims to provide a common platform and equal opportunity to candidates across the country, especially those from remote areas. A better way to describe CUET would be ‘One Nation One Exam’ to get into universities for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. With multiple goals in mind, how does Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC), evaluate the performance of the exam in terms of meeting its target? “CUET is meeting the purpose for which it was introduced,” he says confidently. After all, the number of participating universities and the number of students who have registered for the exam this year, both have seen an upswing.
This time around, the examination experience will differ in numerous ways, including reduced number of examination days, conducting the exam in three daily shifts, having backup computers ready to address any technical glitches and several other changes. The UGC Chairman delved into all this and more, including topics like the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in addition to foreign universities setting up campuses in India. Excerpts from an insightful conversation:
The fact that CUET registrations have gone up by 41% is surely a testament to its success. Would you say UGC’s goal of introducing the entrance exam has been met?
Why are so many higher education institutions testing so many students for admission in different disciplines? Subjecting the students to multiple admission tests drains them financially and affects them psychologically. NEP 2020 too advocates for reducing the burden of admission tests on students. The fact is that when compared to CUET’s debut year, in 2023, the number of participating universities has increased and the number of students who will sit for CUET has also significantly gone up. This indicates that CUET is surely meeting the purpose for which it was introduced.
Last year, technical glitches did leave a few students worried. Though NTA made up for it. Surely, the second edition will ensure that students have a much smoother experience. Tell us how else are you gearing up to conduct it.
Students should focus on attempting CUET without worrying about glitches. This time we have taken several measures to make the experience of students at test centres smooth.
First, the number of days for conducting CUET is reduced to 12, unlike last year when it was spread over nearly six weeks. Reducing the number of days necessitated keeping three sessions on each day. Secondly, we have started identifying the test centres across the country well in advance and checking the infrastructure for conducting the test. We are arranging for extra capacity at each centre so that a student can shift to another computer if there are glitches.
Many students who couldn’t get into their dream colleges with their Class XII Board results are now able to secure a seat in it, thanks to CUET. What other positive feedback are students providing regarding the examination?
The fact that students need not have to score Board percentages of 98% to 100% to gain admission to their dream institutions is itself a great relief to the students. Students from rural backgrounds and socially and economically disadvantaged groups may not always get high percentages in their Board exams but have an opportunity to do well in CUET. It is an added advantage to such students that CUET is conducted in 12 Indian languages, which helps them to attempt CUET without the fear of language barriers.
Although we have not collected the data, informal inputs from vice-chancellors indicate that campus diversity is rising, which is encouraging.
Any advice for the students who are preparing for the exam?
Focus on understanding concepts and learn to apply these concepts to solve problems. This will help you do well in the Board exams too. Since only the Class XII syllabus is used in CUET and is still fresh in your mind, revise it adequately. Make notes and a study plan to use your time productively. Reach the test centre well before the starting time of the test. Proper rest and keeping yourself fit will help in keeping your mind serene.
With the release of rules for foreign universities to open campuses in India scheduled for this month, surely the UGC is taking up the task with gusto. Could you give us a sneak peek into what we can expect?
There is undoubtedly a lot of excitement about the UGC’s regulations on foreign university campuses in India. Delegations from around the globe — USA, Canada, Europe, UK, Australia and New Zealand — are meeting us and enquiring about the regulations.
In these meetings, we also clarify their doubts. They appreciate the reforms we are bringing to higher education in India and express a desire to partner with us. We are giving the final touches to the regulations and the portal for interested foreign universities to apply is also getting ready. We are working on announcing the final regulations by the end of May, if all goes well.
The announcement of the CUET, JEE and NEET merger sent the academic world into a tizzy, though all fears were assuaged. What are the advantages of such a merger?
Major entrance test mergers must be performed at some point, as suggested in NEP 2020. Such a merger is, of course, challenging and needs to be done with careful planning. At least, the introduction of CUET has reduced the number of tests that students have to take otherwise.
In the coming years, many more universities will use CUET for admissions to UG programmes. The current CUET, JEE and NEET models will continue until we determine the details of their merger. Students need not worry about it for now.
One of the most impressive aspects of the National Credit Framework (NCRF) is the provision it makes for gifted children. You have also written to universities to allow students to write exams in local languages. Overall, there is a bid to keep inclusivity in mind with every initiative. How does UGC ensure that inclusivity is part and parcel of every initiative? What ideals does UGC hold close to its heart?
UGC is constantly working to protect and promote the interests of the students. We ensure that all universities will have SC-ST cells to protect the interests of students coming from SC and ST categories. It is mandatory to have Internal Complaints Committee to provide a safe working environment for the students.
Recently, UGC has also made it compulsory to form student grievance redressal committees and appoint an ombudsperson to take care of the grievances of the students.
When students enter a university, they are suddenly exposed to a new environment and undergo difficulties in adjusting to new situations. We must help them perform well in their pursuits without being subjected to stress and other pressures. For example, we helped thousands of students get their fees refunded to the tune of Rs 30 crore.
UGC also has an online portal, e-Samadhan Online Grievance Registering and Monitoring System. It is a digital platform for students to identify and apply for grievances/feedback/queries. This platform ensures a time-bound mechanism for the redressal of grievances.
The push for Indian Knowledge System (IKS) ensures that we stay rooted in our culture and tradition. In the future, in what other ways is the commission planning to make higher education more and more India-centric?
Promoting IKS and using Indian languages in our educational institutions is a priority for UGC. Studying and knowing about IKS will give our students, besides a more comprehensive view of our country as a knowledge-based society, an understanding of how the IKS can be connected with contemporary knowledge to find new perspectives on building sustainable human communities.
Nearly 45% of the universities and 60% of colleges are in rural areas. Students in these institutions often need help understanding their English textbooks and expressing their ideas clearly. To address this issue, UGC has formed an apex committee working with universities to bring textbooks in different Indian languages required in all disciplines. Students can use these Indian language textbooks when they find it difficult to understand English textbooks.
We have also requested that the universities let the students write the examinations in the local language even if they are studying in English. This will help them write the answers more confidently and enhance their success rates.
Even with the move of UGC to create a common platform for central varsities’ faculty appointments, the focus of the commission has been to integrate and come up with one-stop solutions/platforms. Along the same lines is the announcement that JEE and NEET will be merged with CUET. Tell us more about UGC's constant endeavours to make the process hassle-free for students. Also, what additional integrations are you looking at, if at all?
The common platform for central universities’ faculty appointments needs a little explanation. Currently, each central University advertises the vacancies, and candidates have to fill up applications on different university portals. Also, the applicants have to check for advertisements from universities periodically. For the benefit of the applicants, we are launching this portal. Any applicant for a faculty position has to register on this portal, giving all their details as required in a standard application. All universities will post their advertisements on this portal and the applicants will get an auto email about the advertised vacancies. Applicants have to log in to this portal and transfer their application data from their account to the university against the advertised post with a click of a button.
If multiple universities have advertised faculty positions, if the applicant is eligible for these positions, the applicant does not have to repeatedly fill out the applications for different universities. Instead, the applicant has to transfer the application data to the respective university account. Now each university can access this data, process it for shortlisting and conduct the interviews just as they did earlier. With this portal, all the data related to faculty appointments in CUs will be in one database, and UGC can do the backend data analytics to see how the faculty appointments are taking place, in which category, how many appointments are done, and how many vacancies are there.
In this way, UGC can work continuously with CUs to ensure that the vacant positions are filled up in a time-bound manner. This portal will be a great relief to prospective faculty position applicants. It is not a centralised recruitment and the universities will use the data on this portal to conduct the selection process as they did earlier.
Looking at the higher education scenario in India, the number of varsities went up from 723 to 1,113 in the last nine years. Seems like UGC is on the right track to cater to the growing population and their educational needs. While the quantity aspect is on its way to being addressed, what are the steps being taken to ensure quality? What are some other aspects of higher education that the commission intends to work on in the coming few years?
Providing quality education means enabling our students to acquire the required knowledge and skills and use them proficiently to address their career and life challenges. Teachers play an essential role in ensuring that the teaching-learning processes are of the highest standards. Teaching is a noble profession; they need to be lifelong learners and adapt to the changing pedagogical approaches. They need to become more tech-savvy in creating digital content. In the future, AI applications will become a norm in educating students. Teachers will have to play hitherto unthought roles as mentors in such a situation. UGC will work with the heads of institutions to prepare to meet the new challenges and turn them into opportunities to strengthen our education system.
It's been over a year since you assumed charge of UGC. Looking back, what do you think have been your biggest achievements and what is it that you intend to work on in the future?
UGC is the country's largest regulator, affecting most students' lives in higher education institutions. UGC has to function more like a facilitator and be open to feedback and suggestions from the stakeholders. The officers working in UGC need to be encouraged to give their best while handling challenges, complexity, and change to create a positive impact in the higher education field. During the last year, we at UGC have collectively attempted to realize the above goals and will continue improving.