Behind the screens of NTA's 'mismanagement' woes for JEE, NEET UG, CUET exams

The NTA is simply not equipped and it is unfair that lakhs of students are at its mercy: Professor with the NTA alleges negligence and ineptitude at India's largest testing agency
Pic: Edexlive
Pic: Edexlive

July is a jam-packed month for students sitting for competitive entrance exams this year. From the Common Universities Entrance Test (began on July 15), to NEET UG (on July 17) and JEE Mains (begins July 21), students have a lot on their plate. Interestingly, all three of these exams are being conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA).

However, the conduct of these exams is throwing up buckets of issues for students to deal with. So much so that on July 16, students took to Twitter to trend the hashtags #JEEStudentsWantsJustice #NEETUG2022, #CUET and #UPSC to draw attention to these issues. 

The NEET UG students fought a long battle to get the exam postponed, citing a clash with the other exams, insufficient time to prepare and disruption of travel due to the ongoing Monsoon downpour in many states in India. Their battle concluded yesterday when the Delhi High Court dismissed their petition. The NTA told the High Court that the well-being of the patients should be paramount and that the academic calendar had to get back on track after COVID-related delays. 

With the exam set to happen tomorrow, students on Twitter are highlighting issues with their allotted centres under the #NEETUG. Twitter user @Shlokaagupta, whose bio says he is a NEET aspirant, tweeted, "Im frm Maharashtra, thane district. centre is (50km away frm my residency) Badlapur's sape village. 17/7/22 no trains/buses; contacted my centre theyre advising not to travel by road as it v. dangerous.ill hv to cross 2 red alert + 3 orange alert areas to reach d centre. Pls help."

The #JEEStudentsWantJustice (in the second paragraph you've written it as Students Wants, here it is Students Want) gained more than 113K mentions on Twitter. The JEE Mains Session 1, which concluded last month, was mired in controversy over technical glitches during the exam. Students said that some of them were greeted with blank screens during the Computer-Based Testing (CBT) exam, while questions did not load for others. The affected centres across the country said that the NTA's servers were down and, at some, these were not restored at all. While the NTA has said that there will be a re-exam for these students, there has been no word on those who wrote the exam, but lost time to these technical glitches. 

In an exclusive conversation with EdexLive, a professor from a major central university, who is on the team that prepares the question papers for the NET exam, says that the NTA is facing a severe manpower crisis. He calls the agency mismanaged and criticises the fact that lakhs of students from multiple streams are at the NTA's mercy. 

On the condition of anonymity, the professor claims, "This year, I learnt that the actual process of setting the papers on the console was given to a small private agency. Exam centres are actually centres of the Tata Consultancy Services, which has centres with computers at various spots in the country. These computers are used for the exam, and a small private agency is involved in uploading the question paper on the console of these computers. After the exam, it is TCS that hands over the students' answers to the NTA. The NTA is simply not equipped to conduct these exams."

TCS has now clarified that they are no longer associated with the NTA.

He also raises doubts on the security of the question papers once they are framed. In what can potentially be a leak threat, the professor claims that the laptops of this private agency, on which the question papers are stored, is connected to the internet. The professor also alleged that the agency had introduced changes to at least two of the question papers that were submitted. "They tampered with the Hindi translation of one of the papers leading some questions to entirely change their meaning, and also introduced a change in a Physics papers after the final reading, rendering the questions meaningless," he alleges, adding that this was done even after the agency was told they will be provided with camera-ready final copies that should not be tampered with. 

The Common Universities Entrance Test (CUET) that began yesterday, July 15, was hit by reports of the NTA changing centres of some of the students at the last minute and informing them via email, which many students failed to read. This led to confusion and panic at the exam centres and students ended up reaching their fresh exam centres extremely late, or missing the exam altogether. Now, it has been announced that those who missed the exam due to a change of centre will be given a second chance in Phase II of the CUET which begins in August.

Questions are also being raised on the question paper patterns of the CUET. Experts have said that the Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) format for all subjects is not ideal. The professor who spoke with EdexLive adds that it can be counterproductive for subjects such as History and Political Affairs, and adds that the scale of the CUET is something the NTA is simply not equipped to handle. "Without having the infrastructure in place, you cannot jump to such a test," he added.

In an interview to Hindustan Times to answer the concerns of the students with regards to the CUET, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission, M Jagadesh Kumar said that the exam was being conducted for 14 lakh students in over 54,000 subject combinations. He hinted that the scale of the exam created logistical challenges for the NTA, with the result that some students ended up writing two exams in one day, at centres in different locations. He also said that the schedule for the CUET had to be constricted this year and that things are expected to be smoother next year onwards. 

The NTA was established in November 2017 as a government agency that conducts entrance exams for higher education institutions. Apart from the CUET, JEE and NEET UG, the NTA also conducts the National Eligibility Test (NET), the Common Management Admission Test (CMAT) and the Graduate Pharmacy Aptitude Test (GPAT).

The current chairperson of the NTA is Prof MS Ananth, Former Director, IIT Madras. as per its website, the NTA says, "As the country's largest testing agency, NTA will develop, administer and mark/score more than 150 lakh candidates in various tests annually in more than 500 cities at more than 5,000 locations across the country and abroad." It adds, "NTA will design tests that help to bring in objectivity, fairness and transparency in testing."

Students this year have been questioning the NTA's procedures and the impact that has had on the examination process. For answers from the authorities, EdexLive has reached out to the NTA and will update the article when we get a response.

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