The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown into uncertainty the introduction of centralised admission tests at public universities this year.
Following a meeting with the vice chancellors of public universities, the University Grants Commission in February decided to introduce the new system styled “Central Admission Test” for 2020-2021 academic year to reduce hassles of admission seekers.
But now doubts have cropped up about its introduction this year, as the committees formed to lay down the procedures and methods of the new admission system could not work properly due to the pandemic, a top UGC official told this newspaper, seeking anonymity.
The government had shut down all educational institutions on March 17 following the detection of the first Covid-19 case in the country at the beginning of that month. The shutdown was extended till August 31.
It remains uncertain when the institutions will reopen.
“We cannot say anything for sure about the central admission tests for public universities. We will sit next month to discuss the issue. There are possibilities that the central admission tests will not be held this year. But we will try our best to hold those,” UGC Chairman Prof Kazi Shahidullah told The Daily Star yesterday.
He pointed out the reopening of the universities depends on the coronavirus situation and also health experts’ recommendations.
“Since this year’s HSC examinations are yet to be held, we will get some time,” Shahidullah said adding that if they can utilise this extra time, it could be possible to hold the centralised tests.
This year’s Higher Secondary Certificate and its equivalent exams that were scheduled to begin on April 1 have already been delayed by more than four months due to the shutdown of educational institutions.
Usually, admission tests at public universities are held a month after the publication of HSC results.
Till last year, 32 of the 39 public universities held separate admission tests, and the remaining seven agricultural universities held a uniform admission test.
When it comes to higher education, public universities remain students’ top choice. But the number of seats is way lower than that of students seeking admission.
About a million students pass the HSC and its equivalent examinations every year, and the public universities enrol around 65,000.
The students’ hassle begin after their HSC exams. Many of them turn to coaching centres to prepare for admission tests. They buy admission forms for different units of multiple universities and spend a lot of time and money on travel and accommodation.
They often travel with parents or guardians, and sometimes have to check into hotels for overnight stay. There are cases when a candidate has to take separate tests for seats in separate faculties, even separate departments, in one university.
The UGC has long been suggesting modifying the existing admission process, saying it is too expensive and coaching-oriented.
In several annual reports, the commission said the public universities would have to take initiatives to introduce a uniform admission system to reduce students’ hassles and cut their expenses.
In 2010, the education ministry suggested introducing a uniform admission test, dubbed “cluster system”, for the public universities.
President Abdul Hamid, also the chancellor of all universities in the country, on several occasions asked the VCs of all public universities to introduce a uniform admission system to reduce the hassles of students and their parents.
Against this backdrop, the UGC on January 23 this year said it would go for the new admission test system this year.
According to the new system, there will be four separate clusters for the public universities — one for the agricultural universities, which is already in place; one for the science and technology universities, one for the engineering universities, and one for the general universities.
“Several committees have been working on the procedures and modalities of the admission tests for these clusters,” UGC Member Muhammed Alamgir told this newspaper.
Five universities — Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), Rajshahi University, Jahangirnagar University and Chittagong University — have reservations about the new system, he mentioned.
“We will go ahead with our plan and hope these universities will join the system. I believe that all are showing positive attitude towards the new admission system,” he added.