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Merit Betrayed

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Students are protesting because the UGC-NET exam has been cancelled. They are protesting because NEET results are not being cancelled. A student who had filed a case on the NEET issue has been found to have fudged her own particulars. If those protesting are individually questioned, it would be found that most are not in the reckoning for the top spots, anyway. Their behaviour does not in any way qualify them for the kind of education they are aspiring to – just like the anti-social and undisciplined protests of those wanting to become Army recruits while protesting against the Agniveer scheme.

All this raises the suspicion that many such protestors are being exploited by vested interests. There are those who have turned cheating into a commercial product, offered to categories of aspirants at a price. Also, NEET has been opposed from the start by political parties, mostly in the South, on behalf of ‘elite’ private colleges that wish to sell seats at high prices to the rich, rather than admit meritorious students from out of state paying government determined fees. It may be recalled that high quality medical and engineering colleges in the private sector first proliferated in the better-off states. Even now the demand is the same – leave selection processes to individual states.

There would really be no harm in that except, in the long run, most of those obtaining STEM based degrees would be of poor quality in an already stressed environment. India is losing meritorious doctors, engineers and scientists to other countries at a high rate. One of the reasons is the shortage of seats in colleges for the deserving. For those not qualified but desiring valuable degrees, cheating becomes just another step in the process.

It is not surprising that suspects in the NEET case have been identified in Bihar, which has had a long tradition of cheating in exams, right up to the mass scale. When the degree is just a technical requirement for obtaining a government job that also will be obtained by other means, why should anyone hesitate to cheat? It is a deep-seated malaise, with most persons involved in favour of getting around the merit requirements. As a result, it is a really hard task to ensure that the tests produce fair results. One consequence of this is desperate parents seeking admission for children in foreign universities at very high prices. The rich and the privileged have this way out, but many meritorious ones get left out – increasing the sense of desperation. There are no easy solutions.