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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fire in Tamilnadu Express

Nothing is worse for a rail fan than the news of a railway accident, particular when innocent lives are lost. And so was the news of S-11 coach of 12622 Tamilnadu Express from New Delhi to Chennai burnt by fire yesterday early morning, around 4:30 AM. Since the TN enjoys a non-stop run from Vijaywada to Chennai, there was no stop for the next three hours (till the train reached Chennai), and hence everyone must have been fast asleep, when the fire broke out.

Here are some links to the news reports:

Times of India
Indian Express
The Hindustan Times

Different accounts report the number of deaths to be between 30 and 47.

The usual things have been done. Everyone has paid condolences. Railways have announced financial compensation. (They can at least change the vocabulary. It seems that they are valuing a life at 5 lakhs. Instead, they can say something to the effect that they are providing financial support to the next of kin.) Everyone will be making an air dash to see the burnt coach, as if it has become a museum piece. An inquiry has been commissioned. And, by tomorrow, the traffic will be normal on the busy route. Media will also forget that yet another accident had happened.

Hints are being given out that it was either an electric short circuit, or a sabotage. It is being suggested that some Railway officials heard a loud bang (which apparently supports the sabotage theory), though some survivors from the coach and passengers in nearby coaches seemed to have heard nothing of the sort. Some others are talking about sound of crackers.

How does it matter whether it was a short-circuit or a sabotage. The important question is why did it kill so many. And that question, I am not seeing debated in the media, but only on the railfan website, It is not being debated, because it brings forth uncomfortable questions for the Railways to answer.

Shouldn't there be electrical safety devices which should detect a short-circuit and break the circuit before a fire gets ignited.

Shouldn't there be some emergency light system in the coach, when there is an electric failure, so that there can be at least a bit of light for people to plan escape.

It has been pointed out that the emergency window exits remained intact in the burnt coach. Why could people not open that. How do we make it more user friendly, so that they can actually be used in an emergency like this one.

Why couldn't people escape to the neighbouring coach. The train has a vestibuled rake. Was it because, it was full of trash. We notice in many trains that the pantry staff keeps trash in the vestibule area. Was the passage closed for the night. What is Railways going to do to make sure that vestibules provide unhindered passage in such emergencies.

Was the coach over-crowded, as is the norm these days. Many unauthorized passengers sleeping in the passage, again, hindering the exit path. Can something be done to make sure that the passage area in the coach is free of any encroachment, particularly in the night.

Aren't the coaches and the upholstery supposedly made of materials which are fire retardant. Then why did the fire spread so quickly, that people did not have time to escape. Have Railways done any testing of these materials.

Who and what caused fire is certainly important, but the more important issue is whether the loss of life was avoidable in such an accident.

My prayers are with the family and friends of those who lost their lives, not because of a fire, but because the fire spread quickly, and the coach design and other practices did not allow a quick exit.

Monday, July 30, 2012

MOOC: Massively Open Online Courses

Lately, a colleague of mine, Prof. T V Prabhakar, has been educating me about MOOCs. He has been forwarding various links on this, including the recent ACM article. Of course, I was aware of the AI course offered in the MOOC format by two Stanford faculty members, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, in which more than a lakh students registered.

The ACM article is by a professor of University of Massachusetts (Fred Martin) who offered the AI course last fall, using the Stanford AI course as the lecture material. The experience of the course taught by Fred is very interesting, and points to the pedagogical changes that we may be seeing in future. The lecture material will be available on the net, and the class will be essentially a face-to-face discussion session and for any incremental learning. Of course MOOCs also have their own online forums, questions and answers, links to additional information, and so on.

What will be impact of MOOCs on education in India. Very difficult to guess. But let us make some guesses.

A course by an excellent professor in a good university in some part of the world even in an online mode is likely better than the corresponding course offered in an average engineering college in the country, even though latter is a face-to-face communication. Considering this, a college in India may just ask its students to register for the MOOC, and ask students only to give the exams of the university. However, this option does not appear feasible. The language of foreign professors may not be very easily understood by our students because of differences in the accent and pronunciation. A typical student may not have sufficient writing skills to ask questions on the online forums. But, most importantly, there will be differences in a course offered in another university and the syllabus of the local college. And considering that we mostly operate in the archaic affiliation model in India, allowing any variation in syllabus is simply out of question.  Because of this, MOOCs will be used just like the courses on NPTEL. Students will just watch lectures on specific topics from the archives, and institutions will not replace their courses with MOOCs.

Of course, an institution may take care of the exam part by suggesting to the students that parts which are not covered by the MOOC will be taught separately and only that part will be taught. But the language difficulties on one hand and strict university regulations on the other will ensure that this does not happen.

I believe that language difficulties will go away soon. Many courses do have subtitles. Once you have subtitles in a course, to allow a text-to-speech software with a different accent should not be a problem.

Can a MOOC be used in the same format as by Prof. Fred Martin in the ACM article. That is, asking students to go through the lectures, but having an interactive session with them, what is known as the "flipped classroom" model. This also looks unlikely because to conduct an interactive session based on lectures by someone else is not an easy task. It is not like conducting a tutorial where the instructor has provided detailed material to be specifically discussed in that tutorial session. This interactive session invites questions and discussions on almost anything discussed by the lectures on MOOC and beyond. Again, such expertise is not available amongst the faculty of majority of the engineering colleges of the country.

I foresee that in the next 4-5 years, MOOCs will be used primarily by people outside the strict curriculum boundaries. These may be working professionals or even students who are interested in a particular subject and just want to learn it without necessarily this counting towards any degree.

Within the educational institutions, there may be some (like IIIT Delhi has done), who may allow students to go through a MOOC, and have an internal mechanism to test whether the student has indeed learned the material and give him/her credit. This way, they can expand the range of electives that their students can take.
Of course, only universities which are nimble and can approve any new course quickly, can take advantage of MOOC in this way.

My guess is that the scenario will change as and when professors in Indian institutions start offering MOOCs.

Here are some websites for looking for these courses:

Another link from CACM: The Coming Tsunami in Educational Technology by John L Hennessy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

IIT Gandhinagar: 1st Convocation

Two students came to my office in the morning and asked me a simple question, "are all IITs similar?" And instinctively, I said, "No, IIT Gandhinagar is different." Well, may be all IITs are different, but when I visit IIT Gandhinagar, and I do that very frequently, it just seems like a very different place, a place which seems to defy Newton. There is no inertia there. There is no resistance to change, and as the cliche goes, the only constant there is change.

I visited them again last Sunday (22nd July), to attend the first convocation of the Institute, to see the pioneer batch of the Institute receive degrees, less than a month after they were notified in the Gazette of India as a new IIT.

The first thing that struck me was the dress. To quote from their convocation brochure, "the stole robe, designed specifically for the first convocation of IITGN, is a combination of the western academic attire and Indian free flowing draped garments." No one seemed to be missing the black robe and the cap.

The Chief Guest was Mr. N R Narayana Murthy, one of the most inspiring leaders of our times, and a role model for the generation that is represented by the graduating batch.

When I went through all the documents that were distributed, it was amazing to see how the young Institute and its pioneer batch has performed. Out of 86 students graduating, 8 were going for PhD programs (7 abroad, and 1 in IIT Gandhinagar itself). 10% of the batch going for PhD has not happened in older IITs for may be a couple of decades. Even Mr. Murthy mentioned that it is unheard of for Caltech to admit two students into the PhD program of their same department from the same external university. There were four more who were going for MS/MTech. There must be something right that the Institute has done over the last four years to enthuse so many of them for higher studies in engineering.

Six graduates have set up a technology innovation start up in the area of distributed computing in IITGN Incubation Center. And one graduate is spending time in improving the machine to make incense sticks (which he had designed himself earlier in the program, and which is helping the poor in Ahmedabad).

The batch had options of either studying for a vanilla BTech or embellish it with an honors or a minor. Only 37 out of 86 decided to graduate with a BTech program, which shows that students were really very keen to study engineering, very unlike the complaints that we hear from faculty of older IITs that students are only interested in a degree and they want to pursue MBAs.

The convocation brochure and the Director's speech talked about several innovations that IIT Gandhinagar has done in its march towards excellence. The focus on humanities and social sciences in the engineering curriculum has been amazing. They have the highest share of HSS courses in the engineering curriculum of all engineering institutes in the country. There is a comprehensive interview of every student in the institute every semester by a panel of faculty. This helps in detecting problem areas early and also identify strong points of the students so that they can be advised accordingly. Short courses of 8-10 lecture hours by distinguished visitors, which give the students 1 credit towards their graduation requirements is another innovation, which is actually being implemented and is not just on paper. They are building relationships with several good institutes nearby by encouraging their faculty to forge research collaborations with IITGN faculty, by encouraging their students to spend a semester or two at IITGN and earn credits which their parent institute may consider towards their graduation requirement, and so on. They realize that for having an excellent research program of their own, they will have to ensure that there is a research ecosystem around them. There were too many initiatives to mention here. Even though I have been going there so frequently, and even been part of some committees, when all the initiatives of the last 4 years were put together, it still was very surprising to me to see what IIT Gandhinagar has achieved.

(Disclosure: I am a guest professor of IIT Gandhinagar, and all my visits to IITGN are supported by them.)

Website of IIT Gandhinagar:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Performance of Droppers in IIT Kanpur

IITs permit only two attempts in the Joint Entrance Examination. You can sit for the exam in the year you pass 12th, and the year after that. Why not be open and allow everyone. How does it matter if a student who passed 12th class 5 years ago can sit in JEE, pass it, and study in an IIT.

IITs used to allow this till 2006. So I took out data for the 2006 batch, and looked at their performance in the first year (when the courses are common, and hence no bias of some department being more liberal or tough or competitive would matter).

In 2006, if we consider the students who had also given 12th class in 2006 (that is no drop year), the number of students were 184, and the average CPI of these students was 7.9.

Those who gave 12th class in 2005 (one year drop), the number of students were 217, and the average CPI of these students was 7.2.

For 2-year droppers (12th in 2004), 81 students had an average CPI of 6.8.

For 3-year droppers (12th in 2003), 35 students had an average CPI of 6.4.

Remaining 18 students (12th in 1999 to 2002, or 4 to 7-year droppers) had an average CPI of 6.4.

If we just look at the students doing 12th in 2005 and 2006, more than 25% of the students doing 12th in 2006 have a CPI of 9.0 or higher, while less than 10% of the students doing 12th in 2005 have a CPI of 9.0 or higher.

I guess this is too small a sample and that too from many years ago to warrant any conclusions, but if similar data was available from earlier years from all IITs, and it showed a similar trend, it would justify IITs' decision in 2006 to allow only two attempts at JEE.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Note on Admission Process

How should a university go about deciding its admission process? Before we can answer that question, we need to understand the goals of the admission process.

First and foremost, an admission process is a process of predicting who will perform well in the future. This is not a simple statement, of course. What does one mean by "perform well" and "future."
Performance could be getting good grades in various courses of the academic program that the student will do (and admission could be targeted for each individual program), or it could be an expectation that the student will get good grades in any program of the university that the student chooses to do. Clearly, if you are admitting a student to a specific program as opposed to admitting to the university and letting him/her follow any of the programs offered by the university, the predictor function is likely to be different.

Performance could also refer to students doing well in going to the next step. Some universities may specifically train its students for certain kinds of jobs, while others may want their students to go for higher education, and performing well may refer to getting a job or getting admission to a good university for higher education.

Performing well could also refer to what alumni achieve several years after graduating from the university. Again, it could mean success in a relatively narrow area, or success in a broader sense of the word.

As one may notice, design of a good admission process must start with deciding the goals of the university and what type of students does it want to admit. Is it interested in students who are likely to do well academically in a specific program for which it is giving admission, or is it interested in students who will be successful citizens of the world a couple of decades later.

Prediction is a very difficult process in any sphere, but when it comes to human behavior and performance, it becomes a much more difficult process. Past performance or knowledge of some topics can only predict so much. It is also important to predict whether the student will have motivation and interest to continue doing well in future. If the university is looking for performance in terms of long term success, then soft skills and life skills become important too. A uni-dimensional testing can hardly predict future performance or success. It works only when you have millions of kids interested in thousands of seats, and you never do a scientific study to figure out if you could have had “better performing alumni.”

Prediction process would normally take into account, not just the past performance, but also the circumstances under which that performance was achieved. For example, most universities, who have humans to go through admission applications, would consider 90% marks by an urban student with both parents rich and educated as being worse than 85% marks by a rural student with no role models in the family.

Is admission process all about defining the kind of students one want, and coming up with a predictor for that. Both these are very difficult problems, but unfortunately, admission process is even more complex than that.

For example, what if your predictor function results in a group which lacks diversity. The performance or success of individuals also depends on the peer group that those individuals are part of. It is well known that one learns better (in a broader sense) in a diverse group. What this means is that while the predictor function is operating on individuals, simply picking up the top N applicants may not be as good as offering admission to a few applicants lower down in that list, those who come from diverse backgrounds. Diversity here could mean students from different cultures, languages, religions, etc. It could mean that if there is a serious gender imbalance, and a more gender balanced class is expected to perform better, then introduce preference for the gender which our primary predictor function is not able to capture. If exposure to sports and cultural activities is likely to improve the performance of the class, then having a few students who are good in those activities may be considered.

Besides diversity, there may be other more controversial issues to be considered in the admission process. Consider the following. If a university has to admit 100 students, which it was going to admit based on the admission process built based on the discussion so far. Before it could offer those admissions, it receives an offer. If a particular student is given admission, then someone will do something to make sure that the quality of learning for the other 99 would be at a much better level. For the sake of argument, let us assume that that student has a decent record in whatever the university was looking for, but did not make the cut because the university could offer only a limited number of admissions. For example, if someone offers a Rs. 10 crore donation, which could revamp all the labs, stock up the library, increase the Internet bandwidth, attract additional faculty, or whatever.

This is a difficult decision. Obviously this improves the performance and success rate of the group that is being recruited by the university, which was really the goal of the admission process. We have already said that it is alright to offer admission to some students who did not make the cut based on our predictor function, because we wanted to have some diversity, give preference to sports, culture, etc., because we believed that that would improve the group performance. Now, this is yet another situation which will improve the group performance.

But, typically, no good university would like to offer admission to someone based on bargaining power of someone else. However, most universities would use admission as a carrot to get things which are likely to improve the learning and success of its students and alumni. So they may not offer admission to someone whose father is now offering to donate 10 crores, but they may offer admission to someone whose father donated 10 crores last year. (I want to re-emphasize that the student must be meeting all the expectations of the university in terms of his/her past performance.) Some universities have “political quota” whereby they may offer admission to wards of presidents and prime ministers and other top folks in the world, since it is expected that such associations will bring certain benefits to the university, which gets passed on to the students and alumni. Some universities have “alumni quota” for similar reasons. In Indian context, I have seen an example of a college offering admission to ward of an IIT faculty, if IIT faculty promises to join as a visiting faculty and offer some courses to the class. More generally, use admission to wards as an incentive to attract faculty members to the university. Again, in every such decision, the university has to think whether this is being done to improve the quality of education of the group that is being admitted.

In this context, I recall an incident at LNMIIT, Jaipur, just when I joined there in 2008. We used to admit students only through AIEEE ranks. One day, office of Mr. Lakshmi Mittal (the steel king, who was our Chairman and promoter of the Institute) sent an application of a student, and asked whether this student could be given admission. This was an excellent application. His 12th class performance was very good. He had represented a state in national games. He was very good at some performing arts, which I now forget. But his AIEEE rank was just a little below the last student whom we had admitted. He was the kind of student, we would love to have in our university. His family knew Mr. Mittal well and had approached him for admission. However, we had to inform his office that our processes did not have any scope for discretionary admission, and thus we could not admit him.

But this made us think that we should have some way of admitting such students. So we made a proposal, which essentially said that besides the 240 students that we admitted, we may admit up to 4 additional students based on criteria other than entrance exam performance. Two students were to be “management quota” but the recommendation would have to come from Academic Council, and two students were to be wards of staff of the university, and again would have to have good performance in something other than entrance exam (say, 12th class boards). We took the proposal to the board, where Mr. Mittal spoke against the idea of management quota but supported the seats for wards of staff. He said that management quota would result in pressure to admit weak students. His famous lines were, “to give admission to my relative would result in average performance of class going down, while giving admission to wards of staff would result in attracting good faculty, which will ensure that the average performance of the class goes up.” (Of course, LNMIIT later decided not to offer admission to wards of staff also, but that is another story.)

Coming back to admission process, if we look around us, we find that hardly any university has given a thought to the kind of students they want, and what would be the right method for selecting those students. Rank in a single entrance test is used for admission to a large number of universities and in very diverse set of programs. The focus of admission process is strictly on logistics and whether the process will stand a judicial scrutiny. And there is tremendous pressure from potential students, their parents, and also from alumni and faculty to keep things that way. In IITs, for example, it is not clear whether we are trying to predict good performance of the students within the academic program, or success later in life. If we are trying to predict good performance in the academic program, then how can the same prediction function be good for as diverse fields such as Computer Science, Physics, Mathematics, and Economics. If we are trying to predict success in life, then how can you do that without any aptitude test, language skills, other soft skills and life skills. I used to argue that JEE is so bad that it is difficult to think of a worse admission system (till IIT Council proved me wrong – lesson for me here – never underestimate others).

The students and parents in India think that it is their god given right to be considered for admission in every program in every university across the length and breadth of the nation. And since the process must be convenient to them, we must have only a few tests (if not a single test), common merit lists, joint counselling, and so on. Government and government appointed educationists look at vote banks. Alumni think that by changing the admission process, a message is being sent that the previous selections were not good. And faculty wants to make sure that their time is not wasted in court cases over admission process, which is a hugely exaggerated fear.

Frankly, if the nation wants excellence, it can only come about by several people trying out a lot of different things. Common processes can only lead to mediocrity and worse.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Tatkal Tickets in Trains

No, this blog is not about education. Trains are my other passion. If you are interested in trains, please check the website,

Early this week, I bought my first Tatkal ticket during UPA-2 regime. This post is to celebrate that event. (And it will become clear below, why I am referring to the government of the day.)

That buying Tatkal tickets is a nightmare is an understatement of this decade. Not only that, buying any ticket online during the first two hours of opening of Tatkal Quota at 08:00 AM is a nightmare. The response time of IRCTC servers is usually more than the idle time allowed by their software. As a result, you log in, you fill in the details, and you are logged out, and you keep doing this for a couple of hours, and then it tells you that all seats have been sold off.

On 2nd afternoon, I just thought I will check if there is a berth available on Shramshakti Express for the next day under Tatkal Quota. I was shocked to find that indeed it was available. I booked it. It was Side-upper berth in AC-2T, not my favorite place to spend the night, but beggars are not choosers.

Tatkal Quota was introduced to enable people who had to travel in an urgency and were willing to pay for an out-of-turn ticket. So these seats or berths would not be given to those who are wait-listed, but to those who are willing to pay more. It was supposed to be an experiment with dynamic pricing. The experiment was lapped up by the public who have always been willing to pay any amount for reserved accommodation in a train. It had to be a success. The costs were indeed quite high. Besides the Tatkal charges that had to be paid, one also had to pay the end-to-end charges irrespective of the distance travelled on that train. If the train was from Howrah to New Delhi, and you only went from Allahabad to Aligarh, you still paid from Howrah to New Delhi.

During the UPA-1, the Railway Minister considered this success and realized that letting people buy the ticket directly from Railways rather than through all kinds of corrupt means was a win-win situation for Railways (they get the additional revenue), for people (they get the ticket without worrying if it is valid of fake), and for the politician minister (since he could keep the basic fare same for 5 years, and more people were happy). He proposed additional steps towards migrating to a dynamic fare scheme. He announced that fares will depend on "peak season" versus off-peak season, that they will depend on popular trains versus not-so popular trains, that they will depend on convenient timing versus inconvenient timing, etc. So multiple fares for the same section in the same class (but fares would still be fixed by static criteria and only depend on historical data and not on dynamic demand of tickets).

As luck would have it, his party could not retain enough seats in Bihar during the 2009 general elections, while Trinamool Congress did exceptionally well in West Bengal, and as a result, the Railway Ministry was transferred to TC, and Mamata Di became the Minister.

This is when the problem of Tatkal tickets started to happen, and continue to happen, and I can't book any ticket (even a non-Tatkal ticket) every day morning from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM.

She took a few decisions in the interest of Maa, Mati and Manush. She had a different vision for Indian Railways, and a different view about Tatkal tickets. She felt that this scheme was just a route to increase the ticket price (which is a reasonable way to look at the scheme, I would agree). But unlike the Yadav who looked at it as a politically correct way of increasing the price, Didi wanted more travellers to travel cheaply on railways - those who had urgency could fly. And, she ordered that the number of seats/berths under Tatkal Quota be reduced (except that she started Tatkal Quota in Executive Class, which was not there earlier). She also ordered that the Tatkal charges be reduced. Further, she ordered that the basic fare be charged only for the distance travelled and not the end-to-end journey on that train. She further decided that Tatkal tickets be sold only one day in advance, and not two days, as was being done earlier.

As a result of these decisions, two things happened. One, since the cost of the tickets had come down, the demand zoomed. If the cost of Tatkal ticket was high, then in an emergency situation, one could travel by bus instead of sleeper class, or on the other extreme, one could fly instead of travelling by AC-2T. But now the train option was clearly much more attractive (together with the fact that the fares have not been revised for almost a decade). Two, since the quota of Tatkal tickets was reduced, the probability of booking under this quota reduced. In case of most trains, the quota would be exhausted in the first two hours.

So, in the first two hours every day, a much larger number of potential passengers are trying to book a smaller number of tickets, and this has caused serious capacity problems on IRCTC servers.

Railways has tried many things to control the situation. They do not allow any IRCTC agent to book Tatkal tickets from 8 to 10 AM. For individuals, there is a restriction of buying only one ticket per day. So if you want connecting trains, you can forget about it. And only 4 names on a ticket (as opposed to 6 for a regular ticket). As anyone can guess, these are baby steps, as they will reduce the load on the server by a very small amount.

Railways also decided to open the reservation for general tickets 120 days in advance (as opposed to 90 days earlier). This meant that the opening day rush for the tickets at 8:00 AM would be greatly reduced, as it would be difficult to plan 120 days in advance. And since only Tatkal rush will be there at 8:00 AM, it could be managed.

That has not solved the problem, of course. Railways has not understood that the primary rush for tickets at that time is from Tatkal users only, and unless their demand is distributed over the 24-hour period, there will be no respite.

Now, Railways has come up with the idea that Tatkal Quota will open at 10:00 AM. This will happen from 10th July. I am convinced that this will only shift the load from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM. Now, I will find it difficult to buy a ticket from 10 to 12.

Can anything be done at all? Railway Minister says, nothing much can be done since the basic problem is a gap between supply and demand. Only small tinkering can be done with the system to make sure that tickets are bought by genuine passengers and not by touts who will sell the tickets at a higher price.

I beg to disagree.

I think the Railways has not understood that the travelling public is facing two distinct problems. One is a simple lack of tickets, the supply and demand gap, as Minister has correctly articulated. But there is another problem, to which Railways are paying only very little attention (not that they are paying any attention to the first). The second problem is that for two hours a day (and sometimes more), getting ANY ticket is a pain for most potential customers of Indian Railways. And for solving this second problem, one needs to distribute the Tatkal load to a 24-hour period.

Let me first look at the first problem, the mismatch between demand and supply. Overall, there is a mismatch. But does there have to be a mismatch in each segment. Is it not possible to create a match between demand and supply just for Tatkal tickets. After all, this mismatch wasn't as serious just 3 years ago.

What is wrong if 80% of the tickets are sold on a first-come-first-served basis, but 20% of the tickets are sold to someone willing to pay a higher amount, may be the highest bidder. Do people travelling in AC classes need subsidies from the government. Would you really lose a lot of votes, if you ask the AC class travellers to pay a premium for an emergency ticket.

So, I think Railways should increase the number of seats under Tatkal scheme at least in the AC classes, to improve the supply side, and should increase the Tatkal charges, to reduce the demand, till a reasonable match is found. Ideally speaking, Railways must introduce a dynamic fare system on lines similar to airlines. This system may be introduced first for AC-1st. I am sure no vote bank will be affected by it. It can then be extended to Executive Class. Once more people are used to it, and Railways has learned how to configure it, it can then be extended to other AC classes, AC-2T, AC-3T, and AC Chair Car, in that order. May be it can first be introduced in Rajdhanis and Shatabdis, then in superfast trains, and then other mail and express trains. So do a slow transition, and do it for the class of passengers who will prefer confirmed reservations at higher fares than paying somewhat less but waiting for ever to get some wait-listed ticket to get confirmed. The Indian middle class has taken to flying in a big way, and has not complained about the dynamic fare system in the airline industry. I am sure they would not mind it on Indian Railways either.

But suppose the demand and supply for Tatkal (even in AC classes) cannot be touched, there are other things that Railways can do to at least solve the second problem of huge peak load on its reservation servers for 2+ hours in a day.

One possible solution is to have a lottery. Don't laugh it off. We already have a lottery. We only need to design a better lottery, which will cause distributed load on the system, rather than high peak load.

Currently, we keep trying and trying, and it is purely our luck that our request goes through at some point in time. This is nothing but a lottery.

A different lottery mechanism would be that everyone can book a ticket 2 days before the train departure time. At the time of booking, they are only told that they are being registered for "Tatkal lottery." After the day is over, the computer goes through Tatkal Quota for each train in each class. If the number of requests is less than or equal to the number of seats/berths available, then all of them are granted confirmed reservation. If the number of requests is more, some tickets are confirmed based on an in-built lottery system. Those who are not confirmed are given a random waitlist number. They have an option to keep waiting till the chart is prepared, or get a refund early on.

In this scheme, it would make no difference whether you booked your ticket at 8:00 AM or at 8:00 PM, and hence will distribute the Tatkal load evenly throughout the day. Of course, people have to pay money at the time of booking the ticket without knowing the status of their ticket. But they can make use of booking agents/sites like "cleartrip" and "" to make life simpler for them.

I think Railways need to think of AC class passengers differently than non-AC passengers. Non-AC classes need subsidy. Any policy that affects them negatively can possibly have political repercussions. But they can do various experiments with AC class passengers. Generally, these will not have much political repercussions.

Dynamic fares and if that is not possible than a "Tatkal lottery" would be a good experiment to try with at least some class and with some trains.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Autonomy of Educational Institutions

What is the most important pre-requisite for university excellence. The experts are unanimous in their answer - it is autonomy. Budget is important, and obviously to do anything, you need money. However, with autonomy, it is possible for a university to create strategies to solve funding problems. But without autonomy, no amount of money is going to lead to excellence.

Autonomy means that the university is free to decide its own course of action, be it admissions, curriculum, hiring of faculty, starting new programs or closing old programs, and so on. There should be no interference from the government in any such decision. There can be incentives, but they should not be so strong that university really does not have any option but to follow a particular path. Of course, autonomy can only be in conjunction with accountability, but the evaluation of performance should be done by peers in line with norms followed by academic community.

While no one can claim to have unlimited autonomy in all spheres of university operations, but if one looks at the top ranked universities, one finds that they typically are the places which have a lot of autonomy.

Unfortunately, academics in India have not been able to communicate the importance of autonomy to the society at large, possibly because they themselves have not understood it, and perhaps because mostly those persons are appointed Directors and Vice Chancellors who will not demand autonomy. The times of Nalanda are gone.

It is commonplace for people to argue that the system of affiliated colleges is necessary since autonomy to these colleges (in terms of deciding their admission, curriculum, programs, etc., and giving degrees) will lower the quality of education. It is commonplace for Directors to argue that since the government writes a check to us, we must listen to them. It is commonplace for people to argue that we should have common syllabus across not just school boards but across universities, we should have common entrance exams, we should have "one nation, one test," and so on.

I recall that in IIT Kanpur, we used to get many good MTech students from government engineering colleges in UP (like HBTI, MMM, BIET, IET, KNIT, etc.) in the 1990s, and till about 2002 or so. And then suddenly, we had a couple of years, when there was not even one student from all these colleges could get admission to our MTech program. We were worried about our graduate student pipeline drying up, and I volunteered to visit some of these colleges and find out what exactly was happening. Were they preferring to go to other IITs. Were they no longer interested in higher education. What were these students doing, and why were they not coming to IIT Kanpur.

I met hundreds of students and dozens of faculty members, and a very tragic story developed. Most of these colleges happen to be the only colleges in their respective universities till the year 2000. So, even though, they were affiliated colleges on paper, by virtue of their being the only government college of that university, essentially they were driving the academic agenda till 2000. They would decide the curriculum, what books to follow, what should be academic policies of the university for engineering, and so on. In many cases, they would even set the question paper, and grade them for their class. In the year 2000, UP government decided to follow the herd, and did what many other states had already done - set up a technical university. All government colleges were forced by law to get affiliation to UP Technical University. And instantly, their control over academics was gone.

Every faculty member that I talked to felt dejected. Now, a group sitting in Lucknow would decide whom and how you will admit students, what you will teach, what books will be followed, how many lectures you will take. If you studies something exciting on your own and wanted to share with the students, there was no time for it in the schedule, and even if you shared that anyway, the students would know that this was unimportant as the paper would be set by some anonymous person elsewhere. Someone in the other part of the state would grade those papers. Basically, the faculty could be ignored completely. The curriculum obviously could not take into account the expertise available in each college. So these teachers who used to take a lot of pride in their work, and produce good quality graduates, suddenly became demoralized. Many of them left.

The quality of education had declined in all these colleges to such an extent that very few of their graduates could do well in GATE. That was the reason why our MTech pipeline from UP colleges had dried up.

So, here is a simple formula to improve quality of engineering education in the country: disband technical universities, even if you have to have affiliating universities, make sure each university has no more than a handful of colleges affiliated to it. Common curriculum and common exams have ruined education in this country, since they go against the very grain of autonomy.

Of course, people talk about why affiliating universities are a must in India, because of poor quality of colleges. My take is different. In the last few years, several colleges have become universities - either through deemed university route or through the state act route. The quality of these universities may not be very good, if you compare them with good institutions in the respective disciplines. But is there any doubt that each one of them is providing better quality of education today than what it did when it was a college. This is not saying much, but it is still saying a lot.

Autonomy matters to even a low quality institution to improve its quality.

If you study the decline of great universities of yesteryears, one can immediately notice that it has happened because of erosion of autonomy or in other words, interference from the state.

Since complete autonomy is only an ideal and does not happen in reality anywhere, it becomes difficult for anyone to defend it from any attack. Every time the government chips away a part of autonomy, one wonders if the lost autonomy was part of ideal world, or have we reached a point where one needs to protest. And in general, if we do not see an immediate loss, we don't protest. So the government wants common syllabus, we don't protest. The government wants common admission process, we don't protest. The government wants same fee, and same salaries, we don't protest. And it goes on, till we have nothing left to protest.

I am reminded of German pastor Martin Niemöller who wrote the following words about the role of German intellectuals during the World War II.

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
The debate for the last few months over the engineering admission process in this country should have been a debate on autonomy, and only on autonomy, but it was not at all about autonomy. It is not that we did not try to steer the debate in that direction. But it was futile. To me, it did not really matter what proposal came from Government or IIT Council. Even if they were the most ideal proposals, I would still want my right to consider them and not accept them as an order from the top. But whenever we talked about autonomy, many people questioned our motives. Was it our ego that we were trying to safeguard. Why don't we think of children of this country. Why can't a body that writes our check even has a write to just tell us how to admit. Aren't the goals of the Minister noble.

Of course, it helped immensely that the proposals were so completely brain dead that we did not have to do much. It was obvious to any one reading them that they would increase stress, increase coaching, make it more difficult for rural and poor kids, that none of the noble aims of the Minister were actually being met by the proposed changes. Readers of this blog and those who followed the debate on media and social media were convinced that the proposals did not do anything positive. But the same group is not convinced that we deserve our autonomy. We deserve autonomy not because it is an ego issue with us, but because it is essential for us to continue our march towards excellence, and contribute to the same society even more in times to come.

When IIT Kanpur Senate decided (and that decision stands even as I write this blog) to hold its own entrance exam, the media was critical, and so were children and parents. They became our supporters only because they perceived that our resolve is only to put pressure on the government.

What would happen if some of the IITs actually went ahead and held a different exam. One extra exam versus autonomy, which is directly linked to the quality of education. Also note that the children could have easily decided that they would give exam for this group of IITs or the other group of IITs. So actually, if you were willing to choose a set of IITs a priori, then the number of exams remained the same for you. Now consider two scenarios. In one scenario, most IITs are in one group, and only a small number of IITs, perhaps one or two, in the other. You would know which group exam to give. In the other scenario, the two groups are roughly equal in terms of number of IITs, and diversity of programs offered. Could you not decide which group without losing much in terms of your career planning. So, if there are two JEEs, a typical student would not lose much. So the choice is between losing slight flexibility versus autonomy of higher education institutions in the country. And unfortunately, the choice is very clear. That slight flexibility is more important.

And yet, the fault is not with 17 year old ones. They have never set foot on a university campus. How are they to understand the abstract notion of autonomy and its linkages with quality. The problem is with the academic leadership, who is not convinced about it. As I said above, they are the ones who really push ideas like affiliation based education system, common curriculum, common tests, and so on.

If the academic leadership of the country does not understand the importance of autonomy, sorry, we are not going to be a knowledge superpower anytime soon.

Contrast this issue of university autonomy with the issue of freedom of press.

Try having a polite conversation about media, and what do you hear. Some newspapers only report local crime. The supplements are not news, but entertainment. The headlines are written in a way to attract attention. And worse. They are biased. They give coverage to organizations who give lots of advertisements. The choicest words are reserved for 24x7 television news channels. They have to create news out of nothing. One hardly hears anything positive about media these days in polite conversations.

And then, try suggesting that perhaps the government should intervene, and fix the problems, if there are indeed so many problems with media. There is an immediate reaction. Keep government out of media.

Most people in the country realize the importance of independent media, even with all its problems. They realize that free speech guaranteed by our Constitution will have very little value, if media is not free. If media can be stopped from airing junk news, then it can also be stopped from airing politically inconvenient news. And hence despite our strong reservations about the quality of media, we must whole heartedly support the autonomy of media.

Even government ownership should not be an excuse for interfering with that autonomy. Ask anyone whether they want a politician or an IAS officer to decide the headline on Doordarshan news, a channel owned and funded by the government.

University autonomy is an absolute must for academic freedom, that is, freedom for a faculty member to work in whatever area s/he wants to work in, publish anywhere, speak out his/her views without any fear, etc. (of course, with usual accountability). Academic freedom is a must to generate new ideas, and freedom of media is a must to report those ideas. So, in a sense, independent media and university autonomy are two sides of the same coin, and two of the most important pillars of a liberal society.

However, press has done a wonderful job of convincing people that even if their performance is poor, their freedom must be protected, if they want freedom of speech in the country. I hope that one day we will have academic leadership in this country which truly respects university autonomy. India deserves better from her universities, and they can deliver only when they are autonomous.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

JEE 2013: The ISI Report

Yesterday's Hindustan Times had this news item, where they claimed that the Ramasami Committee had ignored an earlier report of ISI experts on normalization of marks across boards in the country. The news item made interesting reading as it claims that the ISI experts had said that there was no fair mechanism of normalizing marks across boards. Apparently, they were asked to submit another report, in which they were specifically told that the Government is not interested in fair or unfair business. They should simply say what is the best way of comparing marks (even if wrong). And ISI apparently obliged with a new report.

Another interesting claim by the newspaper is that when they contacted Dr. Ramasami to opine on this earlier report, he appears to have said, "We don’t have to accept what the experts recommended. What they say doesn’t become law."

Frankly, I wasn't even aware of the earlier report. The final report itself was sufficient to conclude that the board marks cannot be compared. But I got curious and finally, thanks to some friends, got a copy of the report. You can read these reports at my JEE 2013 website.

In layman's terms, the final report says that if two conditions hold, then percentile scores across boards may be comparable. (More on this at my previous blog article.) It gives some hints on why the scores may not be comparable. The initial report writes those two conditions more formally in mathematical terms, makes the same statement that if these conditions are true, then percentile scores would be comparable, and crucially, goes on to demonstrate in detail as to why these two conditions are not true.

The part about "why these conditions are not true" has been dropped in the final report, allowing Prof. Barua, amongst others to claim that the two conditions are "obviously true." Just because the proof of a statement being wrong is deleted from a paper, the statement becomes true. I am shocked.

But, after my previous blog, several persons have advised me that I should not use the word "lying" in public spaces. I guess it is parliamentary language to say, "Sir, you are indulging in inexactitude."

We also heard on a previous blog post of mine that most IIT faculty are raising this issue of normalization and ISI report because their kids go to CBSE schools.

How sad that our IITs are full of such selfish creatures. And these faculty members will go to any extent to scuttle any scheme which gives an advantage to other boards. And look at the limit of their selfishness. They even demand that the process be scientific and academically sound.

These faculty also have a class bias. The poor is happy being poor and uneducated. When they come in contact with rich, they get into psychological problems. The new scheme is ensuring that they don't come in contact with rich at all, and hence no stress on them. But these anti-poor faculty members, they actually want to continue a system which allows these poor kids to join the mainstream. How can a system where a poor kid can sit besides a rich kid be allowed to continue.

Seriously, how can ANYONE reading the original ISI report ever agree to normalization of board marks for admission purposes, where a fraction of a mark counts. But, of course, what experts tell us cannot be allowed to become the law. Only what non-experts decide should be the law.

Yes, IITs have been temporarily spared from using board marks for ranking. But, two points, I want to make here.

One, if the comparison of board marks is an inherently unfair process, then having a tight cutoff of 20 percentile for eligibility (to get admission to IITs) is seriously flawed. It has to be much more liberal.

Two, while IITs may have been spared temporarily (only for 2013, even for that, there is some confusion in the minutes that have been circulated), it is being imposed on NITs, IIITs, and several other colleges, universities, various states, etc. Just like this ISI report was not available anywhere and not many people had seen it, I have a suspicion that a lot of stakeholders in those institutes are also agreeing to consideration of board performance without having the benefit of reading the original ISI report, and lots of students are going to be treated very unfairly in 2013 and beyond.

Having a different admission process for IITs does not solve the problems of students of 12th class across the country. Since their 12th class performance will count towards admission to most engineering colleges, including NITs, they have no option but to undergo coaching for that too, along with coaching for JEE Mains (AIEEE) and JEE Advanced (JEE). All the problems that IIT faculty has highlighted in the overall scheme of admissions, continue to be there.

Of course, it is not right for me to interfere in the admission process of other institutes, just like it is not right for IIT Council to interfere in the admission process of my Institute, but I hope people from those institutes, and other stake holders like students and parents, and most importantly, media, will continue to fight, till the status quo is maintained for 2013, and there is an assurance that there will be wider consultation for 2014 from amongst all stake holders.

On a lighter note, I think the overall strategy of our administrators could be the following:

Since these great administrators have no hopes of improving school education in the country, they believe that the only way to have well trained students is through coaching. Everyone should do 12th class, and after that, if you want continued poor quality education, you can join some poor quality institute. However, if you want to join a good-quality institute, you must do class 13th, and of course, that can only be done in a private coaching school. The current system was allowing too many people to join even good colleges right after the 12th class, and hence the good institutions were not getting good enough students. The new process will force many more people to get quality education in Kota and other coaching Mandis, so that quality of good colleges improve further.

It is all in the interest of the nation. If schools cannot teach, then let coaching classes teach. The goal should be quality education. End is important, not means. And how does it matter whether only rich can benefit from this process. At least some people are benefiting. The nation is benefiting. Haven't you heard of trickle down economic theory of Reagan and Thatcher.

Aren't coaching classes part of nation?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

JEE 2013: The Compromise

Apparently, we have a compromise. What it is, we know only from what media is telling us. I guess minutes will come out soon (to be followed by revised minutes), and we will know if media is right. Of course, there will still be many implementation details to be worked out, and it is already July.

So, here is what the media is telling us:

  1. To be eligible for admission to IITs, one will have to have a minimum of 80 percentile marks. (Note, it is percentile and not percent. It means that you should have marks more than 80 percent of the students in that board, or in other words, you should be in the top 20 percent of the students in the board. The marks will be different for each board. If media is to be believed, the marks are 78% for CBSE and Tamilnadu board, 65% for UP Board, 70% for Rajasthan Board, etc. Also note that this eligibility is checked only at the time of admission. Anyone can give JEE Mains. And candidates shortlisted as below can give JEE Advanced, irrespective of their board results since they may not even be available at the time of the exam.)
  2. Every student interested in getting admission to IITs must give JEE-Main (similar to the current AIEEE). You will have to have a rank within the top 1.5 lakh in that exam.
  3. After the result of the JEE-Main is out, JEE-Advanced test will be conducted. Only the shortlisted 1.5 lakh students will be able to take this exam.
  4. Ranking for admission to IITs will be strictly based on the ranks in JEE Advanced.
  5. JEE-Mains will be handled by CBSE, with help from IITs (and several others). In particular, IIT faculty will prepare the question paper.
  6. JEE-Advanced will be conducted by IITs only. There will only be some administrative coordination with CBSE. The format of JEE Advanced will be decided by Joint Admissions Board of IITs. (Though some media is saying that it will be same as JEE 2012.)

Let us first discuss this percentile issue. As I have already said in my previous blogs, percentiles are not comparable and comparing them is unfair to students belonging to good quality boards. Academically speaking, there must be a way to compare multiple boards, and come up with different percentile scores for different boards. However, admission to government funded institutes is not allowed to be just an academic decision in our country.

However, the contention is that percentile scores are at least less unfair than the marks. I would really like to study this contention with data from 2012 or earlier, but 2013 is sacrosanct for some "important" people.

After we heard the decision of the Joint Admissions Board (JAB), we have communicated to our Directors that in the transition year (2013), we should keep a relaxed eligibility criteria. We wanted a criteria which will reject JEE qualified students in the rare case, just like the current 60% does. In particular, we wanted 70 percentile (so that 30% of board students are eligible). And once we have exact information on percentile of selected students next year, we could increase it slightly.

There are several implementation issues yet to be resolved. What is the meaning of top 20%. Do they count all those who register for the 12th class exam. Or do they count only those students who have passed the 12th class exam. Do they consider all students, or do they consider only those students who have studied Physics, Chemistry, and Maths in 12th class (besides other subjects). Do they consider the total of 5 subjects or 6 subjects (in case of boards which have 6 subjects) or do they consider only 3 subjects to rank students for the purpose of computing percentile.

Assuming that they will consider percentile score only amongst those students who have passed 12th class exam with PCM subjects, let us do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. I am told that there are about 20 lakh such students in the whole country. Top 20% means that 4 lakh students are eligible. (Since two batches are considered for JEE, 8 lakh students are eligible for admission to IITs.) The current 60% rule makes about 6-7 lakh students eligible. (Anyone with better numbers?) Top 30% would have made 6 lakh students (per batch) eligible, and hence close to current numbers.

When we are making too many changes together, it results in a lot of confusion, and a lot of stress. So, my suggestion to JAB will be to only change the process this time, and not change other parameters in any significant way. Let us make it 70 percentile for 2013, and if the same two-stage process continues for 2014 onwards, we can increase the cutoff slightly every year, if the analysis of the data supports such an increase. In particular, the goal should be to reject less than 1 percent of JEE qualified candidates because of 12th class performance. Media will highlight the stories of these 50-100 students enough that from next year, everyone will take 12th class seriously (more coaching). You don't need to reject thousand JEE qualified candidates to force students to do 12th class coaching.

Another implementation issue is regarding students who passed 12th class in 2012. It is being reported in media that they too will be required to have a cutoff of 80 percentile. It is being said that if they do not have 80 percentile, they can give the board exams again in 2013. I hope this is not JAB's position. In 2006 (or was it 2005), when we limited the number of attempts to two, we gave a one time exception whereby everyone who had given 12th class earlier was allowed to give JEE. I think JAB can allow 2012 students with old eligibility, that is 60 percent. Again, be liberal in the transition year.

Some people have written to me saying whether an eligibility is better than the earlier model of screening. The contention of these students/parents is that in the earlier proposal, if someone got less marks in 12th class, s/he could make up for that in the JEE Mains exam. Theoretically, you are right. But let us look at the reality. Only 1.5 lakhs (or less) are being selected for JEE advanced. These are from two batches, and hence in percentile terms they represent 3.75 percent or 96.25 percentile of 20+20 lakh students passing 12th class with PCM marks. How much better could you possibly do in JEE Mains to compensate for a huge loss of 16+ percentile in 12th class board performance. If we had agreed to 50-50 formula of the earlier decision of IIT Council, almost everyone shortlisted for JEE advanced would have been someone with 95 percentile and higher, though an odd person with lower percentile but with excellence JEE Mains would have gotten through. Even that odd person would not have gotten through with less than 80 percentile.

The second major issue is that of selecting 1.5 lakhs from JEE Mains. Most IIT Senates had suggested a number between 50K and 100K, so that we can experiment with newer formats, including tests with written answers. IIT Council had earlier said that long answer tests are not possible because even grading 50K to 100K is very difficult in a consistent way. This is where the difference between administration and academicians come in. They are looking at the issue in black and white. Either fully machine graded, or fully manually graded. We were looking for a test which will have a few questions which require at most a few lines of answer. 150K would make it difficult for us to consider even a few such questions, and it will limit our abilities to do innovation with this exam.

But what we also wanted was that if the change has to happen in 2013 (as a compromise), then JEE Advanced in 2013 should be exactly same as JEE 2012. As I said, we should put in changes slowly, giving time to students to adjust. JEE Advanced in 2013 should be a machine graded exam. It means that the limit of 50K or 100K was not important for 2013. In such a situation, I would have actually liked a much larger number. We would like to study the correlation between JEE Mains and JEE Advanced. We would like to know if there are students who could get in top 10,000 in JEE Advanced but would not be in top 50K or top 100K or top 150K of JEE Mains. This will give us important information to design JEE Mains, and to decide how many students should be shortlisted for JEE Advanced. Since the number in the second stage in 2013 is not important (and we have the bandwidth to conduct an exam of even 5 lakh students - we just did it in 2012), we should actually select a much larger number for 2013 only.

The students are not really used to this new format. They will mentally be preparing for JEE Advanced (since they cannot prepare for it after the results of JEE Mains is out), and telling them just before JEE Advanced that they cannot give the exam for which they have prepared for such a long time is painful for them, at least the first time this happens. Now, JEE in 2012 has been given by 5 lakh students. One would assume that about half of them were serious candidates who had some real hope of getting through (basically students who got non-zero marks in all three subjects). This set could be allowed in 2013. Once this process of two-stage selection is established in the minds of people, non-selection will hurt, but students will be mentally prepared for this possibility. So, if the 2-stage process continues in 2014, we can reduce the number to 100K or less based on data analysis of 2013. But let us have 2.5 lakhs in 2013.

Also, when we say same format, it means the same format. Two exams of 3-hours each, with equal questions from PCM in both exams, etc. I am hearing some stories that it would be only a 3-hour exam. Not in 2013, please.

By the way, I am really hoping that JEE Mains, one day, will have aptitude part as well, and it will be given multiple times in the year. And attempts will be made to standardize this test so that scores in different versions of the test can be compared.

Once again, many students have written to me asking what is the utility of the 2-stage process. Let me take this opportunity to explain that here. JEE Mains will be a test where ranks have to be given to several lakh students, since it will be the primary exam used by many colleges (like AIEEE). It means that several lakh students must get non-zero marks. The bunching of students on the same score will be very high in this exam. At the middle part, a lot of colleges are of similar quality, and hence students with same score can go to one or the other without affecting their quality of education. However, at the top, the quality of education drops substantially after 20-30 institutes. Hence discriminating amongst the top 20-30 thousand students is more important. The current JEE is designed to have less bunching at the top, and a large number of students getting very low score to be able to discriminate amongst the top 20-30 thousand students. Hence admitting students from JEE Mains would have resulted in a sort of lottery and would not have been fair to really good students.

And if we have to have JEE Advanced for this reason, a smaller number for JEE Advanced allows us to experiment and innovate with the exam itself to really select the best for ourselves, and for anyone who would care to look at the merit list of JEE Advanced.

Recall that all earlier proposals have required everyone to give both JEE Mains and JEE Advanced, and that too on the same day. So the compromise formula does not increase the number of exams for students compared to what was being thrust upon us, indeed it reduces an exam for about 10 lakh students. So, it is an improvement over the earlier proposals.

I think, overall, it can be called a reasonable compromise, if some of the issues raised in this blog article are taken care of. I am certainly not excited about it. I do not believe that the 2013 admission process is any better than 2012 admission process. But we have to have a compromise since time is running out for students preparing for 2013 admissions, and the uncertainty must end. However, the compromise does create a platform for positive changes in 2014. I hope that JAB can quickly settle all pending issues so that there is complete clarity on what students can expect in 2013. Also, JAB should immediately form a committee to look into 2014 and beyond, and I hope that this time we will work together from bottoms up to come up with a good admission process.

I request JAB to do the following:
  1. Keep the eligibility for students giving 12th class in 2013 as 70 percentile.
  2. Keep the eligibility for students who gave 12th class in 2012 as 60 percent.
  3. Select 2.5 lakh students from JEE Mains for the JEE advanced.
  4. JEE advanced in 2013 should be same format as JEE 2012, including machine graded, two 3-hour tests, same weight for Physics, Chemistry, and Maths, same syllabus, etc.
  5. Set up a committee who should be charged to improve upon the process for 2014.
  6. Of course, joint counseling with NITs (and indeed anyone else who wants to join, since a software can easily handle multiple merit lists).