The Telegraph | Basant Kumar Mohanty | 13 May 2017 |
New Delhi, May 12: An overburdened Central Board of Secondary Education has said it cannot continue holding the National Eligibility Test twice a year, defying a government prod and stoking students’ and teachers’ fears about the future of academia. Board chairperson Rajesh Kumar Chaturvedi wrote to higher education secretary K.K. Sharma on May 5 that the board had too many all-India exams to conduct. He said it could at best hold the NET once a year, preferably in November or December. Some 3-4 lakh master’s degree holders take the exam to join research programmes or take up teaching jobs in colleges and universities. The top 8,800 candidates are awarded Junior Research Fellowships. Since its introduction in 1984, the test has been held twice every year, usually in June and December. The University Grants Commission, the higher education regulator, conducted the exam till 2014, when the responsibility was handed over to the board without explanation. The board’s stand has put thousands of careers at risk and threatens to aggravate the talent shortage in academia. The last NET was held in January. After The Telegraph reported on April 19 about uncertainty looming over the next exam, due in June-July, the higher education department brought the matter before human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar.
On April 24, Javadekar decided the board should continue holding the test till an alternative body was given the job, officials said. Javadekar’s ministry plans to set up a “national testing agency” next year to conduct competitive tests for educational institutions. Sharma, the high education secretary, wrote to his school education counterpart, Anil Swarup, to direct the board to conduct the summer test. Swarup then wrote to the board chief. Chaturvedi has now written directly to Sharma that the board can conduct the NET only once a year because it also has on its hands the JEE Main (engineering), National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (medical) and the Central Teachers Eligibility Test (recruitment for centrally funded schools). He has added that the NET involves preparing questions in more than 80 subjects, and suggested the University Grants Commission be given back the task of holding the exam. Officials said the higher education department was likely to again request the board to hold the test. Late last year, Chaturvedi had written to the ministry that the board would not conduct the NET any more but was persuaded to hold the January edition this year and was expected to conduct it in June too.
But the board has not yet advertised the exam, something it had done on April 4 last year, seeking applications between April 13 and May 12. Chaturvedi did not take landline or cellphone calls, or respond to email or text messages. Students are dismayed. “This is part of a massacre in the fields of academia and research,” said Thayee Krishna, a NET aspirant and master’s student in English at JNU. “If the exam is not held, nobody will be eligible for fellowships or assistant professors’ posts. Students from poor backgrounds depend on the fellowship,” she said. Krishna feared that the number of fellowships might be cut if the exam was held just once a year. She cited how research seats had been slashed at universities because of the limits the regulator had clamped on the student-teacher ratio for MPhil and PhD courses. Nandita Narain, who heads the Federation of Central Universities Teachers Associations, said the last-minute hiccup over the exam betrayed the government’s lack of seriousness about the NET. “If the government were serious, it could have settled the matter in advance. But this is being done as part of a larger design to neglect higher education and cut down funding for research and universities,” the St Stephen’s teacher said. She cited how the regulator had cut funding over the past few years. “The real interest in higher education is coming from the marginalised sections. Any cut on fellowships or funds to public universities will hurt their empowerment,” she said. – Courtesy