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Union human resources development minister Kapil Sibal has taken a step backwards on his announced plan to reform the IIT entrance system with a clarification that there was no move to allow only students who score 80-85 per cent marks in their Class XII examinations to take the entrance examinations. The minister went back on his previous day’s announcement perhaps under pressure. Leaders of states where the coaching classes are a thriving industry had openly come out against the proposal for a higher cut-off percentage. Sibal has now stated that it is for the IITs to decide the cut-off percentage. A committee of IIT directors has been tasked to work out a revised system of admission and the cut-off marks issue will be part of its brief.

The minister was right in proposing a system where the students’ performance in the Class XII board exam would get greater weightage. At present the cut-off percentage is 60 per cent. Those who can afford coaching for IIT JEE for years have an unfair advantage in the present system. Rigorous and sustained coaching also deadens many faculties other than those strictly necessary to pass the entrance examination. Many students with better intelligence and creativity fail to get through the test. If the standards in the IITs have fallen, one reason is that the students who secure admission through coaching find themselves unable to cope with the stiff challenges on the campus. A higher cut-off percentage will broaden the catchment area of talent, ensure that the competition is on level ground and help the IITs to get students who have more intelligence and imagination than skills to solve the same old problems in the same old manner, acquired at coaching centres. The benchmark of 80-85 per cent is not sacrosanct. But it should be sufficiently high to make students give importance to their school work.

The new system should aim at reducing the role of coaching institutions in admissions. It should be flexible and can even change from year to year, so that it does not become too predictable. There is another committee also under Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar which has been set up to suggest measures to bring in more excellence in the IITs. Though IITs are the country’s best technical education institutions, they do not have its best students. The new admission system should be designed to attract the best.

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