Even as India is at the threshold of becoming the third largest Internet market in the world after China and the USA, technical glitches and woeful inadequacies in the systems of online academic applications and tests pose a legitimate argument against the case of ease of access.
Various studies like the Internet in India (I-Cube) report and IAMAI report from last year projected a boom in the use of Internet in India and especially harped on the comfort of the Indian youth with net technology. With the number of Internet users crossing 100 million in September, 2011 and talk of the introduction of 4G services in the Indian market, access to the Internet has become easy in urban and rural areas, alike.
Despite the seemingly impressive statistics, services that have been introduced on academic websites to enable students to use online tools for filling application forms, paying through Internet-banking services and taking online admission tests are marred with technical glitches that often end up creating trouble for applicants.
The server glitch on UGC’s website for NET aspirants at a time when the last dates for filing applications are drawing to a close, has yet again sparked a debate on the issue of reliability of this system in India. UGC had introduced its online application system in June, 2010 and officials had, at that time, said that this method would make the form-filling procedure for the intensely-competitive National Eligibility Test substantially easier. The online method of applying for examinations such as NET does offer the promise of convenience since the roll number for candidates along with their respective centres for the test are, both, generated automatically.
On 29 April, the UGC announced that the last date for filling online application forms had been extended to 2 May 2 from the earlier 30 April. However, without any corrective measures from the Commission to fix its over-burdened servers, the extension will mean little to applicants. The problem becomes not only psychologically taxing, but also financially heavy for those aspirants who are without Internet connections at home and thus rely on Internet cafes to apply for such exams. Such aspirants are ending up paying a significant amount of money at these Internet cafes for the unnecessary hours they have been spending on the UGC website trying to access the online-registration pages through crashed servers.
These problems put UGC in a bad light since the same had been encountered by aspirants in 2011, too, and thus reflecting the bad management of the highly coveted entrance examination. In 2009, applicants to CAT had also experienced technical glitches while appearing for the computer-based entrance test that was introduced in place of the pen-and-paper test that year. However, the online test developers and IIM authorities have since then worked to comb out glitches in the system and the paperless CAT entrance is now being conducted smoothly.
UGC receives lakhs of applications from NET aspirants for entry into PhD programmes and university level teaching jobs, along with the promise of the Junior Research Fellowship. For an online application forum that has high stakes and the hopes of lakhs of aspirants attached to it, the UGC needs to focus intensely on ensuring that repeated instances of technical glitches do not create additional hurdles for applicants who engage in rigorous preparation for NET.