Barely out of Secondary School, as thousands of boys and girls were pushed into a CBT by NTA for an eligibility test to enter colleges, thousands of students dropped out involuntarily. Maleeha Sofi reports the stories of loss of time, effort and hope in an examination mismanaged by managers
From centres outside the preferred state to uninformed protracted examination duration to sudden server failures at the time of the test, and silly spelling mistakes, NTA left no stone unturned to disappoint CUET aspirants. Some students found the examination helpful in making them competent while others are still worried and waiting for the release of their admit cards.
Common University Entrance Test (CUET) has been mandated by University Grants Commission (UGC) for continuing education after the twelfth class. Since 2021, the National Testing Agency (NTA) makes the selections across India for undergraduate and post-graduate studies. NTA conducts JEE and NEET every year but still mismanaged the CUET 2023.
For undergraduate courses, earlier the students would be selected by colleges on the basis of twelfth-class merit. Now, they have to qualify for CUET-UG for admission. Though the NTA started the process in February, the crisis spilt over to June.
To lack of awareness, not many students knew about the change in the system and did not apply. NTA reopened the registration process on April 9, 2023, but there are fair chances that many students missed the bus.
“There is no clarity about the number of subjects that are compulsory to take admission in my desired degree and college. I still don’t understand the process of examination even after appearing in it,” a student wishing to be anonymous said. “ “Had been it normal college admission, my classes would have been started already. CUET has caused a delay in admissions.”
Many students complained they got very less time for preparations given the thick syllabus that NTA released. Students lacked clarity and proper guidance and most of them were dissatisfied with their examination.
“There was no clarity about the syllabus and paper format. I could not even find relevant study material,” Afreen, a CUET aspirant, who considers the examination needful, said. She expected NTA’s ‘better execution’ of a national-level examination.
Students faced challenges due to technical glitches as well. While filling out the forms, many students did not receive the OTP even after trying until the last moment. Student helpline numbers given on the website of CUET SAMARTH never answered a call, students alleged, insisting they repeatedly filled forms.
Senora Zakir expressed her resentment over being given “less time after her twelfth class examination for preparation. “If I do not get selected because of less preparation, I will end up wasting my one academic year,” she said, insisting she is already in depression. “It was moving from one examination to another.”
Besides, the NTA did not release the date sheet beforehand. Only when intimation slips are released, do students get to know the date of their examination. The slips were released in a phased manner. Due to the delay in the conduct of the examination, many students out of less exposure fear that they might have missed the examination. If the dates were notified beforehand, students would be relieved.
The examination centres of CUET UG triggered a lot of bad publicity. Students were agitated about seeing centres outside their preferred cities when the intimation slips were released. The issue was relevant throughout the country. Students all over India took to social media and posted their intimation slips, questioning the allotment of NTA.
On May 19, NTA released a notification cancelling the examination in Jammu and Kashmir that were scheduled for May 21 to May 25 citing the centre crisis. It relieved student tensions in Jammu and Kashmir – courtesy G20 meeting – unlike the rest of their counterparts across India. Many of them choose to take the help of memes on social media to address the issue.
Data provided by the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar on his Twitter handle suggests the daily attendance in CUET UG remained between 60 per cent to 75 per cent. It means around 25-40 per cent of students who filled out the forms missed their examination. NTA claims that attendance has seen a ‘rise’ as compared to 2022. This rise cannot be counted as a success because last year the examination was not compulsory for admission to every college. Any student who filled out the form planned to continue the studies after the twelfth and there is no possible reason for such a huge number of students missing out on the examination except the misinformation and distant centres.
“Many of my friends are compelled to drop out because they did not know about the CUET and how to submit the form,” Zakir said. After the first phase of the examination was postponed, new centres were allotted for all the students across Kashmir districts. Students were unhappy with the centres allotted.
“I live in Pampore and my centre was in Budgam and that too in the first shift,” Zakir said. “I had to reach the venue at 7:30 am and it would take me around two hours. I had to leave home by 5:30 am. We don’t have our own vehicle in the family and managing transport was another challenge.”
NTA data suggests that 87309 candidates had registered from Jammu and Kashmir. The examination is a Computer Based Test (CBT). Centres with such capacity to conduct the examination had to be designated for students. “NTA designated less number of centres in Kashmir,” said Zaid Nabi, a student, having only this one issue with the CUET.
“My examination was scheduled at 3:30 pm and due to a server error at the last moment it started at 4:00 pm. My examination time did not suffer thankfully but we do not expect this from an over-hyped examination,” a student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said. “Besides, there were spelling, typing and grammatical errors. Zakir Hussain was Zabir Hussain and typing errors in sentences changed their meaning. Nothing of this was expected.”.
Interestingly some students skipped the examination on the basis of the “guidance” they got from teachers. Is there a provision for admitting candidates outside the NTA list?
Hopelessness and Helplessness
Students have been preparing for the examination with everything it takes to qualify and secure admission to their desired university. Failing to do so would waste one academic year. Khawish Yousuf, a student of Mass Communication had started to study as soon as NTA announced the examination. She has been among the toppers at the time of admission in Bachelors and she aimed at the same goal for CUET-PG.
On June 7, NTA released intimation slips and admit cards for the examination scheduled on June 9, 10 and 11. Since then, she tried to download the same but every time ‘Not allotted yet. Will be intimated later’, appeared on her screen. “I tried again and again for the next two days but nothing happened and eventually I missed my examination,” she sighed.
Several users on Twitter expressed the same ordeal. In response to this, NTA released a notification on June 3, 2023, which announced an examination in the second phase of 60 courses. “Nobody I knew faced the same issue but after searching on Twitter I came to know that many other students who had applied for the same course across India have faced the same issue,” Khwahish said. Taking note of both the instances she was hopeful of an examination in the second phase for her subject too. For her, it was only a notification away and all her stress would be resolved.
“I was actually expecting a positive response like that’s the least they can do after giving me and many other students unbearable stress but I came to know from a national media organization that they blamed us and that we are using this as an excuse for a second chance. What should I expect now?”
The Indian Express quoted an NTA official saying: “It is impossible that some students received their admit cards after the examination. We have done our review and no such incident was captured in it. Some people have been posting this on Twitter simply to get a second chance for the examination.”
Did she not contact the help desk? “I tried every available method to solve the issue. Initially, I thought something is wrong with my network so many of my friends, my family members and relatives tried to check they received the same response,” Khawhish said. “After that, I called them multiple times on their two mentioned helplines but no one answered. In fact, I was directed to an auto-generated message that I remember very clearly as I called so many times ‘Nobody is available to take your call at the moment goodbye!’ I mailed NTA multiple times but did not get a reply. I even left a query on the website. Whenever I log in, it still shows a pending status.”