After conducting the common entrance tests (CET) in April, and announcing their results in May, comes this announcement last week that this year's admissions to professional colleges in Tamil Nadu will not consider the CET marks at all. Admissions will now be based only on the marks in the higher secondary exams. The ostensible reason is that the CET favoured rich kids from urban areas who had access to coaching classes. The real reasons, mentioned explicitly by several Tamil magazines, is that this move has been demanded by the opposition parties; since the elections are less than a year away, the CM didn't want to give them yet another stick to beat her with. If you go by the sentiments expressed in Tamil magazines, scrapping of CET seems to be a very popular move indeed. Except, of course, for a tiny minorty -- whose numbers, however, are probably in tens of thousands -- that stands to lose (who might they be? see below); they have, predictably, gone to court.
The Hindu ran several articles in the last one week, and all of them were critical of this move to scrap the CET. The Times of India ran a debate between Balaguruswamy, the Vice Chancellor of Anna University (vested with the responsibility of allotting the college-branch combinations to students), and Lalita Panicker.
I am not sure if this move actually helps those rural and poor students; after all, if coaching centres cannot offer their services for the CET, they will start offering them for the regular higher secondary exams; and presumably, those urban, rich students who can afford to be coached will continue to enjoy the same advantage that they currently enjoy.
But, I have no doubt at all about whom it really hurts: students studying in CBSE and ISC streams, where it is more difficult to score high marks. The CET (which had roughly half the weight in the old scheme of things, with higher secondary marks having the remaining half) gave them some chance. Now, that has been taken away.
Given that we have in our country so many different education boards, there has always been a strong need for a common exam (of the standardizing sort). In engineering, the Joint Entrance Exam, conducted by the IITs, performed this role for a long time at the national level; however, the IITs never bothered to make it like SAT wherein everyone gets a score. Now, AIEEE -- the All India Engineering Entrance Exam -- is performing this role at the national level, and it seems to be doing its job well. The CET essentially performed this standardizing role at the state level; now, it has been scrapped in one state, due to political compulsions.
In any event, the Tamil Nadu government must be held to account for the way it has gone about scrapping the CET. It is absolutely wrong to change the rules of the game during the last two minutes of extra time! At this juncture, however, it is not clear what the courts can do -- given that the move to scrap the CET probably has legislative approval.
Can the courts intervene in a meaningful way? By this, I mean going beyond roasting the government lawyer alive by asking him/her uncomfortable questions, and actually restoring the CET's legality. On the other hand, can the Centre intervene, by mandating a standardizing exam (preferably at the national level) in each subject at the higher secondary level? I am legally challenged (evidently!); any inputs from the readers would be welcome!