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Thursday, June 27, 2013

NIT Admission Issue in High Court

I have just received the following email from Mr. Neeraj Mehrotra.

We have challenged the normalisation procedure being adopted in JEE (Mains) 2013 in AP High Court, Hyderabad vide Writ Petition No. 18252 of 2013. The writ petition came for admission before Hon’ble Justice Ramesh Ranganathan today on 27 Jun 2013.

The hon’ble Court has admitted the writ petition and has directed the respondents viz. Ministry of Human Resource Development, New Delhi, JEE Apex Board (JAB) Central Board of Secondary Education, Delhi and the Executive Director,JEE (Main) New Delhi to file the counter affidavits within two weeks. The Hon’ble Court further directed that admissions to be made into NITs / CFTIs is subject to further orders in the writ petition and directed the respondents to intimate all admitted candidates that their admission is subject to further orders and final outcome of the writ petition pending before the High Court of AP. Sri Ponnam Ashok Goud, Asst Solicitor General, Hyderabad was present in the court and has taken the notices on behalf of the respondents.

He has requested JEE Mains authorities to not release the rank list till the final order is issued in this petition.

I am trying to get a copy of the exact order, but assuming that everything written above is correct interpretation of the order, then JEE Mains can go ahead with declaration of results/ranks, and NITs/CFTIs can go ahead with the counseling and the admission process. But there will be an uncertainty regarding whether they will finally get admission or not.

Two weeks to Government/CBSE/JEE means that they can submit the response by 11th July, and then the court will decide a date of hearing. This is a fairly complex issue, and hence the decision may not be immediate.

Note that the decision appears to be applicable to only NIT/CFTI admissions. Apparently the private universities can go ahead with the admission based on ranks issued by CBSE (if they ignore the request of the applicants and announce the ranks).

Indeed a very interesting development, but given the kind of reaction that the normalization process was getting, it was only to be expected. But how should students react to this (if everything is being correctly interpreted above).

If students have to chose between some NIT and another institute not affected by the court order, it would be preferred to not get into a zone of uncertainty, and choose other fine institutions. I would expect that this order would benefit places like ISM Dhanbad, BITS, IIIT Hyderabad/Delhi/Bangalore, DAIICT, LNMIIT very significantly, as students would rather take a guaranteed seat in these institutions than face the possibility that their admission may be cancelled at any time, or at least their department can be changed any time.

But an interesting development to follow. And expect updates on this page.

Update on 28th June, 07:00 PM.

The issue has been covered by the local Hyderabad media.

Here is the report in Deccan Chronicle and in Times of India, Hyderabad edition.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Guide to JEE Counseling 2013

The JEE (advanced) results are out. And, I am getting emails to write something. But I can't really write much for two reasons. One, IIT Kanpur has its convocation scheduled on 5th July, in which President of India is the Chief Guest, and I am the person responsible for organizing it. Hence cannot afford time to write long blog articles and respond to all emails that it generates. Two, people within IITK tell me that I have lost my freedom the day I agreed to become Dean of Academic Affairs. If I write which can potentially be interpreted as "IIT X is better than IITK in some respect" then it would be highly improper. (Which means that I won't rewrite my guide in 2014 either.)

So this year, I intend to do the following. I will write a bit, and will come back and write a bit more, as and when time permits. So this article will not be static but will keep getting updated.

First of all, you may want to look at the articles I wrote in 2011, and then in 2012.

Next, the changes at IITK. We finally have the rules and framework in place for the most liberal under-graduate program that you can have in India. When you get admission in a particular under-graduate program (including in science), there will be opportunities to do a minor (3-4 courses) in another discipline, or do a secondary major (9-11 courses). There will also be opportunities to do a master's degree along with your undergraduate degree, which could be in the same discipline or in a different discipline. For example, you could do BTech-MTech dual degree in any engineering discipline, or a BS-MS dual degree in any science discipline, or even BTech in an engineering discipline, and MS in a science discipline, or BS in science and MTech in engineering, or BTech in one engineering discipline and MTech in another engineering discipline. All options are open subject to performance of the student. One can also do a BS or BTech followed by MBA, as yet another option. One can also change from existing disciplines to an inter-disciplinary under-graduate program called BTech in Engineering Science. This program is available only after you have completed one year of studies at IITK and is not available through JEE. We have also made our branch change much more liberal than in the past.

Some students of IIT Bombay have created this site which proposes to help students in making the right choices of discipline. I hope other IITs come up with similar sites.

Another very interesting initiative is by IIT Gandhinagar. They are conducting an open house, where anyone within a rank of 4000 can visit their campus and learn about IITGn.  At last, the IITs are learning what the students and parents always knew, that there is a competition for good students amongst IITs, and unless IITs try to attract students, they won't get them.

Added on 22nd June, 09:00 AM

IIT BHU alumni and students have also created this site to provide information to prospective students. The JEE aspirants were never wooed so much in the past.

Added on 22nd June, 02:00 PM

I am fascinated by Economics as a subject, and try to read about it. I was really excited when IITK decided to start an undergraduate program in Economics. Here is a blog by one of the most passionate Economics faculty member of IIT Kanpur for all those who have qualified in JEE advance.

Added on 24th June, 01:00 AM

IIT Kanpur students have started a forum for providing information to prospective students. You will need to have a facebook account and join the group.

Added on 27th June, 02:00 PM

IIT Madras have created a forum on their website for answering queries of prospective students.

I will keep adding such snippets as I find more time and I get to know of more such things. But no comments here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

School Board Results: Moderation or Tampering

Last week, Debarghya Das shocked us by writing a blog on quora, Hacking into the Indian Education System. He revealed two things. One, at least one of the boards did not care for privacy of its students. Two, the marks awarded to the students were not as one would expect in a public exam. The dust had hardly settled (which just means that we were about to forget the story, not that there were any explanations from the board) when Prashant Bhattacharji wrote yet another blog, Exposing CBSE and ICSE: Statistical Insights into the True Lies on your Marksheets. This blog shows that similar things happen in CBSE as well.

When I read the two blogs, I said to myself, there must be some academic reason for the boards to change marks, to moderate the marks as they call it. The search on CBSE site leads me to the following moderation policy.:

Prior to declaration of results of Senior School Certificate (Class XII) and Secondary School (Class X) the Board adopts the Moderation Policy in the following manner: 
  1. To compensate the candidates for the difficulties experienced in solving the question in a specified time due to misinterpretation/ambiguity of questions anderrors, if any, leading to multiplicity of performance and causing constraints on consumption of time for other questions.
  2. To compensate the vagaries and to bring uniformity in the evaluation process.
  3. To bring parity on account of element of subjectivity involved in the evaluation process.
  4. To level up the mean achievements in the set-wise performance of the candidates attributable to the difference in the difficulty level of different sets of question papers in the multiple sets scheme.
  5. To maintain a near parity of pass percentage of the candidates in the current year vis-à-vis preceding years, subject-wise and overall.
The moderation policy is too vague and does not help us understand how the marks are actually changed. The two blogs, particularly the first one, has been covered extensively by media. A lot of questions have been raised which are very uncomfortable and indeed are leading to the public at large losing whatever little faith that had in the boards. This also happens to be the time when the government is asking the public to have faith in the boards, by including the performance in the boards for admission to engineering programs across the country.

Given the timing of these two blogs and the ongoing admission process, one would have hoped that the government would act swiftly and ask the boards to explain the moderation policy at the earliest. They would have explained their policies. We would have pointed flaws in those policies and would have requested them to change those policies in future, but at the end of the day, we would have been happy that the policies were only increasing the marks without any explanation (like fitting the marks on a curve), and the whole process was not completely random. As time passes by, the faith in boards keep reducing and the belief that the changes in the marks are for non-academic reasons keep increasing. Even if there is a good academic reason to do such moderation, it must be made public. We all know what lack of transparency could do even in IIT JEE in the past.

The two blogs strengthen the already strong case that consideration of board marks for engineering admissions was always a bad idea. And notice that CBSE is considered to be amongst the best managed boards in the country. One wonders if that reputation is well deserved, and if it is, then what would be happening in the other boards. But what is clear is that unless boards come clean on their academic processes, they can't be trusted to the extent of using their marksheets in the admission process for highly competitive colleges and universities.

There are other issues that the data is pointing to. There appears to be an extremely liberal policy on grace marks. Do the boards provide an outcome of a course. Do they say things like, "someone who passes an English test can write one page in English on a topic of current interest without too many grammar and spelling errors." Do their passing criteria meet those outcomes. Or are all boards trying to compete with each other in increasing the pass percentage (and making their political masters happy as a result of such a result).

I wouldn't want to use terms like fraud, tampering, lies, etc., for now. I hope the boards will explain all this soon and we will have a chance to discuss their policies as academicians.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

JEE 2013: 30K Missing

We have gone back to a two-tier system after several years. In the first exam (JEE Mains, the erstwhile AIEEE), about 1.52 lakh students were declared eligible to give JEE Advanced exam, which was held on 2nd June. Almost 30,000 students chose not to give this exam. Why would someone not give the exam which is gateway to IITs.

The historical data on AIEEE and JEE exams tells us that it is rare for someone to get a rank worse than 75,000 in AIEEE, and yet get a rank better than 10,000 in JEE. So, if you are close to the cut off marks in JEE Mains, unless you are convinced that this was a particularly bad day and the marks do not reflect your knowledge and preparation, there isn't much point in giving JEE Advanced. And hence a lot of people who were at the bottom of their respective categories decided that it was not worth it.

Of course, this also means that IITs don't need to have15 times as many candidates as the number of seats in the system. The 1.5 lakh number came as approximately 5 times the total number of seats in IITs and NITs combined. Later it was decided that JEE Advanced would decide admissions only for IITs. This should have meant the reduction in eligible numbers to 50,000 (five times the number of seats in IITs). But it was thought that in the first instance of the exam, if we are not changing the format of the exam, a higher number is more desirable. (Indeed, I wrote on this blog that they should have considered permitting 2 lakh students for JEE Advanced in the first instance before we have any data about correlation of ranks between JEE Main and JEE Advanced.)

For future, a formula that I am hearing in the corridors (and hence take no responsibility for its authenticity, but I like it) is that the number of students in JEE Advanced should be decided as higher of the two numbers: One, five times the number of seats. Two, 10 percent more than the last rank of JEE Mains who could get a rank within the top 10,000 of JEE Advanced in a particular year (modulated for categories, etc.). Of course, there is no decision that I have heard of about admission process for 2014. So, only if it is decided to continue with this model in 2014 will the question of how many should give JEE Advanced becomes relevant.

Coming back to the issue of why students have not given JEE Advanced, the second reason that has been offered by some in the know is that since the 80 percentile cut-off has been announced for a couple of large boards before the last date of registration for JEE Advanced, and many of these 1.52 lakh students were not in the top 80 percentile, and hence decided to not register. Since many more boards announced their cutoff after the registration and before the exam, we saw many students who had registered missing in action.

There is an issue here too. The newspapers were mostly reporting only the general category cut-off, while the boards may have announced the cut-off category wise. What if an SC student only read the newspaper, and decided not to register because s/he did not know that there is a separate lower cutoff for SC students. If such a thing has happened with even a few students, it would be very sad. Students work so hard for 2-4 years, and if they lose a chance because of some information gap, it is sad. I don't know what the solution is.

Third reason apparently is that while JEE Mains eligibility is 3 attempts (year of passing 12th class and two years after that), the eligibility of JEE Advanced is 2 attempts. So those who passed 12th class in 2011 were eligible for JEE Mains, but not for JEE Advanced, and hence they decided not to register.

I think we should make the number of attempts as uniform, if we are going to call the two exams by the same name, and pretend that they are just two stages of the same exam.

The fourth reason, as it appeared in one of the newspapers, is that many of the students who declared themselves as belonging to reserved categories, did so on the hope of getting such a certificate somehow. They could not get those certificates (or decided that it was too risky - there are some organizations who, under RTI, are asking for a copy of all caste certificates submitted by students, and getting them verified).

I don't know whether this is true or not, and how many students did not give JEE Advanced for this reason, but if RTI is ensuring that benefit of reservations goes to only those for whom the reservations were created to begin with, it is a good thing.

The fifth reason, which again appeared in one of the newspapers and some people wrote on my facebook wall, is that students who had done well in other exams like BITSAT, or who had admission offers from decent foreign universities, and even if they were in the middle of the selected candidates, they decided that it was not worth trying.

I again don't know how much to trust this argument. I am sure such numbers would be very tiny (at least having spent 25 years in IIT System, I would like to believe that IITs are far superior to anything and everything :-)). But if other institutes and even foreign universities are able to compete with IIT system even for few students, it is a good sign. IIT system needs external competition for its improvement.

The sixth reason that has been suggested on my facebook wall is that the time was too short for registeration. I don't believe this can be the reason. After all, we have had JEE Counseling fully online last year, and we hardly received any complaints about inability of students to fill up the online form. And the time given was similar. The dates were announced much in advance.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My visit to IIT BHU

Last week I traveled to IIT BHU, my first visit to the place after it became the newest IIT. The occasion was a workshop on Academic Affairs that they organized. The first day was a whole day affair where the academic leadership was involved, the Deans, the Heads, Chairpersons of Senate committees, those who are re-writing the academic manuals, ordinances, and so on. The second day (half day, really) was an open interaction session with the entire faculty. I was really touched when during my introduction they pointed to this blog and how I was one of the few faculty members in the existing IITs to support the conversion of IT BHU to an IIT.

The experience was hugely positive. From the intense sessions that we had, it was obvious that they were keenly interested in designing their academic processes with excellence as the only parameter. Not that they were no good earlier, but they were keen to see how the greater academic autonomy could be leveraged to achieve higher quality.

It is obvious that the leadership there has a historic opportunity. How frequently would you come across instances where we have an organization with a glorious history and contributions, and yet not chained to that past. Unlike most older institutions, here was an Old Institute (it is the second oldest institution amongst the IITs) with a strong constituency for change. They were waiting for a new dawn. They wanted to understand the the strengths as well as weaknesses of our processes, so that they can design their own. From the kind of questions that were there, it was obvious that they are doing a lot of homework in terms of knowing other systems.

How often do you get a chance to build a new institute without worrying about civil construction, and immediate hiring of faculty, without which you can't teach in the next semester. How often do you start a new university with a large, distinguished and proud alumni, willing to help every step of the way. IIT BHU gives that opportunity to its leadership.

How often do you see in India a technological institute in the midst of a university with strengths in diverse fields. Indeed, the success of IIT BHU will depend significantly on how they leverage their presence on BHU campus. At IIT Kanpur, we are constantly worried about attracting faculty of humanities and social sciences, and we are never able to offer sufficiently large number of courses in those streams. A typical course has 100+ students, and even that is assigned to the student through a lottery. But on BHU campus, if one can build the right kind of relationships, and the right kind of incentives, the students can be exposed to courses in not just HSS but also performing arts. One could also have electives in law and biology/medicine.

Though I must say that there were some who wanted the changes to happen quickly, let us just copy the IIT Kanpur rulebook lock, stock and barrel. They have to be patient. No system is perfect and each system has grown in its own context and has its own history. The leadership will have to convince them that a bit of uncertainty and lack of clarity for some time will be a small price to pay compared to what an ad-hoc change can cost. One needs to make sure that there is buy in from most of the stake holders. And I must say that the leadership was quite aware of the challenges of change management.

I am truly excited about the emergence of a new IIT in our neighborhood, and look forward to my continued interaction.

Monday, June 3, 2013

JEE 2013: ID Proofs

IITs sent 3-4 representatives to each center to oversee the conduct of the JEE Advanced exam. I was also told to go to one such center.

One of the activities of the IIT representatives is to check the identity of each candidate giving the exam. I did that too. Checked about 120 students in the morning exam, and a different set of 120 students in the afternoon exam. Besides noticing the similarity of their face with the photo that they had provided, we also checked the signatures, and for the first time, the students were asked to bring in an additional ID proof.

About 10 percent students did not bring any. They had to be allowed to give the exam. Then why check the remaining 90 percent. There were many who brought ID cards whose validity date had passed a year or even two years ago. There were many who had brought in school ID cards (which was allowed) but there was no way to verify whether the schools were genuine and the ID cards were genuine.

But most interestingly, there were many who had what I would call a fake ID. Yes, several students had Voter ID cards which would put their age at anything between 19 and 23 years, while the date of birth that they have filled in the JEE forms would mostly put them at 17 or 18 years. Besides, the names on the voter ID card would have different spellings, would either have additional middle name, or sometimes would not have last name.

It shows on one hand that one can not trust the Voters' list, and on the other hand, how the young generation is getting corrupted at a very early age. Someone who can get a fake ID because he does not want to wait till 18 years of age to vote, would he not copy in the exam, if even a small window of opportunity is noticed by him. (I am using masculine gender, since all such cases were of male students.)

One hopes that these students would have written some fake answers, get negative marks, and won't be in the merit list.

Also, when a student does perform poorly at IIT, one has to wonder if the student came to IIT fairly.