Students, Faculty, Alumni Protest Jadavpur University Decision to Scrap Entrance Tests

Students have alleged that the university's decision is politically motivated.

New Delhi: Jadavpur University has found itself embroiled in controversy once again after the university’s executive council decided to scrap all tests for admission to BA courses, a system that has been in place for the last 40 years. The decision was announced soon after furore over the university’s move to involve ‘external experts’ to formulate one of the two sets of question papers for entrance tests in six undergraduate arts courses – English, comparative literature, history, political science, philosophy and Bangla.

Among the 13 arts courses that the university offers, six departments held entrance exams, including the English literature department. On Tuesday, the admission committee, headed by vice-chancellor Suranjan Das, held a meeting to discuss the matter. However, the meeting ended without a unanimous decision. An emergency executive committee meeting was then held on Wednesday, after which it was declared that instead of conducting entrance examinations, students will be admitted on the basis of their Class 12 board exam results.

This is being seen as yet another attempt by the state apparatus to intervene in the workings of the university. Just a few days ago, there was an attempt to dissolve the students’ union and turn it into a students’ council, which could considerably curb students’ say in administrative matters. “These systematic attacks have been continuously launched and this movement cannot be viewed in isolation,” Jitsoma Banerjee, a student of comparative literature, told The Wire.

The trajectory of entrance policy change was far from smooth. Applicants were sent an SMS asking for a scanned copy of their board marksheets a week before the entrance exams. Some students allege that a uniform policy was initially planned where 50-50 weightage (board marks and entrance marks) would be the admission criteria for all bachelor’s programmes, but opposition to this led the administration to offer the external examiner route for one of the two papers. And then came the final notification on entrance exams being scrapped altogether.

The move has been criticised by teachers, students and alumni of the university. Was due procedure followed? According to some teachers from the arts faculty, the decision was made public on July 4. However, there was no roadmap given on how this would be implemented or what kind of criteria there would be. “We were asked to give our recommendations. We gave some recommendations but we have no guarantees about if they will be taken on board. So we are essentially in the dark about the process. We have been completely sidelined,” said Rimi Chatterjee, a professor in the department of English.

Students protesting at Jadavpur University. Credit: Kajari Majumdar

Students protesting at Jadavpur University. Credit: Kajari Majumdar

In a signed statement, more than 200 alumni from the university, have condemned the decision to scrap the entrance exam. The statement says:

“To stop the admission test is to kill the dreams of anyone who does not participate in the mad rat race of public examinations. It is an attack on the community of scholars, researchers, teachers, alumni, students, and staff who have carefully built up the university and its reputation over the years. To stop the admission test is to tear into the very fabric of the university – its tradition and its history. We must recall that Jadavpur University was set up as an alternative to the education imparted by the erstwhile rulers of India, the British. It has always been home to those who dare to defy norms.

The larger implications of this administrative decision concern the scope and function of higher education in this country. Do we, as a nation, wish to create a more homogenised and technocratic culture that rewards learning by rote, or do we wish to invest in greater autonomy for centres of excellence? Difference and dissent are what all democracies should aspire to; they are the touchstones of any free and open society, and any administration that encourages these tendencies signals its confidence in itself and hope for the future.”

According to the administration, the old process was deemed illegal. However, “Not a single court case has taken place in JU over admissions,” said Abhijit Gupta, who heads the English department. “Now, teachers are being considered to be unnecessary to the admission process. Decisions of the admission committee have been overturned by the EC.” While acknowledging that the EC is the highest decision making body, Gupta said that he couldn’t remember the last time the admission committee’s decision was questioned.

“These are two different systems. The school leaving exams assessments tell you that students have enough ability to leave school. University is different; it is a place of higher education. It is a question of aptitude, school leaving marks cannot be a correct indicator of that. Schools don’t even offer many of the subjects that are taught at the undergraduate level, for example philosophy or comparative literature,” argued Gupta.

“Apparently the rules say that the admission committee will take a decision and they will inform the VC and the EC about this only then can they make it public. The VC was not in Kolkata so there was a flaw,” said Kunal Chattopadhyay, a professor in the department of comparative literature.

The new admission exam system will, for now, be in force for one year.

“Why is the BA procedure considered ‘corrupt,’ when MA follows the same procedure and isn’t considered so?” asked Angana, a student of English department.

Jadavpur University Vice Chancellor Suranjan Das during a press conference. Credit: PTI

Jadavpur University Vice Chancellor Suranjan Das during a press conference. Credit: PTI

Rohit Dutta Roy, an alumnus of the comparative literature department at Jadavpur (currently studying at Oxford) said that the new system is a tried and tested route to corruption. “In most Calcutta colleges, admissions via pay-offs and political clout are very common, just as they are at the undergraduate level in Delhi University. As school marks become supreme, most of the top-scoring students come from the science streams and many vacate their seats on JEE results of engineering colleges. The vacated seats then tend to be auctioned off.”

“Rote-learning, prized as it is in board exams, is not a skill that is valued at the college-level and above, especially in arts and social sciences,” said Ahona Panda, an alumnus from the English department. “MCQs are one of the more obvious attempts to standardise the arts and social sciences, and traditional ways of teaching which produced driven, critical thinking students and future teachers have given way, partly because of the nature of recruits that the board/MCQ system has been churning out.”

The questions asked in JU entrances have little to do with the school syllabus, and as a result, students are made to think out of the box, and analytical skills are reviewed rather than rote-learning.

Many students allege that the admission policy has political motivations behind it. “The new admission policy seeks to change the political fabric of the campus,” said a professor who wished to stay anonymous.

“The attacks on the university by the state have been evident in the last few years. Last year, the education minister began to publicly make noises about the admission process in Jadavpur. So actually we were anticipating it,” said Gupta. “For example, in the new education bill, the EC is the highest decision making body in the university. Earlier you would have elected representatives on it from all constituencies – teachers, students, non-teaching staff etc. Now there is no place for students or non-teaching staff, there is no representation, there are no elections. All the members of the executive committee are nominated or by the gravity of their post. The place of stakeholders in the highest decision making has shrunk. Not that everything was brilliant in the last Left-front regime, but it hadn’t been this way. At least in JU we hadn’t seen this kind of blatant interference like this.”

“Jadavpur University is one of the only places in the state where Trinamool’s student organisation has not won elections, despite enjoying state power for so long. Board marks give the government a direct say on who gets admitted. The main impetus seems to be to get TMC to win elections here,” said Rohit Datta Roy.

In a general body meeting held on July 5, students decided to give the vice-chancellor an ultimatum: by 3 pm on July 6 (Friday), the VC must give a clear stand on the entrance list, or else face various forms of agitation including hunger strikes.

Some batches from various departments such as English have also been boycotting classes for the past few days, and certain departments (including the faculty) have refused to assist with the admission procedure henceforth. On July 6, an academic strike has been announced. Students have said that they will decide on the magnitude of their protest depending on the VC’s response to their doubts.