With most public universities already fixing dates for admission tests after the publication of this year's HSC examination results, the battle of admission seekers for getting a seat at their desired university is about to begin. Admission seekers along with their guardians will have to go from one district to another to sit for admission tests held at different public universities across the country. Apart from the hassles of the admission process, the financial burden is also considerable for the students, many of whom come from low and middle income backgrounds. They will have to spend a lot of money to buy admission forms, for travel and accommodation, not to mention the money they will be spending for admission coaching. Although a uniform admission test could solve many of these problems, there is little hope that the system will be introduced anytime soon.
Back in 2010, the education ministry decided to introduce a uniform admission test or a “cluster system.” They suggested that universities of similar characteristics be brought under an individual cluster for which a single admission test would be taken. Under the cluster system, admission seekers will be enrolled at the universities based on the merit list. For example, students would take one test for a place in any of the science and technology universities and another test for a place in any of the agriculture universities and so on. This would give students the option to choose the subject they want to study and also the university they want to get admitted to.
However, eight years on, no sign of progress is in sight regarding implementation of the decision. The reason is that our major public universities have been unable to reach a consensus on holding a centralised admission test. Many academicians, students and guardians believe that these universities are not in favour of the system because a centralised admission test would do away with the extra income of the universities and teachers through the sale of admission forms, invigilation and checking of answer scripts. While that is a major reason, there are other factors that have contributed to this situation.
Some reputed public universities of the country have reservations about holding a single admission test because they believe they would lose their distinction from others and such a test would compromise the quality of the test. Currently, BUET, Dhaka University or Jahangirnagar University hold their admission tests under strict invigilation and security in their own campuses. But in case of a uniform admission test, maintaining the same standard would be difficult. The Association of Universities of Bangladesh, a platform of vice-chancellors of public universities, are yet to come to any decision regarding introduction of a uniform exam system.
Apparently, a large number of students also think the same way. In 2016, the daily Prothom Alo published opinions of some admission seekers on this issue. It was seen that a big percentage of students were against the decision despite the fact that a uniform admission test would save them time, money and hassle associated with the admission process as it is now.
Admission seekers are mostly concerned about the possibility of corruption and manipulations—question paper leaks and students' resorting to unfair means—that could take place in the admission centres outside Dhaka. Therefore, before introducing a uniform admission test, the authorities will have to take all the necessary precautions to ensure a corruption-free exam. Special precaution needs to be taken in selecting the exam centres. However, as the government was successful in stopping the question paper leaks during this year's HSC exams, similar measures can be undertaken to do the same in case of university admission tests.
There are also fears among admission seekers about the “cluster system.” Some students I talked to said that the system, if implemented, would deprive them of a second chance in case they failed to do well in the single test taken, which would eventually limit their scope to get admission in a reputed public university. In the current system if a student fails to get a seat at Dhaka University, they can take a test at another university. However, according to Prof Abdul Mannan, chairman of UGC, this is all a matter of perception. If students in the developed countries can be enrolled at a university based on scores of standardised tests such as SAT or GRE or GMT, our students should also not fear taking a uniform test, he said.
Then there are prejudices among the general people regarding a uniform system, as was evident from the incident of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST). In 2014, Shahjalal University of Science and Technology and Jessore University of Science and Technology agreed to hold a combined admission test and had taken all the preparations accordingly. But they had to cancel the decision at the last moment because of protests by the local people who believed that a uniform test would bar the students of Sylhet to get admission in SUST.
So clearly, there is a lack of understanding among students and guardians about the uniform exam system. Farzana Islam, vice-chancellor, Jahangirnagar University, believes that a uniform system is always better because it would reduce the plight of the students. But before introducing this, more research needs to be done to understand the feasibility of the system. "We need to have serious discussions with the teachers, need to hold inter-university view exchange meetings, etc. which have not been done yet," said professor Islam.
From the '80s, our medical and dental colleges have been holding a single admission test. Currently, a uniform test is held for all public and private medical and dental colleges. When Chuet, Ruet and Kuet were under the Bangladesh Institute of Technology (BIT), they used to hold a combined admission test as well. Clearly, there are examples that a uniform test does work and can make the process easy for admission seekers.
In many countries of the world—from Australia, China, Indonesia, and Japan, to many European countries—a centralised admission test is held for enrolling students into universities. In the USA, although there is no centralised university admission test, a large number of educational institutions admit students taking into account the scores of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), as well as their higher secondary school results. Even in India, there is an independent body which holds a standardised test for at least 500 institutions.
Although public universities might have issues regarding implementing the system as there are many subjects under different faculties, for engineering and agricultural universities it should not be a problem at all. Farzana Islam says, "We cannot say for sure that this will be the best system until we implement it. So, I think we should begin with some clusters first, rather than going for a single test for all subjects at one go. We should take one test first for, say, social science or life science, as an experiment, and see how it goes."
We should start the process keeping in mind the challenges of the system. A uniform admission test is the need of the time, which will not only save time and cost of admission seekers, but also reduce session jams that eat away precious time of a student's academic life. Hopefully, this will also stop the vicious coaching business. Introducing the system would definitely be a big achievement for Bangladesh.
Naznin Tithi is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.