Wednesday, October 24, 2007

At last, CAT may enter the 21st century

Mansi Bhatt reports in the Economic Times:

... In what could be a dramatic shift in the entrance system of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), the CAT committee of IIMs is considering to hold the test online.

And if this isn’t enough, the committee is also considering to give respite to lakhs of IIM aspirants from the one-year long wait to write the toughest test, common admission test (CAT). Instead, the IIM aspirants might be allowed to take the test online for a definite number of times during the year. The CAT committee of IIMs is in talks with leading global online test company Prometric to get the job done.

I have always been amazed at the zeal with which IIMs protect their monopoly over CAT (and, similarly, IITs protect theirs over JEE). So much so that they actually come in the way of India's progress towards one standardized test administered at the national level for MBA, engineering, etc.

Great institutions and their administrators do not -- or, should not have to -- take pride in their ability to run entrance exams (even if they are deeply flawed); if you listen to Bakul Dholakia, he seems to be doing precisely that:

Today, we have more than 100 non-IIM institutes affiliated to CAT and it is still being governed and run by IIMs. Is this not success that we still run the show of holding CAT and such large number of non-IIM institutes are using our system to recruit students?

Are there good reasons for our leading institutions to run their own entrance exams? I can think of one: money. Entrance exams are money spinners, and the money that institutions generate this way comes with no strings whatsoever. So, our administrators are unwilling to let go of them, even if it means it's a drain on their faculty time. Remember, I'm not talking about setting the exam, I'm talking about the mechanics and logistics of running the exam at hundreds of centers, protecting the question papers and answersheets, etc., for which faculty are recruited routinely.

What is the kind of money we are talking about? Let's get back to the ET story:

... CAT forms cost around Rs 1,100 ...

With 200,000 students taking the exam, the total revenue is about Rs.220 million (Rs.22 crores), or about Rs. 30 million per IIM. It may not be big money, but it's no chicken feed either. (I understand that this would at least be 10 percent of the operating budget at each IIM.)

[BTW, This "money with no strings" is also the motivation for the distance education programs and short term certificate programs offered by many of our cash-starved universities; see the sidebar on this post].


  1. Niket said...

    I doubt if that money amounts to anything. Conducting exams and measures taken to ensure there are no "leaks" require shitloads of money.

    "Are there good reasons for our leading institutions to run their own entrance exams?"
    Yes. To ensure that we get the "best" student.
    Yes. Because there is a general distrust about other exams because of the paper leaks.
    Yes. Because although still coaching classes, getting through JEE (and perhaps CAT) still involves more than learning "21 questions set".

    I don't necessarily agree with the reasons. But there are reasons, and they are not "money with no strings attached."

  2. Abi said...

    Niket: IMHO, preventing leaks is a sad excuse for holding on to the responsibility of running entrance exams. There are umpteen other organizations (CBSE, for one) that can do this job with as much integrity as the IITs and the IIMs can.

    [I don't have to remind you that the record of IITs and IIMs in preventing leaks is not exactly blemish-free].

    Your other reasons revolve around ensuring the quality of the question paper. For this, isn't it enough for IIT/IIM professors to be consultants to the organization that runs the exams? This way, they get involved in that aspect of the exam for which they actually have "core competence".