The CET condurum

There has been a recent decision by the government of Karnataka to abolish the Common entrance exam for private colleges and also remove any cap on the maximum fees that can be charged by these private colleges. However to mitigate the possible consequences the government also states that there would be a governing committee or ombudsman to decide what fee the colleges can charge based upon their location, infrastructure, coaching and course (You can read the full news report here

Everyone who has studied in Karnataka for their entire life or atleast from high school would perhaps know how much of a game changer the CET exam was. Even during the early 90’s this exam was the most coveted exam which brought in a sense of academic discipline among both students from Karnataka and other states. Though one had the potential to clear the IInd PUC exam, that was no reason to say the same person could match up against the CET exam with similar potential.

Take my case in point. I am from the ICSE stream for high school. With an 86% and above in my Xth board exams, there was still a feeling in me that my state syllabus bretheren were much ahead of me in terms of sheer marks scored. After switching to the state syllabus for my pre-university college, the sheer amount of coaching I received from one of the most experienced teachers from Bright Academy and my equal willingess to put in the same hard work from my end saw me top my college and score close to the 20th rank in the entire state. While this was just half the story, the coaching for the CET exam was a challenge in itself owing to the fact that the exam was 2 months away and we had to learn up what mattered by putting in a year’s worth of hard work in two months.

It was not the question of whether someone cleared the CET or not. It was the question of whether someone had the right focus, the right aim and understood the challenge of time in front of us. More than the students, it was so challenging for the teacher to optimize the opportunity to bring out the best in students in the right amount of time – what we call smart studying/working rather than hard work today.

The CET itself was a mixed bag of luck for each student as it was an outright pressure which made everyone tense on the day of the exam. It was not about the technical complexity. It was about negative marking, it was about wasting time on the one hard question than on the 5 easy questions. It was about focus and hitting the target that mattered. As a person who was confident of getting a rank between 1 & 100, the day of the exam changed all that confidence in me to revise my guidance (!). Owing to the fact of twists appearing in the form of more questions from Ist PUC syllabus a span of 10 extra questions that were unexpected, changed the fate for me to now provide a new expectation of being numerically below the 500 rank mark.

A rank of 483 showed how much one could be precise about his performance. CET was about bringing the best to the forefront. It was a show of might. A show of dedication. A result of suspense. An atmosphere of tension. A feeling of euphoria. A nail biting finish of the counselling. A sinking feeling of the fact that an engieering or medical seat had been secured. A family union after the whole episode. A feeling of 12 years worth of hard work, and more specifically 5 real years of hard work showing results. A sense of pride of having achieved something for what the parents stood for. For having educated you with their sweat of hard work.

Cut to the present day situation. More and more private colleges mushrooming day after day. From 10 to 26 to perhaps a 100 or even more. The chaos was already in the making. And it only got cemented so well that the private colleges association now had more teeth to demand anything and everything from the government. The last nail in the coffin being fee structure control.

Coming to the government’s latest stand on grading colleges based on :

Location: So what the government seems to be saying is that colleges which are easily accessible score more? Now in today’s situation does it mean a college in Jalahalli which is accessible in 30 mins from byappanahalli scores more than a reputed college in Basavanagudi which takes 2 hours by bus to reach?

Infrastructure: Alright, makes sense. But how do you quantify what infrastructure means? Labs? Cabs? Cafeteria? Library? What exactly?

Courses: Again we seem to be treading the wrong path here. Is it the number of courses or the kind of courses? Are these going to be measured on how industry specific they are? How industry relevant they are in today’s situation? How much in tune they are with the way education is organized abroad?

Coaching: I’m not sure how to write about this or what to write about this. Roughly about 30% of the lecturers have no freaking idea what they are teaching. While the remaining 70% are really good, its impossible to grade a college on just the kind of teaching done given the attrition rate of the lecturers every single year.

Veerappa Moily’s soft protest against changing the CET regime is very legitimate. Not because he started it. Because of the kind of control it weilded and shaped today’s industry that you see in Bangalore today. The kind of organized education that it brought about for what Karnataka is famous for.

To me its not about the poor who will be marginalized. Its about the rich who would be made poorer. Arbitrary fee structure increase is the last kind of favour any college needs from the government to start growing into automous currency monsters. An engineering degree that costed 20000 bucks way back in 1995 is now costing about 6 lakh+ in 2013. while this rate increase justifies against inflation, imagine the next three years fee structure. Are you able to guess where this is leading to?

I am predicting a four fold increase in this cost. Upto 25 lakh for a payment seat. Notwithstanding the fact that management seats are being auctioned anywhere between half a crore to more than 1 crore in both the engineering and medical segments. Assuming one spends half a crore on an engineering seat it takes anywhere between 15-25 years of meticulous hard work and growth in the software industry to even get anywhere close to earning back that amount. Given the kind of industry irrelevant subjects on offer this money spent is not even going to be of any worth.

Of course the colleges want to invest more money by charging students higher fee to maintain some standards within themselves. But if you are with me in understanding how building bye-laws worked and the Akrama-Sakrama scheme, you would know that this situation under discussion is no different from growing into an academic racket with similar dimensions and irreversibility few years down the line.

By the way is anyone looking at the way the schools are mushrooming with their own fee structures without a proper ombudsman? Your guess is as good as mine.

While every country is striving to make education free until high school and bringing the focus back into developing individuals to a higher level of performance, our education system is weaning towards a dangerous path laden with high unaffordable fee structures which only promotes growth of those people with money. This will eventually widen not only the urban-rural gap, but now widen an already mushrooming urban-urban gap in the education system.

If a doctor pays up 1 crore to get a seat and doesnt study well, you can imagine the guarantee for the set of patients that go under his knife! Similarly if an engineer pays up half a crore and doesnt study well, you can imagine how relevant what he studied would be for the industry. Thankfully the industry lobby is different from the college lobby. They select candidates based on how relevant the candidate is. Not how much a college in which he studied has been graded by the government.

If not anything else this will only start making the industry more aware that they need to start looking at the merit in candidates rather than the grade of the college in which he studied (as given by the government) in future. Its about time the companies start looking at visiting all educational campuses irrespective of their industry or academic standing. In three years time, a meritorious candidate could be well studying in a college which hardly people know of, which is hardly accessible, but might have the right amount of coaching and a more relevant course offering.

Bye Bye UVCE, RV, BMS, PESIT & MS Ramaiah.