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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Encouraging students to excel: Preference in Admissions

Yesterday, media had a wonderful news that five students who represented India in the International Physics Olympiad have all received Gold Medals. This is the first time that Indian team has come back with five Gold medals. The previous best performance was 4 Golds and 1 Silver.

And then the analysis started. It was pointed out by my friend, Prashant Bhattacharji, that India has been performing well in Physics Olympiad for a long time, and surprisingly to me, our performance in Maths Olympiad is not so stellar, Chemistry Olympiad even lesser. He then pointed out that Physics syllabus for Olympiad is very similar to JEE syllabus, while Maths syllabus for Olympiad has some differences with JEE syllabus, etc. The news papers also reported that while China too has 5 Gold Medals, their overall ranks are higher in most years because our team does not perform well in the experimental physics, something that is not tested in JEE. Almost every year, team members of Physics Olumpiad do extremely well in JEE (this year, two of them are in top 10 ranks, and other two have good ranks, while one student is now in 12th class), while the correlation between JEE performance and Maths Olympiad performance is lower. As an aside, three of the team members have joined IIT Bombay, while one is joining MIT in USA. The fifth one, I hope wants to join an IIT, though, I am sure would have an offer from MIT as well.

How do I interpret all this.

For most parents in the middle class, the biggest point of stress today is admission to a quality educational institution (both at school level and then at the college level). If a student is even marginally interested in science, s/he is under pressure to prepare for competitive exams like JEE or NEET. So one should study all science subjects equally, and study all those topics well which are part of the syllabus for these exams. You aren't allowed to spend more time on the subject that you really love and want to excel in. Also, you aren't expected to "waste" your time in labs. Is this the way to encourage excellence? Of course, not.

But things aren't going to change as long as there is serious shortage of good colleges. Parents will ask their wards to focus primarily on JEE/NEET type of goals. While the biggest problem, obviously, is the lack of sufficient quality educational institutions, the second biggest problem is that all these quality institutions have only a single admission process based on a single test. If we want that students should excel in whatever they are interested in, we will have to create an incentive scheme which is acceptable to parents.

One such scheme could be that students who represent India will be offered admission to top places related to the subjects that they have excelled in. Students who don't represent India but were part of the training camp (which is typically 20-30 students) could be given bonus marks (as IIIT Delhi does) and hence strong preference in admission. In fact, the national level Olympiads could come up with a list of top 100 in that subject who would get that preference in admissions. Of course, the exact mechanism is not important, and various institutions can come up with their own mechanisms.

Note that the goal of admission process is to select meritorious students who are likely to perform well in the program. There is no doubt that these students will do that. Also, this can be a vehicle for early admissions to students, something that is seriously lacking in India and causes much too unnecessary stress. So a student could be offered admission after 11th (because s/he got into Team India at that age) subject to reasonable performance in 12th class.

As an aside, it is being reported that all five of them studied with coaching classes. So may be we can give some credit to coaching classes, which are trying to help those who are suffering from poor schooling in India.

To end, specific suggestions in this article are not important. The point is that our top institutions should be open to the idea of admitting students who have excelled in different forums.

Monday, July 30, 2018

IoE at State level

As I have been saying for more than a year, my hope from IoE process was that if 10 private institutions are given complete autonomy, they will improve in their quality of education and research and that would create a constituency for greater autonomy for everyone. And my reason for disappointment with the process was that only 2 private institutions were selected (Greenfield does not count since there is no comparison between pre-autonomy and post-autonomy era in their case), and even from these two, one's autonomy has been withheld. I really wish they had given autonomy to the best 10 institutions without bothering about whether they would be in top 500 in 10 years or not.

A question that I have been asked is whether graded autonomy wouldn't serve the purpose. The answer is NO. IoE autonomy is greater than the highest level of graded autonomy. Most importantly, IoE autonomy is taking them away from state government control by converting these private universities into deemed to be universities (if they are not already deemed to be universities). And many states have controls which are sometimes even worse than what UGC/AICTE impose. For example, in some states, tuition control is so rigid that there is no way you can follow all UGC/AICTE guidelines on faculty:student ratio and the give the salaries to faculty members that are recommended by UGC.

Over the last couple of decades, I have been hoping that the competitions between states to attract the best educational institutions would ensure that they come up with policies giving more autonomy to their institutions. I was hoping, for example, that other states will notice how Rajasthan has so many private players setting up good quality institutions and will realize that it is because Rajasthan has very light regulatory framework for private universities. But this hasn't happened. On the contrary, in some states the regulatory framework is becoming more rigid, reducing autonomy for their private universities. Unfortunately, quality is not a focus of our education policy, only cost is. Worthless degrees at low cost are considered better than good education at higher cost, particularly in an election year, and the changes done in an election year cannot be undone after the elections.

So given that worthless degrees at low cost will remain the focus of higher education policy of most states, is there any way we can have some quality institutions in such state (other than central government ones and the deemed universities). Recently in a meeting, I heard this solution. (So this is not my idea, but I loved it, and hence sharing it here.) Have an IoE scheme at the state level. Just convince the state governments that they can have 100s of colleges where all their voters can get admission, but just give autonomy to 5 private universities in the state based on whatever criteria of quality you decide.

Just imagine if 20 states declare 5 private universities each as autonomous and these are also able to get autonomy from UGC under the graded autonomy scheme, we would really have 100 universities who can then try to improve their quality of education and research way beyond the expectations of our regulators. If we don't worry about top 500 but only about the quality, there is a greater chance of our universities being in top 500.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Aadhaar Challenge: A political stunt?

Yesterday, Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Mr. Ram Sevak Sharma, threw a challenge to the world. He gave out his 12 digit Aadhaar number (which I don't want to publish here) and tweeted:
"Now I give this challenge to you: Show me one concrete example where you can do any harm to me!"

The Internet world quickly found out the phone number linked to his Aadhaar, and slowly more information started coming in, his previous and current addresses, date of birth, his frequent flier number, his email addresses, PAN number, bank account details, voter-ID card number and all associated details, alternate phone numbers, the model of his phone, his pictures and that of his family, current location, secret questions to his email addresses, and so on.

Much of this information was in public domain anyway. He kept making two claims: One, all this information could have been found (and perhaps has been found) without knowing Aadhaar. Two, putting all this information in public domain results in no harm to him.

I have refrained from writing on Aadhaar, since a large number of pro and anti-Aadhaar people are divided on political lines, and hence most of the debate is ill informed. Also, the debate does not have to be "Aadhaar compulsory for everything" versus "Kill Aadhaar." But that is how it plays out in public arena.

Coming back to his challenge, I wonder if he has an agenda. Otherwise, a smart and wise man that he is (after all, he is a fellow alum of IIT Kanpur :-) and a Distinguished Alumnus Awardee), he would know that such challenges do not prove anything. If indeed someone is able to get information that can potentially harm him, he will keep arguing that this information was not found using Aadhaar (and most hackers would not reveal their methods). But on the other hand, if no one is able to get any important information in a short period of time, that is not at all an argument in favor of Aadhaar's security. May be it takes more time. So, either way, it proves nothing.

Also, he is big enough man to fight legal battles and has a large network to undo most of the harm, if something does happen. So it is very little risk to him personally. But throwing such a challenge is not in national interest. Since there is a possibility, however small, that some harm may happen, that some people may actually succeed in hacking. That a person at such a responsible position is throwing such a challenge is just so sad. The only reason I can think of is that he is playing to the gallery and his supporters and supporters of Aadhaar will be very happy with him.

He has been arguing that just knowing bank account number will not harm him. What he has not yet said is whether the bank account numbers should be in public domain. If indeed his bank account number has been found using Aadhaar number, isn't that a failure of Aadhaar. Of course, the supporters would argue that the bank account number may have been found not from UIDAI site but from some other source. But the issue is different. Even if we assume that five feet thick and thirteen feet high wall is enough to secure data on the servers inside those walls, shouldn't this be the responsibility of UIDAI to secure the entire Aadhaar eco-system. Shouldn't every Aadhaar center be secure. May be not 5' by 13' wall, but 1' by 7' wall :-) In fact, I would go a step further. How businesses and government departments keep Aadhaar and use them should also be controlled by UIDAI. If they have no control over such use, they shouldn't insist on compulsory sharing of Aadhaar. Of course, today's discussion is not even touching upon the issue of government potentially having access to every interaction that happens between me and UIDAI.

I know most of the information that people have found out about Mr. Sharma can also be found about me, but unlike him, this reality gives me stress. Of course, many will argue that no honest person needs to worry, almost suggesting that if I am stressed about it, I must be dishonest. But the way our government systems and courts work, undoing any damage is extremely slow and expensive, and I don't want to go that route.

Added on 29th July:
-------------------------
Another much more detailed and well articulated article on why this challenge is irresponsible.
Issues with TRAI Chairman RS Sharma publishing his Aadhaar Number, challenging hackers to harm him by Nikhil Pahwa

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Should you drop a year and take JEE again

Yesterday, Amit Paranjape shared a link to a story of students taking a year off after 12th class to do interesting things. That led me to think about a large number of students who take a year off after 12th class to exclusively prepare for competitive exams like JEE. Is this the right thing to do.

The argument in favor of a one year drop are many. If you had a certain level of performance while preparing for 12th class and JEE together (just taking this as an example, I guess it will be true for any other competitive exam as well), your performance will certainly be better if you don't have to go to school, you don't have to take all those school tests and board exams, and you don't have to study "useless" subjects like language. Apparently, the data also supports the theory that the chance of a repeater are pretty good. If we look at yearly Advanced JEE reports, one finds that among those who are admitted to IITs, about half are those who passed 12th class that year, and half passed 12th class in the previous year. If we look at media (including social media), one finds many stories of people who succeeded in improving their performance in their second attempt, but hardly any stories of people who did worse.

So, shouldn't this be an obvious thing to do. With life expectancy of 80 years and rising, what is one year, if you can have a much "better" career afterwards.

But there is a problem. When we say that 50% of an IIT class is of repeaters, it does not tell us how many of them had succeeded last year as well. How many of them have improved their ranks substantially. If you are willing to invest one year of time, and resources (for coaching, for example) and lost wages for a future one year, it better be for a significant improvement in ranks and not a minor improvement in ranks.

Let us consider a student who has received a rank of up to 8000 in Advanced JEE this year. (I am using all examples of unreserved class, but same arguments hold for reserved classes as well.) This student could have received an offer of admission to Earth Science program at IIT Kanpur, and if he barely studied enough to pass all courses in the first year, he could shift to any program that closed at 3600 or later (through the program change policy of IITK after one year). If he worked hard in IITK, he could get a change to a program which is closing at 2800 or higher this year. So an improvement of 5000 ranks next year is completely useless since what he will get next year, he could have got that after joining IITK this year itself. Getting a better CPI to be able to get the top three programs - CSE, EE and Maths - is hard, but so is to get a rank within top 1000 next year. You can't depend on change of program after first year, but you can perhaps depend on it more than you can depend on getting a top rank in JEE Advanced (and being in top 1 lakh in JEE Mains as well).

Does it make sense to drop a year if you had a rank giving you an unpopular NIT seat and you hope that next year you will at least get a popular NIT seat. I still wouldn't recommend dropping a year. There are several institutions outside the JOSAA system which are as good but have significantly lower cutoffs for admission because they do their own admissions, and in some cases are far more expensive. I am talking about places like LNMIIT, DAIICT, etc. These are as good in terms of education as most NITs, but are not preferred because many students and parents go for brand and not quality, and also they will require an addition lakh or more per year. But remember, one year drop has costs too and as I said above, not just cost of coaching, but also cost of lost wages. So, go for a private place which is as good as an NIT.

So the only situation in which dropping one year may make sense is where you are sure of not a small improvement but a very substantial improvement. You had a JEE rank of 75,000 this year, and you are expecting a rank of 15,000 next year. Or you had a JEE advanced rank of 20,000 this year, and are expecting a rank of 5,000 or better next year. Small improvements are not worth this investment.

But what is the probability of major improvement. Very small!

While the argument stated at the beginning (that we will have exclusive focus this year) is attractive, one also has to see if one will continue to have motivation to study hard for one long year. Would you not feel lonely since most of your school time friends have gone to colleges. How would you answer your neighbors, relatives and all sundry uncles as to which college you are studying in. Would you not be stressed by the thought that you might perform worse than this year. In the coaching class, everyone is a new face, no one whom you had known for years in school. These conditions can break the motivation level of most people. And once your motivation is gone, so is your chance of significant improvement.

So when should one drop a year.

If you can identify a reason (other than giving 12th class and JEE together) that caused your JEE performance to be worse than what you believe to be your capability and that reason is essentially a low probability event, then it would make sense for you to drop a year. For example, if you fell ill on the JEE day or in days leading to JEE affecting your last minute preparation badly (otherwise, you were doing well in your coaching exams). You had a family crisis (like a major accident or worse, a death) which obviously would have affected your preparation and performance. Or any other big reason like these.

Of course, situation of every student is unique. Whether they can maintain motivation for entire year will depend on their will power. Whether something seriously bothered them and affected their performance will have to be decided by them. Whether it is possible to go for a much more expensive option for education will depend on their financial background. Worst case scenario will be different for each student. For example, someone who has performance extremely well in 12th class and can get admission to a good college based on that even next year is taking a smaller risk and hence is not likely to be affected by stress through the year. So take everything said in this article with a pinch of salt and see what applied to you and what doesn't. But, in general, if there is even a slight doubt, don't drop a year.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Tyranny of the last year's closing ranks

Finally, the IIT admissions are over. For the entire month of June, we had thousands of parents and students asking a million questions about various institutes and programs, how good they are, how good is the placement, what is the scope of these programs, and so on. After a massive amount of research, most parents have come to the conclusion that parents in the previous year were very intelligent, they had done all the due diligence, and therefore, it is best to create an option list in the same order as the last year's closing ranks. Of course, there are exceptions, and hence you would see that the order in which various programs close this year is slightly different compared with the order in which programs closed last year.

If we look at IIT Kanpur (and for illustration purposes, let us just look at unreserved seats and their closing ranks), last year (2017) its programs closed in the following order:

Computer Science (CSE), Electrical (EE), Maths and Computing (MTH), Mechanical (ME), Chemical (CHE), Economics (ECO), Aerospace (AE), Civil (CE), Physics (PHY), Material Science (MSE), Bio Sciences and Bio Engg. (BSBE), Chemistry (CHM) and Earth Science (ES).

The 2018 ordering of the programs in terms of their closing ranks is: CSE, EE, MTH, ME, ECO, CHE, AE, PHY, CE, MSE, BSBE, CHM, and ES.

If you notice Economics and Chemical Engineering have exchanged places and so have Physics and Civil Engineering. These are minor changes as the closing ranks for both Economics and Chemical Engineering were very similar both last year and this year. It is just a matter of a couple of students preferring one over the other. The same is true for the closing ranks of Physics and Civil Engineering.

What is rather interesting is that while those who got a rank in JEE 2018 were thinking of the order in which they should write their options, those who got a rank in JEE 2017 were also doing exactly the same. IIT Kanpur has one of the most liberal policy on change of under-graduate program, which is based on the first year's performance. At the end of first year, students apply for change and can give options in the order of preference.

The order in which 2017 rankers gave options for various programs at IITK in 2018 is: CSE, EE, ECO, MTH, ME, CHE, AE, CE, PHY, MSE, BSBE, ES, and CHM.

There are minor changes in the two list: Civil and Physics have exchanged places, and also Chemistry and Earth Science have exchanged places. But the big story is about Economics. Not a single Economics student has applied for change to another program and only students with a CPI of 9.0 (out of 10) have been able to get Economics. If we look closely, 2018 students have considered Economics, Chemical and Aerospace very similarly, with closing ranks of 2718, 3171, and 3174. But the 2017 students' preference for these three programs is vastly different with transfer closing at a CPI of 9.0 for Economics, 8.4 for Chemical and only 7.7 for Aerospace (with Mechanical in-between at 8.8).

Also, while the 2018 closing ranks for Physics, Material Science, BSBE, and Earth Science are vastly different at 3586, 4549, 5537 and 8104 respectively, they are almost same for 2017 batch. Indeed, any student from any of these four programs could have taken a transfer (and can still take) to any other program within this group.

Also note that students who have finished their first year in IIT are the most active responders on social media regarding counseling information. So what they are thinking in terms of which program is better, they are saying it loud and clear to everyone else. So what is happening. Why is there substantial difference in the two batches.

My hunch is that 2017 batch students are more independent of their parents, while 2018 batch students are very much dependent on their parents for the decision. And hence, when they realize that the perception of placement is very different from reality of placement, they can take action based on this new information. Also, some of them become confident of doing what they like.

The parents are more likely to be affected by the tyranny of the closing ranks.You may write whatever you wish in your blogs, FaceBook, quora answers, websites, but all that will convert the thinking of only a small number of people. As I had mentioned in another blog a couple of months ago, many institutes don't do any "marketing" because they realize that in the short term, it won't work. But, of course, they are wrong. A small impact every year will result in major change over a decade. And that is why it is important to keep giving the right information to all potential students and their parents every year.

Note on Program Change at IITK: This year we have allowed change of program to 87 students in a batch of 821 students. Also, we allow program changes even after 3rd and 4th semester. I am quite sure that at least 25-30 students will get their programs changed in the next two semesters. This means that almost 15 percent of the batch would have their programs changed. That is a very large number.

Since there is a request to make public more details of program change at IITK, here is the article on this.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Mountain out of molehill: Is 2 = 2.0

After a few days of suspense, the Madras High Court has stayed the single judge order asking IITs to reorder their ranks. (That the order really wouldn't have changed anyone's rank is not important.) And after a few days' gap, the counseling has restarted.

Let me recap the issue. The following was the instructions on the exam paper.

  • For each question, enter the correct numerical value (in decimal notation, truncated/rounded off to the second decimal place; e.g. 6.25, 7.00, -0.33, -.30, 30.27, -127.30) using the mouse and the on-screen virtual numeric keypad in the place designated to enter the answer.

Now, there were two interpretations of this line.

One, this instruction is meant only for those answers where the answer can be truncated/rounded off, and more specifically, was not meant for integers.

Two, presence of "7.00" and absence of any integer in the possible solutions implies that even integers had to be written up to two decimal places.

In my opinion, the first one is the right interpretation. However, the second one is a "reasonable" interpretation and since IITs are more interested in finding out whether you know the answer or not, we may award full marks for those who used second interpretation.

Second thing, I said was that instructions only suggest what is the minimum you need to do to get full marks and doing more should not be penalized. So even if writing two zeroes was suggested and was the correct interpretation, writing an integer as an integer is certainly a better answer and hence should be given full marks.

The opposite view point that was presented to the court and was written by lots of people as comments on various social media, including this blog was that the second interpretation is the correct interpretation and the first interpretation is so wrong that those who followed that should be penalized. And, following instructions is of supreme value in exams like JEE.

Frankly, I am bothered by the opposite view point. I am unable to look at it as a difference of opinion. There is something else at play here. What they are saying is that lack of an integer in the list and presence of 7.00 implies that integers had to be written in a particular way. Do they have any idea of what is implication, what is proof, etc. And then, saying that it is not enough to show that you know the answer, but following instructions is an integral part of an exam. Do they really believe that IITs are looking for students who can follow the orders and not think independently. If yes, IITs need to do a lot more in terms of improving its image.

In an exam, if I ask them to write names of any 4 prime ministers of India, and someone writes five names (all correct), should I penalize this guy for not following the instructions. Obviously, additional information, if wrong, can lead to penalty, but should there be penalty if the additional information is correct.

And as, someone commented, should IIT penalize someone who comes only one hour before the exam, when the instructions were to reach three hours before the exam. (I may be off in terms of exact time.) Obviously not, since following instructions are useful only to the extent of peaceful conduct of the exam and not beyond that. Similarly, following instructions in the exam are useful only to the extent of displaying your ability to solve problems in the exam and not beyond that.

To me, this alternate opinion is borne out of inability to take responsibility for one's actions. Almost every student tells his/her parents/friends that they deserved better in any exam than what the result indicates. I talk to so many JEE passed students every year for counseling, and the conversation always start with, "I was expecting a better rank, but...." And they are always looking for excuses to convince themselves and others that they are indeed better than what that rank indicates. (And they very well may be, the rank indicates nothing about them as a human being.) And as soon as they find out any excuse that anyone has used, they are very happy and start using that excuse themselves. Sometimes, even small coaching places, will tell their students that they deserved better rank, and it is all because of someone else (IITs mostly) that their ranks have suffered.

Because of this reason, one can easily predict that the kind of problem we had this year, will actually happen every year. Such issues have arisen every single year in the last few years, and will continue to happen in future too irrespective of how good the language is of all instructions and all questions.

IITs are normally very reluctant to change since they think that following what was not questioned in previous years would ensure less court cases this year. But I think they should learn from JEE 2018 where there were major changes (women reservation - I am really surprised there is no court case on this, fully computerized exam - there was a case, but dismissed early, numerical questions with answers not between 0 and 9). Irrespective of how many changes you bring about, all those who want to blame IIT JEE for their performance will latch on to one thing and the other changes will go unquestioned, and they will latch on to that one thing, even when there is no change.

The only way to reduce court cases is to reduce the value of the exam. Give students option. If not doing too well in one exam leaves good options open for students, they will feel more confident of owning up their performance and not look for excuses.

Till that happens, court cases will happen irrespective of what IITs do. So they shouldn't be afraid of changes. Changes do not increase the number of court cases.




NEET 2018: The solution is normalization

If there is one exam worse than JEE, it is NEET. And it is compulsory for all medical admissions. Earlier, we have seen different question papers in different languages, but no attempt to see if the two papers have similar difficult level, or normalize the marks if they aren't. That is not a surprise to those who have followed CBSE's conduct of JEE Mains in the past. There is no normalization in the multiple papers they offer (online and offline).

This year, a whopping 49 questions in the Tamil version of NEET had wrong translation. Well, at least they translated so that everyone gets the same set of questions. Better than completely different papers of the past. But 49 wrong questions out of 180 total questions. Obviously students would complain. CBSE refused to do anything about it. The matter goes to high court. CBSE argues that students should have read the English version since they had already issued the instructions that in case of any problem in translation, English version would be considered authentic. But they couldn't answer a simple question. How would the students know which questions are wrongly translated, and hence they should look at English version. And if it is to be assumed that everyone understands English question paper, why give options of local language to begin with, or was it the case that students from vernacular background are required to read both papers and spend extra time (without any compensation, of course).

The court was aghast at such arguments. CBSE should have suggested how one could fairly treat the 24,000 students who had taken the test in Tamil language. And sure enough, the court ordered that all 24,000 students should get full marks in all 49 questions.

Obviously, it is unfair to others. It is no one's argument that all these 24000 students would have solved correctly all 49 questions, if there was no error in the translation. And by awarding them full marks, they have been given vastly higher marks than what they would have scored in an error free exam. And thus, they have been placed higher than those students who took exam in English.

How do we know how many marks these 24000 students would have scored in an error free exam. We really can't say about an individual. And then there are second order effects like wasting time on a question which is now ambiguous, say. But statistics does allow an approximate answer. We can normalize marks based on 131 questions that everyone has been able to attempt.

The problem is that CBSE has never learnt how to normalize marks. They haven't done it in JEE before. They do a completely horrendous "normalization" of 12th class marks, which is nothing but grade inflation. So they don't know how to provide at least a statistically fair solution to these 24,000 students.

Is there a way to study correlation between 131 questions and 49 questions. Can we do this analysis for different categories of students - all India, students from Tamilnadu, students from TN Board, etc., and figure out which class is most similar to the group of 24,000 students who chose Tamil as the medium of question paper. Is there strong correlation of some questions out of those 131 with each of these 49 questions. How difficult is each question for that cohort. Based on these types of questions, one can start looking at what would have been the likely score of the student if there was no error in translation and if they were like an average student of the cohort that we are comparing them with.

But, I suspect I know what will happen eventually. CBSE will look at the marks of 131 questions for each of those 24000 students. We will then see how many marks did other students getting identical marks in 131 questions got in 49 questions. We will assign that many marks in 49 questions to those students. This is a very simplified version of normalization but something is better than nothing and courts might agree with this, and frankly, CBSE will only care what will go through the courts.

Any solution based on statistics will cause heartburns. But it is the best you can do, short of conducting the exam again.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Institute of Eminence Report

In the last one week, a lot has been said about the Institute of Eminence process and report. There are far too many questions about the way this policy has been handled. And my take on this is, that it may have been strategic. Make so many errors, violate your own policy so many times, that different people will comment on different issues and there would not be one single issue on which all the people are united in criticism.

The report that has been made public on UGC website says nothing about how specifically these institutes were decided. There are a lot of general things that they say (but do not seem to follow themselves). When I was reading the report, I was repeatedly asking myself, if this is a competence issue, or is it that they were not willing to spend enough time on such an important assignment (after all, other than the chairperson, members are extremely busy people, but then they should have refused to be a member rather than sign such a poor report).

The report clearly says that the primary goal of the committee was to look for universities which would be in top 500 of any popular world ranking within 10 years. One would have assumed that those universities which are already in top 500 would be automatically selected, unless this committee is convinced that those universities have seen their zenith, and are now on the declining path, and in the next 10 years, they will be out of top 500 list. And if committee is convinced of this, it would actually give reason for the same. So what is the basis of keeping IIT Kanpur out is not clear.

The committee talks about private institutions not doing enough research and hence the possibility of them getting into top 500 is less. And then, it ignores the private university which arguably has the best research output (Amritha University) and because of this research output they already have comparable or better ranking in various lists compared with the two private universities that have indeed been selected. There was certainly a possibility of having the 4th private university in the list.

In the report, they mention that some of the newer universities are so small (less than 3000 students) that they couldn't really become world class, but at the same time recommend a university with 0 students to be in the list. Also, when the goal is to have a university in top 500 in 10 years, how come a university which is claiming to be in top 500 in 13 years has been selected. Jio University seems to have suggested that it will start in 2021 and will be in top 500 by 2031. Based on their only higher education venture (DAIICT) which is nowhere in the world rankings even after 20 years, it seems difficult to believe that they will be in top 500 within 10 years of starting, but in any case, the goal was 10 years from the selection, and they themselves are saying that they will not be in top 500 within 10 years from selection. For a good analysis of this decision, read the following report by Prof. Sandeep Shukla.
Money cannot buy excellence in education, but Jio's 'Eminence' tag is worth crores.

This is not to say that Mr. Ambani cannot be the promoter of a great university. I hope Jio will be one. But as of today, there is no reason to believe that they will be in top 500 within 10 years. Indeed they themselves are saying that they won't be. So the tag is clearly misplaced.

(People are too sensitive. When I say DAIICT is not in world ranking, I am saying only that much. I am not saying that it is a bad institute. It is a good institute, but not in top 500 ranks in the world.)

The committee says that many universities applied only to get autonomy from UGC and they can be dealt with within the graded autonomy regulations. But why should that be an issue. My motivation may be to gain autonomy, but you please look at me from the perspective whether I can get into top 500 ranks in the next 10 years or not.

The committee has recommended 8 public universities. When they had space for 2 more, they have still decided to ignore those universities which are already in top 500 list, the primary goal as stated by the committee. One would have expected an explanation in the report (and not now to the media, even that is not forthcoming on this issue though).

On what basis has government chosen 3 out of 8. There appears to be some feedback from the committee, since the Chairman of the committee has said that IIT Madras was not selected because Chennai has bad weather because of which international students and faculty don't come to Chennai and hence their international ranking is poor.. Gimme a break. Weather in Chennai much different from Mumbai? And other IITs have a large number of international students and faculty members?

IIT Kanpur is a curious case. Not only it is not in the list of 8 universities, it is not even in the list of specialized universities focusing on science and technology. A university which has been consistently in the top 5 of the country in all rankings over the last so many years being ignored without giving any reason as to why the committee believes we will not be in top 500 in the next 10 years. Do they know something that we don't know. Was our presentation so poor. Was our proposal so poor. (I was hoping to work for an Institute of Eminence. I am disappointed though I guess I have the option to work for Jio :-)

Combine all this with what all has happened in the last one year, and the optics is really poor. Reopening of the application submission even though 100 universities had already applied. Changing the shortlisting after the committee had decided to shortlist only 40 institutes and asked them to give presentations.

What is certain is that the four members of the committee have not displayed any eminence in signing this report.

Other articles on IoE saga:

UGC's laziness has led to needless 'Institutions of Eminence' controversies by Prof. Pushkar
Imminent Eminence: Ambani's Egg by Prof. Mukul Kesavan
Institutes of Eminence status given without field visits, rankings by Anubhuti Vishnoi
Jio Institute: Why the Modi government is misguided in giving the eminence tag to a select few by Arihant Pawaria
The 'Institutes of Eminence' falls woefully short of what India needs  by Maheshwer Peri
After UGC, Expert committee too disappointed in selecting Institutions of Eminance by Prof. Pushkar

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Higher Education Commission of India

The government is proposing to set up a new regulatory authority that will replace UGC through an act of parliament. It will be called Higher Education Commission of India or HECI.

At the outset, this proposed bill appears to be a product of complete confusion in the Ministry and their right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. But after a moment's reflection, it would seem that the right hand indeed knows what the left hand is doing and is not particularly happy about it and may even want to cutoff the left hand.

Before you propose a solution, it is usually a good idea to define a problem and then search for a solution. Of course, sometimes a solution is proposed first and the problem is searched appropriate for that solution. So what is the problem. UGC, of course. You dimwit. You claim to write about higher education, and you don't even know that UGC is the main reason for most of the problems of higher education. I would politely argue that I know UGC is part of the problem, but do you know what aspect of UGC's functioning is the problem.

As per the media reports, the government seems to believe that UGC was not able to function properly because it spent enormous amount of time in deciding grants. If that function is removed from there, they will focus on academic matters, and Indian education system will soon be the best in the world. But wouldn't it be a drain on the time of IAS officers. How will they cope up with this huge extra workload. And if you are going to put extra manpower in MHRD, why not put that extra manpower in UGC. And a voice from the clouds reminded me that I am supposed to be a professor of Computer Science, and hence should have heard of not just cloud computing, but also AI, ML and the government's favorite these days, the blockchain. And somehow the combination of all these technologies will appear in the form of a software, that would disburse the money to all the universities and colleges (I am sure through the Aadhaar verified accounts), and everyone will be happy ever after. In fact, it will improve autonomy since funding decisions will be taken through Artificial Intelligence (real intelligence being in limited supply) and we, of course, all know that AI cannot have any biases and softwares have no way to be tweaked or controlled. But I have a query. If we can develop such a software, why not keep the server in UGC building, why should it be in MHRD building.

Then we hear of he second problem of UGC. It does not have sufficient teeth. By the way, how many teeth does it have? My friends in universities are mortally scared of UGC. It can send completely arbitrary diktats to universities and ask them to comply even when it does not have sufficient teeth. Do you really want to give them more statutory powers. I mean, Indian universities probably are more controlled than in any other country, and you want to increase that control.

And I always believed that the government policy was to give more autonomy. I hear about this Institutes of Eminence scheme, and the graded autonomy scheme and Autonomous colleges and so on. The whole idea seemed to be to slowly increase the autonomy in the higher education sector, but with one master stroke, you are going to undo all of that and put all sorts of controls back on the universities. (Cutting off left hand!)

HECI can not just issue guidelines on anything under the sun, but also demand compliance and take the strongest possible action, including removing the right to grant degrees, if it is not satisfied with the compliance.

It can even ride roughshod over state legislatures. Anytime a legislature approves setting up of a new university, HECI will intervene and say, not so soon. First you need authorization from HECI. That is federalism - Indian style.

Whenever anyone has criticized UGC and wanted its demise, the hope was that if somehow we can just remove lots of UGC diktats, our universities will start improving. But this new act believes in exactly the opposite. You must control much more than now for the universities to improve.

So you have an interesting state of the affairs with Prime Minister's office repeatedly reminding MHRD that we need to give more autonomy to universities, and MHRD repeatedly trying their best to not only continue license permit raj but expand its control.

I am extremely suspicious of anyone who says, "here is the new rule, and this rule applies to everyone except me." If this rule is good for others, why is it not good for you. The proposed law wants to keep Institutes of National Importance outside the regulatory framework of HECI. And most of the central government universities (IITs, NITs, IIITs, even the PPP model IIITs, IISERs, SPAs) fall under the INI nomenclature. Which means that HECI is meant to control primarily state universities (including private ones) and deemed universities. I think a common regulator for all will at least keep the regulator abreast of best practices and there is a hope that the regulator may suggest those best practices to others. There is also hope that if HECI tries giving a stupid diktat to IITs, there will be enough hue and cry that the diktat will be forced to be removed, thereby saving our universities. The framers of the law have figured this out and decided that anyone whom the media is likely to support should be out of regulation. I suggest that they add a line saying that besides INIs, MHRD reserves the right to keep any other university out of HECI's regulatory control. This way any future university who has as many friends in media as IITs can be quietly kept out of regulation.

Then there are drafting issues which make the Act confusing. The members are required to be scholars and more specifically persons of eminence and standing in the field of academics and research, etc. And then it says that Secretary of Higher Education, Secretary of Skill Development and Secretary of DST shall be members. The first two are usually IAS officers and not persons who have a standing in the field of academics and research. And then, one doyen of industry who too is unlikely to be fitting the bill. So, may be they don't need to specify the qualifications of the members.

All members to be appointed by the Government. No role of states. I am not sure how we could bring in non-Government players, but there should be some way. May be the chairman and vice chair can be appointed at the higher level, as in many other commissions, by Minister, leader of opposition, and one more.

There is a confusion about conflict of issues and resulting two year cooling off period for members. Two current professors will be members. If they retire/resign or cease to be professors during their term as a member, then they stop being member of HECI from that day. On the other hand, the moment their term ends, they must cease to be a professor as well for a period of two years. So during membership of the Commission, they can be professors, and that is not conflict of interest, but after their term is over, they cannot be a professor since that will be conflict of interest. I think there should be an exception for professors, since otherwise, you are essentially saying that only those on the verge of retirement can be members. You do need to allow younger blood to be members.

Members are appointed for five years. But suppose a member resigns without completing his/her five year term. The new member appointed will be for a three year term. So, if the previous members stays for 5 years, the next member gets a five year term, but if the previous member stays for 4 years and 364 days, the next member gets a 3 year term. This appears to be a drafting error.

Bottomline: The bill wants an extremely tight control over higher education.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Institutes of Eminence

So, finally, the first chapter of this saga has been written. But we are promised that there are more chapters to be written still. For we wanted to select 20 institutions of eminence and in the first round, only 6 have been selected, leaving 14 slots to be filled in future.

Congratulations to IISc Bangalore, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, BITS Pilani, Manipal, and Jio University (yet to be set up, but with Reliance behind it, one hopes it would really be transformational).

I have been a supporter of IoE scheme, but the result is rather disappointing. I supported this for the following reason. I assumed that in the Government sector, most of the institutions selected would be those who already have a huge amount of autonomy, and what they really get is some small change to try and improve further. In fact, in multiple IITs, there were discussions whether it is worth applying for, since the fear was that the autonomy would be less under IoE scheme than what we currently enjoy. To me, the real game changer was the selection of 10 private universities.

I have been a strong votary of giving huge autonomy to every university in the country. But most people remain skeptical of it. I felt that if 10 universities get as much autonomy as was being promised, it would surely lead to all of them becoming much better than what they are already and that would happen in a relatively short period of time, say, 5 years. If academicians, administrators, politicians, all of them see that 10 universities have improved so much in such a short period of time, and the only change is autonomy, they will all think of removing all shackles of other universities, and this will lead to the golden period of India.

But now, with only 3 private universities being given that autonomy, and one of them being a new university (which means that we cannot compare pre-autonomy and post-autonomy period of this university), the impact of this experiment in five years would be so much less. Less number of people will be convinced about giving autonomy to every university based on this experiment, and hence the announcement has been a huge disappointment.

Of course, the minister has said that this is only the first list. So there is hope of more lists. But I guess it would be difficult to do this process again very soon, and then there are elections. So the next list is at least a year away.

If media can be trusted, apparently there is no dearth of good government institutions, but they could only find three private institutions. So, if they can select a 4th private institution, they would immediately announce 4th government one as well.

I am disappointed that Ashoka University is not in the list.

I am also disappointed by some statements in media attributed to the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Gopalaswami. He said, "Where we saw an institute had not improved its accreditation and ranking scores in three cycles, it does not inspire trust that it will be able to meet this goal" [of breaking into top 500 ranks in 10 years].

Accreditation happens in 3 to 5 years, and hardly anyone has gone for three cycles. So I would assume he is talking about ranking and in particular, NIRF, since private sector rankings cannot be trusted. Now, NIRF is still a work in progress. In three years, there have been significant changes in its methodology and in the level of participation. To use such a ranking for denying someone Institute of Eminence status is exactly what a babu is trained to do. Babus cannot do subjective quality evaluation. They need objective numbers to support them. I expected better from this committee. Of course, I understand that this is not the only thing they have looked at. But even pointing this out means that this was definitely an important enough criteria. That this was not the only criteria is proven by the fact that Amritha which has improved rank every year and has had an excellent rank in all three years is not in the list. They were 14th in 2016, 9th in 2017, and 8th in 2018 in the universities ranking.

But overall, a small step forward. Hope this small step leads to bigger steps forward in due course.

Added on 9th July:
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After posting this, the maximum comments (not here, but on other social media sites) have asked if Manipal is better than IIT Kanpur. Well, the straight answer is that in the disciplines IIT Kanpur operates (Engineering and Science, mainly), IITK is better. But there are many disciplines that Manipal has (like Medicine) in which obviously there can be no comparison. If the reports saying that the committee had actually decided on a list of 8 government and 3 private universities, but government took a policy decision to have an equal number of government and private, are true, then I believe that government would do us a great favor if it admits to this. That way all government institutions can claim that they are those 5 unannounced ones. I am convinced IITK would be in that list of 8, and hence even by this metric, not worse than Manipal. Of course, I must add that Manipal has been continually working to improve its teaching and research. They have improved their NIRF rank every year and since the goal was to find private institutions who will be in top 500 in 10 years, they were always a serious contender.

Second most common comment is about Jio University. Should a greenfield university be named as an Institute of Eminence. Well, it is too late to ask. The call for proposals clearly mentioned that greenfield universities are welcome and that they will be evaluated on the basis of plans that they have for the university (and the financial strength and commitment of promoters to carry out those plans). If people did not protest then, they shouldn't protest now. The best comment I received in this regard is from Dr. Bijoy Panigrahi (IIIT Naya Raipur) who suggested that we should have had three categories - government, private and greenfield. I fully agree (and new IITs could be considered in the 3rd category), but it is too late to suggest. I wish this suggestion was given in 2016. So as of now, let us hope that they will start soon, and have great plans and a great team to materialize those plans.




Sunday, July 8, 2018

Fundraising 101

We will come back to JEE and admissions after a day. In the meanwhile, I had written this up a long time ago, and thought of publishing it today.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from an academic institution (in India). One of those bulk emails, asking me to consider giving a small gift for supporting some specific activity. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link in the email and it took me to a page which described the project in brief, mentioned the goal of fundraising, how much had already been raised from how many donors, various suggested levels of gift (1000, 5000, 10,000, etc.),  and methods of payment (credit card, debit card, etc.). A few months ago, I had been to a similar site by a US university and made a small contribution. But this time, I decided against it.

Just as I was watching this page, a student walked in to my office. I asked him to look at the page, and read all the details. Then assume that he has a lot of money, and that he is passionate about the cause for which money is being raised. Would he donate. His answer was in negative. And he said that even he donates a few coins to the beggar outside a temple, he typically donates to a beggar who already has a few coins in his bowl. If you look at the waiter serving you food in Shatabdi/Rajdhani trains, when they come for tips, they already have a few notes of 10/20/50 rupees in the plate which is meant to indicate both the expectation of the waiter and also inform you that others have already donated. You are not the only one.

It was a drive to raise Rs. Ten Lakhs only and the site said that till now, there have been only one donor who had gifted Rs. 1000 only. So they had achieved 0.1 percent of their goal till then.

Contrast this with an email I received from my alma mater, University of Maryland, about their fundraising campaign a few weeks ago. It is dubbed: Fearless Ideas: The Campaign for Maryland. The 7-year campaign is planning to raise 1.5 billion dollars. But the interesting part was that the campaign had started in 2014 and they have already raised 900 millions so far, and only after they have raised 60% of the goal, are they now going public with their campaign.

I wrote a long email to the person responsible for fund-raising at this academic institution, suggesting what all can be done to make such campaigns more effective, and since I don't see any change in their sites and there was no response, I felt that my writing all this was waste, and I decided to publish this as a blog in the hope that it will not be a waste.

You don't want to tell a potential donor that you have raised only 0.1 percent of the amount so far. It will always raise a doubt, what happens if no other donor gives. Will my money go waste. Even when I give a tiny contribution, I want to know how this will be used, and I want to ensure that it will indeed be used in that fashion. But once I see that 60% funds have been raised, I know the development team is strong, and will be able to raise more, and if there is a minor shortfall, the project scope might be reduced slightly, but my money will largely be used for the purpose I am donating. Hence, if you have a strong project for which you believe there will be many donors, first go to donors privately, get some donations, and start your public campaign with a significant part already covered.

Second, on such a site you are also having some suggested amounts. It is a good idea to have these suggested amounts vary by a multiple of 2 to 3. And maximum number of options are around 5 o 6. A very large multiple means that people who wanted to donate something in the middle will be discouraged. And a small multiple means that your complete range is very small. So someone who does not want to donate in that range will be discouraged. So you could start with Rs 1000 and have other suggestions as 2000, 5000, 10,000, and 20,000. Five suggestions have taken you to a multiple of 20. If you don't know your donors at all, may be you can add another suggestion of 50,000. But anything more than that gives out an impression that you have no clue what to ask for and that is not very professional. Of course, there should always be an option for "Any other amount" that the donor can fill in.

The way these suggested amounts are decided is that the maximum of that should not be very close to the overall goal of the campaign. If you are looking at the overall goal of Rs. 10 lakhs, and the maximum suggested amount is Rs. 5 lakhs, then you really don't understand crowd sourcing. If someone is really passionate about this project and can pay single handedly whatever you are trying to raise, s/he will contact you directly and negotiate with you a bigger project, etc. Won't come through crowd sourcing. And such large sums as expectations deter small donors.

The site stated that the project needs donations because the institution has no money. That is too negative. People don't give money to run your routine programs (some people will, but not many). If you were to give a positive message, what is it that you are already doing, what are your aspirations and then say that institutional funds can do only so much but the vision is so exciting that we want others to share that vision.

One thing that most people find difficult to understand is that money is fungible. So you have a small budget for X, Y and Z. And you want to increase all three. Would you ask for money for additional X, additional y and additional Z. May be, donors don't get excited about X, but are more willing to give for Y and Z. Then just ask for Y and Z. Use your internal funds more for X.

Another thing I found on the website was a statement that if I pay through credit card, I will need to pay 2 percent extra. This is plain stupid. Any fundraising office will have costs. It is not just the cost of payment gateway, but also the cost of website/server/internet, staff salaries, office expenses and so on. When I donate money, I do expect some of that money to pay for the overheads. Why charge me separately for payment gateway but not tell me that part of the money will go for other overheads. You can write a line there saying that if you have an option please donate using debit card since my payment gateway costs are very low. So your donation will go a bit far. But if I want to donate 5000 rupees, don't suddenly tell me at the last minute that my credit card will be charged 5100 rupees while I will get a tax-exemption receipt for only Rs. 5000. In fact, if you are a smart fundraising office, you will divert some of the budget to pay for fundraising office, and tell the donors that all their donation will be used for project without any deduction for overhead expenses (if your budget allows that).

Fundraising is both an art and a science. It is new to Indian academic institutions. I wish there was a community of people working in Indian academic institutions who are involved in fundraising to share best practices. I am sure there are lots of people out there who want to help their alma mater but are not doing so because no one approaches them properly.



Saturday, July 7, 2018

National Testing Agency

For a long time, a need has been felt for a body that can conduct massive public exams that can be used by universities for the purpose of admissions to various programs. Till now, CBSE has been carrying out this task, but there were two problems with this arrangement. CBSE was too overloaded, handling school leaving exams and all the issues related to affiliation of schools. Second, the college admission tests are very different from school leaving tests, and there was a need of different kind of expertise to do research into these tests. Both problems were solvable, of course, but it was best to have a different body altogether.

Last year, the government announced setting up of National Testing Agency (NTA). Today, it was announced that NTA has started working and it is going to conduct three major tests in the coming academic year. The most important announcement was that two of these tests - JEE Mains and NEET would be conducted two times a year.

This is all very good, indeed music to my ears, since my blog has been saying for many years that we need to have exams conducted multiple times. But I also want to point out possible issues in this, and what they may do in addition to conduct of exam.

First of all, an exam being conducted more than once should not just mean that a student can choose his/her date of the exam. It should mean that a student can actually take the exam more than once. Minister has indeed said that the student will be able to take the test on both occasions, if s/he so desires, and I hope NTA will do exactly that.

Second, when a test is conducted twice, one must be prepared for normalization of marks. Unfortunately, CBSE wasn't doing that for JEE Mains. There were multiple tests being conducted even now (online and offline) on different dates with different question papers. But their absolute marks were being considered without any normalization. This is very unfair to students even if the degree of difficulty is different by a small margin. These tests are used to fill 10s of thousands of seats in several institutions, and a few marks can make a big difference.

Third, we need a strong research wing. Testing is a science, and just asking a few IIT professors (or school teachers for that matter) to prepare a question paper is not enough. We must analyse what type of questions are difficult, moderate, simple, etc., and whether there is a reasonable mix of them. We must also analyse when some question is answered wrong by a lot of students whether the topic is too difficult, or whether the language is confusing, or whether most teachers in the country are not teaching it properly. We must also look for performance of different segments of society on different questions. Are there questions on which some particular segments perform particularly poorly. That may yield some inherent biases which if the paper setter is aware can be avoided. I can go on and on. This is really a huge issue in the current exams in the country that we don't analyse them enough.

Research is also needed in newer type of questions. Also, what kind of exams will best predict success in different programs - what exam is a meaningful one for engineering, and what is meaningful for medical, and what is meaningful for BA/BCom/BSc type of courses. The current exams may not be the best predictors of success in the programs to which students take admission in.

During a twitter discussion, my friend, @learning_pt pointed out that there should also be research on interfaces. Is computer interface that was used for JEE Advanced by IITs this year the best one. Did we have the same distribution of successful candidates this year as in the recent past or did we lose out on a segment of society because they somehow could not get adjusted to the new interface. If yes, we may need to do something about it. Hopefully, we will not find such discrimination, but if we do find it then we need to solve this problem. May be we need to continue with the offline version for some more time. May be we need to have better methods of giving them practice in realistic scenarios.

The testing agency should give out detailed information about each test so that different universities can use the same test result in the way they find it appropriate. It is already been done for JEE Mains, and should continue, and may be made even more elaborate. For example, raw scores in all subjects (after normalization, of course), total, percentile (normalized with respect to last few exams), may be even details of sub-disciplines, or how did one perform on different types of questions, etc.

NTA may consider designing an aptitude test (for different programs), communication test (in different languages), and conduct these tests too a couple of times in a year, and universities may use them in addition to JEE kind of exams. All these will require research.

As we move forward, testing may become a continuous process a la GRE, and we may go for adaptive testing based on a large database of questions. There is research going on in automatic generation of questions, which could come handy here.

Much of this expertise may not be available at government salaries. Would NTA remain a body bound by government rules, and only conduct large exams, or would NTA be a body that breaks new ground in testing.

Overall, I am very happy with this development and am hopeful that NTA will do many of these things in due course.

Friday, July 6, 2018

JEE 2018: Is 2 equal to 2.0

First, let me recap the case in Madras High Court. The following were the instructions on the paper of Advanced JEE, 2018.

  • This section contains EIGHT (08) questions. The answer to each question is NUMERICAL VALUE.
  • For each question, enter the correct numerical value (in decimal notation, truncated/rounded off to the second decimal place; e.g. 6.25, 7.00, -0.33, -.30, 30.27, -127.30) using the mouse and the on-screen virtual numeric keypad in the place designated to enter the answer.
  • Answer to each question will be evaluated according to the following marking scheme:
  • Full Marks: +3 if ONLY the correct numerical value is entered as answer. Zero marks: 0 in all other cases.
There is apparently a question, which has an integer answer. Since I have not seen the question, let me assume that the answer is '2'. IIT JEE has announced that they will give marks to all those students who answered, 2 or 2.0 or 2.00 or even 2.000.

Some student who answered 2.00 has gone to court insisting that students who answered 2 or 2.0 (or 2.000) should not be given any mark, and giving them marks would change her ranking.

The court directed IIT JEE to grade as per the original instructions. IIT Kanpur being the host institution has informed the court that as per these instructions, 2 or 2.0 (and somehow even 2.000) are all correct answers and they have graded as per the instructions only.

The court is not pleased and has now come up with a specific order, which is very strange, to say the least. It is not saying that answer 2 or 2.0 is wrong as per the instructions and should get 0 marks It is saying that students should be penalized for not following the instruction and hence if two students have same marks and one student has followed the instruction and another has not then the student who has followed the instruction should be kept higher in the ranking.

The court gives NO reason for this order, which is rather strange. I have not seen any court orders in the past where the legal point has not been explained well.

By saying that 2 is an inferior answer than 2.00, first of all court is declaring that answers could be inferior or superior. For an extremely technical point, the court to make such a ruling, is, to say the least, strange. But why is 2 an inferior answer. Because students were asked to truncate or round off to two decimal places.

What happens when you truncate 2. Does it become 2.00

What happens when you round off 2. Does it become 2.00.

It should be obvious that the instructions are only meant for cases where truncation and rounding off makes sense. And in case of integers, the instructions do not make sense.

In fact, all those who wrote the answer as 2.00 are wrong, and their marks should be deducted as they have followed some instructions not applicable to this answer. IIT JEE has been kind enough to admit that these students might have been confused and agreed to give them marks. But now, they want the court to say that others who did the right thing by interpreting the instructions correctly should suffer.

And Madras High Court is essentially saying that when you truncate or round off an integer number 2, you will get 2.00. It has not specified in its order whether truncation will get 2.00 or rounding off will get 2.00. I would really like the honorable court to specify this too so that we can change all our school mathematics textbooks in the country as per the court decision.

Now, you might disagree with me that the interpretation of writing the answer as 2.00 is wrong. But can you deny that some students would read the same instruction and come to a conclusion that these instructions are only meaningful if the answer is a real number with more than 2 decimal places. And if their interpretation is a reasonable one, should they be penalized.

Last year, when IIT JEE had done lots of wrongs and yet courts supported them, I had written in my blog that for a long time courts have been ignoring anything and everything IITs do. They are letting IITs get away with murder. I didn't know that in just one year, we will have a complete U turn in the circumstances where the courts will support students who can't even interpret instructions properly and ask IITs to penalize those who understand and interpret the instructions properly.

Added on 6th July, 2018:
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And even if the interpretation of 2.00 is a better interpretation, why not allow an alternative interpretation as well. If those who wrote 2.00 had to spend extra time or would have done the rest of the paper in a better way had they known that alternative interpretations would be allowed, then, for a moment one can consider their request to penalize others. But if their exam has not been affected by it, and there is a genuine confusion, shouldn't that alternative interpretation be graded as well. What is the legal point in forcing only one interpretation when there was no impact on the exam (there will be impact on rank, but then there has to be a legal point supporting one interpretation). The court does not specify the legal point. (I guess it was important to pass a quick order in this case, and a reasoned order would have taken time. But the hurry to pronounce an order has unfortunately led to an order without reason.)

Is accepting one interpretation over other really the most fair solution. Shouldn't we demand a retest whenever the slightest confusion appears in the language of any question or instruction. May be what JEE should do is to prepare 10 different question papers, and conduct exams over 10 days. The exam on 1st day will be graded. If there is no confusion, that is final. If there is a confusion, let us look at the test 2. If there is confusion in this, let us grade test 3, and so on. And hope that there will at least be one exam out of those 10 which will not have any confusion. That, to me, seems to be the only fair solution in future.

Added on 7th July, 2018:
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A lot of comments here, on FB, on emails, and elsewhere, all saying just one thing. What was 7.00 doing in the instructions. Isn't the presence of 7.00 a proof that 7 was to be written as 7.00.

Sorry, guys. I disagree. Presence of 7.00 is NOT a proof that 7 was to be written as 7.00, That is your assumption. And I would ask a counter question. There is a specific mention of truncation/rounding off. Are you truncating 7 to get 7.00 or are you rounding off to get 7.00. You can't point out to just one number in the list, and not read the rest of the instruction.

The instructions is only saying what is the minimum you need to do to get full marks. And if you don't do that minimum, you will get a zero. The instructions are not meant to say that you can't do better than the minimum. If the answer is 6.997 you can write it as 7.00. That is the minimum expected. But if you write 6.997, it is not wrong. It is better. And in no exam can you be penalized to do better.

And further, I am saying that those who have made a mistake of assuming  that mere presence of 7.00 is a proof that 7 is to be written as 7.00, have made a small mistake. We don't need to penalize them. But I am aghast at people saying that those who did better should be penalized.

Added on 7th July, 2018:
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The Court's decision, besides being inconsistent with Mathematics, has other infirmities as well. If we look at the operating part of the decision, it is stated in Para #14 and Para #15, and these two paragraphs appear to be contradictory in nature.
 
Para 14 is essentially saying that the judge is satisfied with IIT's view that the answers with or without decimal are both correct and hence marks can be awarded to both, but only as a tie breaking thing, those who have written all answers in 2 decimal places shall be considered ahead of those who have written answers till one decimal place and they should be ahead in ranking of those who have written integer answers. It is not clear which category a student will be in if s/he has written some answers up to 2 decimal places and some answers up to 1 and some answers as integers. In any case, this is only an additional tie breaking rule and one can see that this won't impact the counseling process much. Almost everybody will get the same seat as they were getting without this court order.

However, Para 15 is saying that seat allocation should be based on original instructions, and not based on clarifications issued later on, specifically with regards to writing the answer up to 2 decimal place. This seems to indicate that those who wrote an integer answer or up to one decimal place answer should get a zero in that question. This will cause havoc to the merit list as many people have written less than 2 decimal places not just in one question but many questions. And every such question was 3 marks.

What should IITs follow? If you follow Para 14, the petitioners aren't going to be happy, and they are likely to go for an appeal. If you follow Para 15, then all those affected now, will go for an appeal. Either way, the admission process is stuck. So it was best that IIT went for an appeal, and now the best is to wait for the decision of the 2-judge bench.


In the meanwhile, I would suggest that those who have written Integer answers or answers till 1 decimal place, request the high court to join this petition. Don't depend on IIT alone to fight it. As we have seen in many other cases, IITs don't represent their cases very well. They really depend on the fact that most courts are sympathetic to them and hence even if they don't represent the case well, they will win. But in this case, that is not happening. So I am hoping that they would have done their homework really well this time and prepared a good appeal. But don't depend on it. If you can afford a lawyer at Madras HC, join the case.