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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Why do Seats remain vacant?

Every year, a few weeks after the end of the admission season, there will be a report on vacant seats in IITs, NITs, etc. A fairly large number will be mentioned in the report. And we will be told that this happens because certain disciplines are not at all popular, and should perhaps be closed down, and may be those many seats should be increased in the more popular disciplines.

Indeed, there is no doubt that some disciplines are fancied by the herd of sheeps, assumed to bring in the riches. But is that the only reason. Are there really no students interested in studying those disciplines. In particular, given that a significant number of graduates don't go for core jobs, but instead go for MBA, finance jobs, IT jobs, and other such careers, how come such students are not taking admission in these "branded" colleges.

The reason for vacant seats, unfortunately, is not the lack of demand, but the stupidity of the admission process.

It is a common belief among the public as well as academic administrators that if we do a large number of rounds for admission, all or most seats will be filled. So we have seen our admission process go from 1 round to 2 to 3 and this year to 6 rounds for the admission to NITs and IITs. It is also believed that if we do joint counseling of larger and larger number of institutions, the number of vacant seats will go down substantially. Of course, both joint counseling and larger number of rounds would help a bit, but they can not solve the problem on their own.

If we look at the statistics of the 6 rounds, we notice the following: After the first round, there were 6490 vacancies. That means that so many people did not accept the admission offers. This is pretty reasonable given that there were almost 35,000 seats and many among those 35,000 would prefer places like BITS, IIIT-Delhi, and so on. The next round filled up these 6490 seats (well, barring a few that remained vacant. I am ignoring them since they are too small and don't change the main argument of this post). However, at the end of the second round, there were 2716 vacancies. Again, pretty reasonable given that they must have been offered unpopular programs and many would have preferred colleges outside JOSAA and not accepted admission. At the end of the 3rd round, the number of vacant seats come down to 1837, which is consistent with the argument made above, and is telling us that if we just keep doing a few more rounds, we would be able to find students for most vacant seats.

However, the story changes after this. At the end of the 4th round, the number of vacancies actually increase to 2021. Why did this happen. Well, some (or many) of those 1837 did not accept the admissions offered to them. But now, even those who had accepted admissions earlier, have started withdrawing. And this withdrawal becomes a serious business during the 5th round. At the end of 5th round, the number of vacancies is 4094.

A large number of students have withdrawn during the 5th round. Why did they not withdraw earlier if they were unhappy with their admission offer. Well, there was no incentive for them to withdraw, so might as well hope against hope and see what they can get in the 5th round (and what they can get in other colleges outside JOSAA). They withdrew during the 5th round since they were told that if they did not withdraw, their entire payment may be forfeited. (Some dd not withdraw even then, since they know that in the future MHRD will come to their aid and ask the institutes to return the money).

The government insists that there can be no financial penalty for withdrawal till the beginning of the semester. So we need to have all but the last round before the deadline of withdrawal, and only one round after the last date for withdrawal.

Unless people, who are not going to join, withdraw, we don't admit more students.
There is no incentive for people to take early decisions and withdraw as soon as they have multiple options.
But most importantly, and this is something that is often ignored by our academic administrators, even when someone withdraws, and there is a vacancy, we are filling that vacancy by someone who showed willingness to accept that admission more than a month ago, and who, in the last one month, has probably got many other admission offers. But since the counseling group does not know who is still interested one month later, they end up making offers to next in the queue who are not interested.

So, if consider the JOSAA admission process, the 6th round has filled up about 4000 vacancies, but if we take the survey of all institutes who have got admission through JOSAA, some time in August, I would not be surprised if there are still 5000 vacancies, which will not be filled.

Is there any way that we could have offered admission to more students. Of course, yes. But not by more rounds. We will have to solve problem by looking at the genesis of the problem.

So the problems and potential solutions are:

1. We admit students only after some people withdraw. Why can't we admit more students then the so-called number of seats. We have data for many years and we know roughly how many people will not accept offers. Based on historical data, we can always admit more students. We can be a bit conservative not to get into a situation where we have more students than what we can handle. But let us face it. If in a particular year, we do get a few extra students, heavens are not going to fall.

2. There is no incentive for people to withdraw early. This is a huge problem and a lesson. When you try to be populist and do things which common people will consider as friendly to them, you will actually end up doing things which hurt common people. Allowing students withdrawal till the last minute without any penalty will result in unfilled seats. And thousands of students not getting admission hurts more than a few thousand rupees loss to a few people. The right thing to do will be to declare that free withdrawal can only be done till X days before the semester and after that deadline, every day, there will be an additional deduction of the money if a student withdraws. This will ensure that people withdraw early and we are able to conduct not just one round but multiple rounds after people have started withdrawing.

3. We don't know who all are still interested in the programs one month after they filled in the choices. This is really the biggest problem. Currently, the way we fill up seats is by way of a "Spot" round (which is not happening in JOSAA this year). In this round, people have to apply afresh. So those who are no longer interested are out of the system. And invariably they have to be at a location physically and give a significant amount of money within minutes of getting admission offer and since it is being done through physical attendance, if someone does not want admission, the next person is offered the same.

Spot round has its own problems, of course. Traveling on short notice is not easy and airlines make a lot of money in this season. (Here you go, the money that you saved through full refund in one college, you paid to the airline. So you really did not save much.) Everyone has spot round in the last week of July or 1st few days of August. So there isn't much option regarding traveling. Invariably, spot round happens after the semester has started. So the students are joining late, have missed out on the orientation program, have missed out on the first assignments, first lab, introductory lectures, etc.

Another way to solve this problem will be to have an incentive for students to withdraw from the counseling process. Again, you don't have any other handle on the students except a bit of financial handle. So if JOSAA (and other similar counseling processes) could ask for more money after the first couple of rounds, which will be refunded progressive less as the days pass by. Also, the student should be able to delete options that s/he has filled in. So you could ask them to deposit Rs. 10,000 after the second round, and then say that if the student is not offered admission in any of his/her choices, the entire Rs. 10,000 will be refunded. On the other hand, if the student is indeed offered admission, and s/he decides not to accept it, then the refund will be based on how delayed the withdrawal has been. This will ensure that as soon as I get an offer from another good college, I go to JOSAA website, and remove some of my lower preferences which I would not want to accept in comparison with the offer that I have received. This makes the counseling process much more efficient and reduces the stress levels in the system tremendously. Coupled with a few extra admissions, this can really revolutionize the admission process and make it absolutely smooth. But it will require a small financial penalty for late decision making by students and parents.

To conclude, the seats remain vacant not because there is no one to accept those seats, but because we have a brain dead (but populist) admission process which can not identify the students who may be interested in those seats.


Abhishek Maiti said...

Sir, I also think the committee should do away with physical reporting and make the entire process online as institutes like IIIT, Bangalore has done. It is very tough for students who are residing in tier 3 cities. Also, document verification pertaining to certain councils like JAC should be made completely online(including bonus markings). The students are called just to get a look at proofs (KVPY, NTSE etc) which the council could very easily obtain from the respective sites where results are posted by just knowing the roll no. attributed to that particular exam.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

The physical reporting ensures that the Institute knows about your interest. Similarly, having a large amount of money to be paid is only to ensure that we know your interest. Since we can not incentivize you to keep telling us your interest through the threat of deduction of refund, we do other things to gauge your interest. And people are willing to spend thousands of rupees on travel (sometimes 10s of thousands of rupees), get inconvenienced, mortgage their assets to pay high initial deposits, but a university deducting some money would be opposed.

Abhishek Garg said...

Sir, the best option would be to bring more tier-1 colleges into JOSAA like BITS, IIIT, DTU, NSIT, DAIICT, LNMIIT.
Expect BITS most top colleges outside JOSAA accept JEE Mains Marks, so inlcuding them in JOSAA would be better.
Also many students wait for last round for withdrawing money as they await results of other counselling process, penalizing them monetarily would be a bit harsh on them.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Abhishek, if we can bring in all admissions to all universities on the common platform, the problem will largely go away. But even if that is feasible, is it desirable. Are there other consequences of such a system. I will tell you one. In a large system, people are very scared of doing anything as a special case for the fear of a court case and stay on admissions. If university X wants to do a special case, all other universities on the platform will not let it happen since the stay from a court will impact them all. In a smaller systems, I find that we are able to handle so many special requests. This time, for example, there was a soldier from the border who called me saying that being away from home, he will take an extra day to arrange large amount of money. As a single institute, we have always helped such requests. But in a large system, the person's daughter had to give up the seat she deserved. I wrote recently in another blog about how people may be allowed to change their choices. It will be simpler to implement such things in small systems but not in the large systems. Also, different universities want to start the programs at different times. How would we handle that in a common large system.

I think, as a nation, we somehow believe that making everything uniform, a strong centralization, etc., will solve our problems. I am perhaps part of a very small minority who believe that our problems are because of centralization.

siddharth jain said...

Again sir you are spot on identifying the problem. I fully agree with the views of imposing financial penalties for late withdrawals but as you have also pointed out that people in hope of MHRD have even not withdrawn though they are sure not to join the allotted college, there is one more angle to it. With growing wealth there are many students and parents who are ready to loose 45000 rupees. Thus year almost 3 such students contacted me who were like ready to get amount forfeited in hope a a very marginally better option. So with such trends this will also not be very successful though it will help a bit.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Siddharth, The rich will always find a way to survive any system. But the point here is that a system which was meant to protect the weaker section (they should not lose money if they don't take admission) is actually causing serious problems for the same section. Earlier, when one could deduct money from refund, the deposit amounts were very small, and one could afford to give that deposit in 2-3 places, losing some money whenever one withdrew. In the current system where loss is really trivial, universities have started demanding a very large amount of initial deposit to show your seriousness. And for poor to arrange that kind of money for 2-3 places is extremely difficult. As I mentioned above, there are examples where the person could not arrange the money within a couple of days that the universities demand that the money be deposited. And at the end of the day, you have so many seats vacant.

Those who can game the current system (people with decent performance in JEE and having decent money to deposit in more than one place), are happy with the system. And those who can't game this system don't quite realize that the dice is loaded against them. They would still prefer full refund since they don't realize that the system of full refund is causing these sky high initial deposits, only 2-3 days for making those deposits, and that seats are vacant because of this system.

Ashutosh Ranjan said...

IIIT Hyderabad had a pretty good counselling process this year. They started decreasing the amount that could be refunded from the second round only. So, if you got a seat in the first round you'll have to pay the full fee and as the rounds go past the amount that could be refunded on withdrawal would decrease by 20,000 each round.

Shubham Singh said...

sir earlier when there used to be separate examinations..
we were lacking much of immediate access to the administration like internet and cheap flight links which are definitely available now..
and the admissions through JEE were quite satisfactory with those kind of resources available..
Then what is the benifit of dilution that we are getting whether in short term or in long term..
It is actually diluting the brand and posing a threat to the farsightedness and the clear mindset of the aspirants who have aspired to touch the sky at this young age..
and the growth of the nation can be sustainable only if you pursue your interest democratically and with a clear mindset..
This definitely needs a change..

Sameer Dhingra said...

Been going through college applications for months now. The system is massively screwed up. Maybe the reason India is lacking in skilled people is that we're putting smart kids (hint: me) through hell. Many months of anxiety have passed and still there's a form to filled out on 26th July. Got admission into a college and I'm going to leave it after 3 days of attending, forfeiting 70,000 rupees of my parent's hard earned money. A seat at a really good college shall go vacant thanks to this amazing process of 'counseling'.

Yes, I admit I'm also to blame here for taking admission when I have no intention of attending but who's really at fault here?

gautam barua said...

The issue of refunding deposits came up due to court intervention. Some private institutions were making a big pile of money by offering admissions early and taking deposits knowing fully well that these students would not join as they would get admission at better places. So, after semester started, they would have another round and offer admissions. So they collected about twice the amount of fees they would have otherwise got. A Court then gave an order that if a student does not join, but the seat is filled up, then the fees collected from the person who did not join had to be refunded. MHRD adopted the same method blindly, and JEE admins became jealous defenders of this system. For CFTIs, the extra money could go to the Govt and I am sure no court will object. So this problem can be easily solved.
So, the process will improve if two of your suggestions are taken up: a) allow deletion of choices during the rounds (but not additions), and b) impose financial disincentives for not withdrawing early.
But the lure of an IIT seat is a major problem for other CFTIs. So one suggestion I have is that IIT counselling end earlier (say after round 3) and we have a number of "IIT-free" rounds of counselling. Then those who do not withdraw dreaming of an IIT seat, will get eliminated from these later rounds.
In any case, a spot round is required for most institutes. It is not a problem of branches (we have only cse and ece). Our Institute is in its fourth year of admission through CSAB / JOSAA and we filled every seat in the first three years. But we had to admit about 15 - 20% (9-12 out of 60) in the spot round (after JOSAA's spot round!) every time. We hold our spot round before classes "really start" (about a week late) and it has worked well for us. But in spot rounds, lower ranked students get in and the impact of this will take longer to evaluate. It is of course unfair to those many higher ranked students who would have gladly taken admission if only they had got a chance.

Prashant Gupta said...

Any solution of modern engineering necessarily involves computer programming.So more then 50% of CS should be made part of every Branch curriculum.this way every one should be CS enabled.Secondly every IIT should have same Branch change rules.The Branch change rules should form part of JOSSA business rules.

Baivawa Narayan Singh Narayan Singh said...

Now, whenever one prescribes a solution the effectiveness of the solution ,in large measure, rests on the diagnosis of the problem. The current predicament of the counselling scenario is mainly because there are students who are "speculative investors" in the process. Disincentives to such speculative investment is a good solution and should be incorporated in the counselling process at an early stage as has been suggested by you. I also suggest that the penalty for withdrawal should be so much as to have effective deterrence on such students. In that case nobody would try risking a withdrawal in the hope of MHRD coming to their rescue afterwards. If they belong to weaker sections economically, then remission(full or partial) can be accorded to them. There should be an option to accept an allotted seat. If the candidate at any stage accepts a seat in the counselling then he is liable for penalty in the event of his withdrawal at a later stage. After the end of regular rounds,the no. of seats lying vacant should be assessed and a round for filling them should be organised for the same. If at any stage a candidate accepts a seat then whatever he gets in latter regular rounds in accordance with his priority cum choice list will also be treated as having been accepted by the candidate. Only the students who have not accepted seats should be allowed the privilege of the additional round.

What in effect i am suggesting is that acceptance of seat should be treated as final and there should be no formal withdrawal allowed for such candidates. Rather, penalty must be imposed on them for withdrawal. Remission should be allowed only for "economically weaker sections". But, since compliance with the penalty can be a serious issue, the forfeiture system must be followed and the amount liable to be forfeited must be commensurate with the parental income of the candidate. The genuine petitions for remissions can be entertained afterwards.

This will solve many issues. Students who are economically well-off have deep pockets as they keep expensive colleges like IIITD,IIITH,BITS,private colleges as options. They can be brought to their knees as they are often the defaulters. The poor and distressed can be availed the benefits of remission. Economically weaker ones will be able to pay less for the counselling.

But to do all this you neither require willpower nor acumen. You only require statutory autonomy and powers. Hence the counselling body should be made a statutory body. Also, since these will only hurt the prospects of private and other state govt. colleges, the members cannot and should not be drawn from such institutions nor can such members be allowed to serve in any capacity in these institutions later on in their career. The members should have a fixed tenure of service(3 years minimum 5 years maximum). In this way you will get committed and dedicated individuals for conducting the counselling in a fair,non-partisan and transparent manner.

I also suggest that NIT ,IIIT students(at the time of counselling) should be debarred from taking JEE as soon as possible. This will also put a check on "speculative investors".

Coming to your arguments in favor of non-popular courses. Maybe if after knowing about the prospects,opportunities of such courses candidates may like to take them. Therefore, we come all the way back to awareness. We need a dedicated counselling body that would educate the candidates about all such non-popular courses. If even after continued awareness these course are taken , should it not be a sufficient reason for their removal? If even after doing engineering,students are going for an MBA then it only puts a question mark on the counselling process. Also going for an MBA has many dimensions to it which you are ignoring rather blatantly. Even if you have a case,one must remember "two wrongs do not make a right".

siddharth jain said...

@gautam Sir is spot round going to happen this year as JOSAA clearly wrote no spot round will happen.

gautam barua said...

There is pressure on JOSAA to have another, spot round. As per their web site, there are 3195 vacant seats acroos all institutes. But this is not the full story. These many seats were not opted for in the sixth round. But many more are not joining the Institutes where they have "accepted" seats. In our Institute, there were 8 vacant seats after round 6 (as part of the 3195). But another 15 did not join. So the actual vacancy was 23. So the actual vacancies may be about 6000 (I guess). We had our own spot admission and have filled up 21 of these seats.
To have a spot round under JoSAA, you have to allow students to make choices again from among the vacant seats otherwise it will just be round 7 with similar results. Now the problem will be that a student who has already joined an institute may complain if JOSAA allots a higher choice seat of his to a student with a lower rank. This need to "be fair" makes implementing a common spot round very difficult to implement. Institutes have to do individual spot rounds, inspite of their limitations.

Mukul Sinha said...

@gautam Sir, I fully agree with you. Individual institutes should be allowed to fill vacant seats instead of conducting Special Round or Spot Round.

divyanshu singh said...

Sir if spot round happens then will it also be for 98 vacant seats at IITs

Manish Thakkar said...

Sir, I tend to agree with your assessment however it needs to be noted that one reason for seats being vacant is gradual loss of interest in engineering, especially the "less in demand" branches & pure sciences like Physics, Chemistry etc.

Dilip Sukhwani said...

Sir, First of all the ranking process itself is not correct. The CBSE students suffer a lot because of the all india rankings given by CBSE. Let me give you an example a student of CBSE with 93 % and 136 marks in JEE gets a rank of 43000 and the student of state board with 91 % and 120 marks in JEE gets a rank of 36000. How curious way is this doing away with the ranking. Therefore the people dont get the branch of their choice and wait till the last round hoping for getting the branch and college of their choice. In the meantime, the state govt. also conducts the admission along with private institutes like LNMIIT, Thapar,Manipal,SRM,VIT and Bits. So if they dont get the admission to the branch and college of their choice they opt for withdrawl.
My suggestion is that the Josaa should have conducted the admission rounds based on the JEE marks only and the rankings should also had been given based on JEE marks by CBSE. Further the person who has given their choice filling and if he gets in his top 5 choices he should not be allowed to withdraw,slide or float. This will make the things little bit easier. Further if all the top state govt colleges and some good private colleges are brought under Josaa this will help in 2 ways. First the top state govt. colleges which are getting neglected by the top notch students now a days will start looking at these options. Another thing is that even the state govt colleges will also try to maintain their brand and this in turn will help more students to find good colleges in less time and less waste of money and lesser overheads to the govt.

gautam barua said...

Your view that this is unfair is based on your opinion that State Board marks and JEE marks are absolute (the latter is, since it is a common exam). But 91% in that State Board must clearly be getting a higher percentile to the student than your 93% in CBSE. In AP Board, maybe 93% is a low mark! In fact, my opinion has been that the ranking is biased in favour of CBSE as the biasing of Board ranks is done based on the performance of that state board's students in the JEE. This clearly makes the State results dependent on JEE results, not the intention behind including Board ranks in the ultimate ranking. Anyway there is no point in arguing about this as from next year only JEE marks will be used and so CBSE students and coaching students will have clear advantages (as before).

Shivkunar Singh said...

Now josaa and csab have denied conducting spot round to fill vacant seats. Will NITs conduct them on their own or not

Sumana Priya Saride said...

Sir,the counselling process has deprived the opportunity for many students to study in prestigious colleges of the country. the process lead to more than 3000 seats go vacant even after 6th round. These were the statistics before the reporting at the RC's and allotted colleges.Sir, if a spot round is announced by autonomous colleges like NIT'S how would we come to know about it? should we have to see the websites of the colleges daily?

Mukul Sinha said...

Sir, there should be single exam (JEE Main) to fill up seats in State Govt and Private Institutes as well on the line of NEET and govt should make a law in this regard. In fact, JEE Main should be conducted as qualifying exam and JEE Advanced as main exam for preparation of merit list. The number of qualifying students can be incensed to 500000 from the present 200000. In this way standard of exam will also be high and students will pushed to develop comprehension and problem solving skills.

Prashant said...

Centralization does more harm than good especially when the system is so big.
What is some CS/Economics department doesn't care about the Chemistry marks. Or the BioTech department doesn't care about Physics performance. Or some department wants to give wildcard entry to Olympiad winners etc. Also, the academic aspect of the JEE has never been discussed. What kind of a student does IIT have in mind. Have difficult questions, sure. But the syllabus still has things which require a lot of pure memorization, which in turn keeps Coaching centers thriving. Here I do some analysis about the academic nature of the JEE. Sharing it because it will be useful if you express your thoughts about this. Some parts of the syllabus are quite unnecessary and perhaps an impediment for serious candidates who might be able to afford something better.

Shivkunar Singh said...

Any chance that MHRD intervene to fill these vacant seats in IITs, NITs, IIITs and CFTIs


Now IITs get parrots who mug-up and vomit. Creativity is limited only to computer programming only. Rest of the fields are dying. If at all, the passouts look for software jobs, with exception of few going for higher education. In this regard, there is need to review the course content. Also ONLY TWO ATTEMPT criteria for JEE should be revised to at least THREE or upto 21-years of age. We need leaders to come out of IITs, not muggers.

Rajan Bhatia said...

Just see the careless attitude of MHRD as well as the heads of concerned institutions. No body is bothered. If 25 percent of seats remains vacant so what. They will get their salaries. If career of 3000 kids is spoiled why should it bother us.No we will not conduct spot round because rules are rules.