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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Improvement in Counseling Process

This is the admission season and counseling is the most common word that I hear in this season. Conceptually, the process is simple. A bunch of universities come together for joint admission process. Each one of them decides how they will rank the applicants. Each applicant submits a list of programs/institute pairs in the order of preference. The counseling software goes through all this data and matches applicants with a program/institute pair while ensuring that no one who is ranked higher as per that institute's ranking of candidates is given a lower preference than this combination.

Historically, the choice list is sacrosanct. You can't change anything in this once the allotment process starts. So you must fill up your order of preference very very carefully.

If we go back many years, the student had very limited options once the process of admission begins. If you are offered admission, you have only two choices - either pay the fee and you will then be considered in all subsequent rounds, and you finally join the program which was allotted to you in the last round. The other option was to opt out, and in that case you will be out from all future rounds as well. If weren't offered admission till a particular round, then of course your only option was to be considered in the next round.

The first improvement in this process happened when people started realizing that if someone has got admission in an IIT, and has blocked a seat in an NIT, inability to withdraw in the middle is ensuring that that seat goes waste. So a withdrawal anytime till a last date was introduced early on, which essentially meant that you are out of the system and you will not be considered for any future admission round either.

Often, the last round of admission would happen after the classes had already started. A large number of institutes and universities in India believe that their teachers are anyway useless and hence if admissions happen even one month after the semester has started, no one loses anything. However, the students had other issues. If I have joined NIT X, and after a week of classes, you tell me to move to NIT Y within a day or two, it will be a huge problem for me to pack up, find train reservation, or travel in unreserved class to reach the other corner of the country, settle their without the benefit of an orientation program, quickly make new friends, copy notes of the classes that I have missed and so on, only to be told to get out and join NIT Z after a few days. So there was a demand that once I have joined a particular institute, I do not wish to change my location even if I am getting my higher preference in a subsequent admission round. And this introduced the concept of "sliding." That I am only willing to be considered for my higher preference in the same campus but nothing else. Of course, this option was made available not only for later rounds, but even earlier rounds, so that one can plan one's travel and get reservations done. Notice that the order of preferences remained sacrosanct. Sliding only allowed that some of my options could be removed from the list, but those that remain were strictly in the same order that I filled up in the beginning.

People extended this further and said that once I have got admission in a particular program, I don't want to go through a phase of anxiety regarding what I might get in the subsequent rounds, and I just want to freeze my admission. This resulted in creation of "freeze" option for the students. This option is often used not to avoid anxiety, but when someone wants to rethink the order of preference, and feels that the current admission offer is better than what one might get in the subsequent rounds. Which ever way you look at it, essentially what has happened is that we have allowed the student to delete a large number of options, without giving an option to change the order of preference of the remaining list.

What next?

The biggest problem in today's counseling process is the following. When I was filling up the choice list, I did not have any admission offers. I was interested in 50 different programs, and I listed all of them in the order of my preference. However, a week later, I received an admission offer from another college which I would rank higher than the last 10 options out of 50 that I have filled. If out of these 50, I receive an admission offer in my choice number 41st, I really don't want to accept it, since I have a "better" offer outside this system, but if I don't accept it, I would not be considered for my higher preferences in later rounds. So I accept it knowing fully well that if I don't get higher preferences I won't join this program. This causes inefficiency in the system and hurts everyone - this student, other students, and the institute. We must solve this problem. And the interesting thing is that it is absolutely trivial to solve this problem. Most counseling softwares would probably need a few lines of code to change to allow this. So when a student is offered a particular choice, the student should be able to say that I don't want to accept this, but I still want to be considered for my higher preferences. To ensure seriousness of this choice, one may take a bit of money also from the student. And programming wise, this essentially means that the current offer and any lower options are deleted for this student. Notice that this is exactly what the software was doing in "sliding" - delete certain options without changing the order of preference for the remaining options.

Actually, allowing students to delete certain options at any time without changing the order of remaining options will solve other problems as well, and this does not create any problem for the counseling process. For example, we went through the historical need for "sliding" where we said that it was introduced because it was difficult to move from one institute to another at very short notice. Consider this. I have been allotted a program in NIT Allahabad. I certainly don't want to travel 700 KM to go to NIT Jaipur in the next round. However, I have no problems in moving to IIIT Allahabad, the college next door, in the next round. The "sliding" option does not help me there.

And hence what is needed is an option to delete some program/institute pairs from my original list at any time. And as long as the order of remaining options remain the same as in the original list, it won't create any problems for the allotment process. Having this option allows a more efficient allocation, which benefits all stakeholders.

Why is original order of preference sacrosanct?

There are many students who want to change their order of preference after the allotment process has started. This happens because they normally do not have adequate time to do a proper evaluation of all options and do fill up some of the options that they later regret. While we may not be sympathetic to such students, if allowing change would cause problems for our process and create confusion, but if nothing like that would happen, could we not allow some change of order of preferences?

Changing the original order of preference could lead to small problems. Let me give an example. Suppose JEE Rank 1 has given CSE at IIT Kanpur as the first option initially and received that admission offer. Now, she wants to change it to CSE at IIT Bombay after knowing that everyone prefers that IIT. If we allow this, in the next round, this girl will get CSE at IIT Bombay, and someone who had been offered CSE at IITB in the first round would be told, sorry, we are withdrawing our offer. A naive implementation would do this. So we need to be careful in implementation. No one should get a lower preference in any subsequent round. Once an offer of admission has been made, in future, the student must either remain with that admission offer or get an offer which was a higher preference. Under no circumstances can one be given a lower preference in a later round.

But does it mean that there can be no change in original order at all, and all changes will cause such problems. Certainly not. First of all, the logic of allotment can be changed to ensure that the student in our example above gets CSE at IITB only if a seat gets vacated under normal circumstances, and not otherwise. The logic will be a bit complicated but not something that can not be coded.

However, somethings can still be allowed without getting into such problems. If we consider a student who has received an admission offer to a program which was 10th in the preference list. At this time, any re-ordering of preferences within the top 9 preferences would not cause any difficulty or confusion in the subsequent rounds. The problem of what we describe above in the example of JEE 1 student happens when we want to shift any of the lower preferences to higher preferences. So if we are shifting what was earlier at #11 in this example to #9, we could potentially get into the problem.

As I state above, we could rewrite the logic of allotment to handle this as well, but if those managing counseling feel uncomfortable with that, at the very least we can do two thing that I have stated above:

1. Allow deletion of any option at any time, including when it is being offered.
2. Allow reordering of options among those which are higher than the currently allotted option.

The first one would enhance the efficiency of the process tremendously which is beneficial to all stakeholders. The second one would allow rethink on part of students.

Of course, this has security implications. If we allow such changes, what stops a hacker to change someone's options to benefit some other student. Notice that in the current system, for sliding or freezing, the student is required to be physically present in some location. We could do the same thing for any change in the list. You have to be physically present. Of course, that would mean increased costs. A person has to receive a form, verify identity, and then allow. To ensure that such changes are not done routinely and very frequently, one may keep some price for such a change. (And of course, the security implications are exaggerated. When we can allow banking transactions based on OTP and other second factor authentication, we could implement something similar for these changes as well.)



I agree with both the points.While the mock allocation helps a bit and allows rearrangement of choices ,I feel they should also give the closing ranks so that a practical reordering of choices can be made.

prasun said...

This problem was solved by the Shapley-Gale algorithm in 1962

Aman Pratap Singh said...

Most of the candidates fill choices only by looking on previous year cutoffs. They prioritize choices by closing ranks and then end up with program they aren't interested in.

MHRD should organise a orientation session (either online or offline) before choice filling so that each candidate can fill their choices as per their interest not on the basis of past year ranks.

Harshit Bisht said...

Although I do agree that such a system would only give more power to the student, I believe the current counseling system is good enough and does not require changes. What needs to change is the amount of information available about different programs. Unless you have reliable, descriptive information available, it is hard to gain more insight about the choices you have filled in the few days gap between rounds of counseling

iitmsriram said...

@prasun, JoSAA has a nice report where the algorithmic details are documented. JoSAA's deferred acceptance algorithm is a variation / generalisation of Shapely - Gale. The JoSAA report can be found at URL given below. I think one should read the report to understand what has been done.

prabha said...

You can have your cake and eat it the case of the allotments where students want secure seat at that they want to have higher choices open.

The IIT advanced website shown the statistics of the students who selected IIT in the first round and shown how many students have not selected IIT who are within 1000 ranks. This done only first round. Why the same statistics should not be shown up to the last ranked admission say 6000 or so. Also even further round like third round, fourth round they should show the statistics how many students have opted out of IIT up to the last cut off rank level.
Now JOSSA or another body should try to collect the details the persons moved/surrendered/not availed joss allotment and where they have taken admission.(not easy task)
Generally people might have taken admission like BITS or IIIT Hyderabad, DTU, IIIT Delhi, IIIT Bangalore, IIST etc.
In future try to bring this allotment like BITS(they can have their exam deciding factor*) and other inst/universities along with JOSAA allotment [*as such as now itself deciding factor of allotment is different for NITs and IITs.]
By doing this Integrated joint allotment will bring down the vacant seats less and students will be benefited.
Sone private universities deliberately keep their counseling even before rank list of main or result of advance is out and this people may not join this scheme, but students also may not prefer this universities over NITs and IITs. Hence not joining by this universities will not affect much.

Baivawa Narayan Singh Narayan Singh said...

I think that the biggest problem in counselling is that students do not know where their interests actually lie. This problem is further aggravated as institutes offer very peculiar courses(esp. the iits) which the students have no time nor competence to understand or gauge about the future prospects,the scope,the career options that the courses entail. In such a situation students apply the rule of thumb very naively.

1. Take any seat in the iits based on the last year cutoffs.
2. Then take any seat in the NITs based on last year's cutoff.
3. If one is from delhi/ncr then take cs at dtu/nsit in preference to nits.
4. Take IIITA IT if one does not get into cs at NIT T,W,K,A or dtu/nsit cs/coe or iiith cs.
5. if BITs PIlani(pilani campus) cs/eee is offered then take it in preference to cs/it at nits,iiits,new iits.
6.take bits pilani(pilani campus) civil,mechanical in preference to bad trades at iits.
7. take cs/it at stu/nsit/bits pilani/iiita/iiith in preference to bad trades at iits.

Now,this is the level to which the engineering education has been relegated to. Students have no inclination towards engineering rather engineering has become the default abode of students. Parents think of engineering as a panacea to all their problems. I fail to understand even know that if one has been able to solve objective problems in physics,chemistry,maths how does this make him a promising candidate for becoming a good engineer. Problem solving is what we do all our life. There are problems of different types requiring different skill sets. Just because you are solving a narrow set of problems in PCM does not mean that you deserve to get yourself trained as an engineer. The approach should be only to see to it that the candidate thinks logically,approaches a problem methodically,uses sound and scientific arguments in his approaches and understands the significations,implications,opportunities the problem entails . It is the approach of solving something rather than the solution itself that is important. The approach being followed in india is the latter which has resulted in grave problems.

My solution,hence, would be to first revolutionise the way a candidate's aptitude is checked in line with more emphasis being given on approach rather than the end. Secondly, abolish the peculiar courses that are a source of confusion. This includes dual,integrated,specialised courses. If one wants to boost research then incentive should be given for the same during the course not at the end or at the beginning. Also the prospects,scope that the courses entail must be spelt out in vivid detail by the counselling site. There must be uniformity in the courses being offered at btech stage across participating institutes. The professors can exercise their cherished autonomy in designing electives.

Lastly, the body conducting exams must be completely separated from the body doing counselling. A clear cut division of labour must be followed to reduce the burden. The body responsible for conduct of exam must have eminent scientists/technocrats from india or abroad. These two bodies must be made statutory. Since the institutes involved are looking for individuals having aptitude for science/engineering the question of infringement of their autonomy is infructuous. And yes CBSE must be thrown out of this game sooner than later.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Prabha, while JOSSA may find it difficult to have data on other colleges, they should certainly make public more details of the counseling process as you mention.

Prashant Gupta said...

Indian Railway offers in real time seat allocation ,wait list clearance etc.I don't understand why the JOSSA can't do so.As soon as someone withdraw , the logic should allocate.,and inform via SMS.Secondly why not iits allow maximum of CS courses to every one.So each student will also be a CS graduate along with his engineering degree.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Prashant, In Railways, if I am willing to go by any of the 10 trains, I actually have to buy 10 tickets, pay full fare for all 10 of them, and then pay significant cancellation charges on 9 of them. In JOSSA, you can apply for all colleges, all programs without paying for even one of them. Having a separate waiting list for each train with a very simple logic of first-come-first-served can not be compared with a combined list of almost 1000 different programs, with several different ranking lists.

If we can charge fee in advance with the stipulation that it will be refunded if you withdraw/cancel a few days in advance of the semester, then one can put in some more computing resources to process a withdraw in real-time.

prabha said...

as said in first paragraph of Prof comment railway reservation no way can be compared to the allotment of Josaa.

Withdraw cancellation was allowed now up to firth round and other person were getting seats.(even you can say it as realtime)
But further extending up to the start of semester may encourage manipulation by blocking the seats and surrendering it later.
Note this seats later has to be allotted in (realtime) like spot round etc.
Also whatever is done some seats may remain vacant and it should also be noted that this seats will be allotted(demand courses) after first year by sliding option. This makes the students work hard in new environment of hostel etc away from family to avail this sliding seats.
And the herd movement of our students may complicate the allotment process if each round student were allowed to change their preference of order during allotment in Josaa.
Atleast now by the present system of joint IIT, NIT, GIFT has reduced the number of vacant seats.
Next year ISER may be added also further atleast govt. institutes like IIST etc should be added in future.

gautam barua said...

These suggestions are good and I hope they are used next year, but they will not bring about dramatic improvements. Lack of knowledge of Institutions, inability to evaluate alternatives properly, different views of different members of a family, all create huge problems. Samples of some phone calls I had:
1. Sir, I am sorry, Mom won ( a girl tells me). She is worried about the hostel being in flats. It was clear she wanted to join.
2. Sir, I have got XXX rank in SC category, why have I not got a seat? Did you give our Institute as an option? No Sir. Then why are you calling me? :)
3. Sir, I want to do CSE and so I am not joining your institute. Why did you then give ECE as an option at our institute? My father told me to give as many options as possible.
4. Sir, I got CSE in DTU. As it is near home, I am not joining your institute. But you are losing 45000/-. Why did you not withdraw as soon as you got DTU? Sir, I was hoping for an IIT seat till the last moment.

Then there will be those who will not even inform us they are not joining. We will have spot admissions nad students with much lower ranks will get admission.

Baivawa Narayan Singh Narayan Singh said...

Prof. Barua is spot on. So, I suggest that the government involves all stake holders and carves out two independent statutory bodies. One for the conduct of exam and the other for the purpose of counselling. The one conducting counselling should address all the issues that prof. Barua and I have already enlisted in our comments. Since the body would be statutory it will be a continuous body dedicated to the purpose of streamlining the process and achieving transparency and efficiency at the same time. This body should be allowed to rope in experts from wherever it deems fit. The participating institutes will of course have a representation in its governance but outside experts can also be allowed as members. The one conducting exam should consist of eminent scientists/technocrats from india or abroad. The participating institutes can be given representation to accommodate their concerns.

But this will be a uphill task as the participating institutes particularly the IITs will raise the issue of infringement of autonomy. Hence, if that were to be the case then the govt. must act tough and amend the respective acts of the IITs,IIITs and NITs.

prabha said...

Whatever is done ultimately some seats will remain vacant. This is due the the fact mostly job opportunity is being less in this seats. The number of vacant of a particular institution particular course may be added to next year allotment as supernumerary seats. Initial round this not much demand courses regular seats along with supernumerary seats will get filled full. Later round vacancy might occur and we might able to see how many seats are vacant whether is more than this year or not.
We also see that you can expect someone study a course which he or she is not aligned either by interest or by peer of parents or neighborhood.

Sumana Priya Saride said...

Dheeraj sir, you did a very perfect and correct analysis of the situation. The counselling process has deprived the oppoortunity for interested candidates like me to study in premier institutes of the country like NITS and IIITS leaving a large number of vacancies.sir, in case the autonomous colleges like NITs announce a spot round individually, how do we come to know about it? Do we have to check the websites of our interested institutes everyday for update? looking forward for your reply sir.

Rajan Bhatia said...

Sir as a lay man may I ask why can't josaa have a waiting list.why they can't ask for a fresh online registration immediately after last round from interested candidates. Also the way you have conducted spot round why's it that other institutions say for e.g. NITD sleeping

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Rajan, IIIT-D did spot round along with other Delhi Government institutes, but we did that prior to beginning of classes. We declared the last date of withdrawal, not one day before the classes, but one week before, and in that one week, did a spot round. I am not sure, if central government institutes will like to declare last date of withdrawal early. Second, I have realized that spot round is a lottery, and our admissions shouldn't be based on a lottery. Now someone who has not got any admission, would love to win a lottery, but this isn't fair. This is at best a band-aid on a wound. I have no problems if we use band aid once in a while, but doing it every year only shows that we don't learn from our mistakes. We must improve the counseling process so that we can admit more students.