NTA: Single agency for multiple exams
Abhay Anand, 25 May 2017

The proposal to set up an umbrella organization to conduct professional entrance exams is expected to give a fillip to India’s higher education and cut time lags in a big way. Careers360 explains why we require a single testing agency and the benefits you can accrue from it. Read on to know more about the National Testing Agency.

The Union Finance Minister’s recent budget announcement that the government proposes to “establish a National Testing Agency (NTA) as an autonomous and self-sustained premier testing organization to conduct all entrance examinations for higher education institutions” has brought cheer to India’s student community, trying to navigate a plethora of entrance exams conducted by various agencies. “This would free CBSE, AICTE and other premier institutions from these administrative responsibilities so that they can focus more on academics,” added Arjun Jaitley.


The industry also has welcomed the move wholeheartedly. “India needs one agency for carrying out one single entrance test for all undergraduate studies or graduate studies. Students should be free to take 3-4 tests and consider the highest marks for entry. This will remove the fear factor and be akin to GMAT. This will also drive uniform quality across all States, said T.V. Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Global Education Services.


Need for NTA

At present, there is no uniformity in the admission process across the country for various undergraduate courses like Engineering, Medicine or Law. The administration of JEE for engineering admissions is with CBSE, while the operative part is in the hands of respective IITs that set the questions and evaluation. The administration of NEET for medical admissions too is with the CBSE. While the regulator for engineering is AICTE, it is MCI that regulates medical admissions. When it comes to Law, it is a National Law University that conducts the common admission test, CLAT, on behalf of the CLAT Committee and the domain is regulated by the Bar Council of India. Lakhs and lakhs of students appear for these entrances, putting a severe strain on these bodies, which ideally should be more focused on academics rather than act as test-conducting agencies.


Various Higher Education Commissions, from time to time, have also recommended for the same to bring uniformity by standardizing the testing process throughout the country. The NTA is expected to address this problem by formulating a uniform entrance examination for admissions in different branches of higher learning.


The proposed NTA is also expected to remove the inherent time lags when various agencies conduct different entrance exams for the same academic year. The government will provide a corpus of Rs. 50 crores for establishing the NTA, thereafter, the exam fee paid by students is expected to make the agency self-reliant, which is beneficial for its autonomous status.


NTA framework

The proposed NTA is likely to be established on the lines of Educational Testing Service (ETS) of the US. ETS conducts examinations such as Graduation Record Examination (GRE) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). So, the proposed agency will have to build expertise in areas such as psychometry, statistics and domain knowledge and prove its reliability. It should also be acceptable to all the institutions in the country.


“Single examination at a National level will be successful if all the engineering institutions have nearly same standards (faculty, physical infrastructure, laboratories etc.). Indirectly, it may help improve the quality and delivery of education across all institutions,” said prof R S Sirohi, former Director, IIT, Delhi.



There are some pressing issues that have to be immediately addressed. The questions doing the rounds are: Will NTA reduce the effect of coaching? Will it bridge the rural-urban divide, especially in engineering and medicine? And what about the marking system of various state education boards? Should it be a government-run agency or an autonomous one? “Now whether it should be a government body or not is contentious. I prefer reputed private bodies to carry out the test with a government body managing the process but not a government body actually doing the test,” Pai added.


There are fears that, as of now, the proposal could face a lot of legal hurdles. The status of education as a subject in the concurrent list; the large number of government and private institutions established by States are some of the problem areas.


Prof Gautam Barua, Director, IIIT Guwahati said, “In the absence of a uniform standard across State Boards of class XII, the need for entrance tests for admission to colleges, will remain. Having a neutral body devoted full -time to the activity will help in devising ways of evaluation that meets the needs of Higher Education institutes, and that is also mindful of how technological changes can help. There are many challenges with so much heterogeneity among candidates.”


There are other questions that need answers up front. “What is to be tested? Are multiple choice exams the best way to assess ability? But then, how do we avoid differences in marking when “long answers” are required? The situation of seats remaining vacant will also have to handled,” he added.


Will it help students?

At present students have to go through a number of application processes. Highlighting the benefits of having a single exam-conducting body, Prof. Barua said, “If students have to give fewer exams to get admission in the many higher education institutions, it will help them. It will also help institutions as they will not have to conduct their own exams for a large number of students.” Will NTA bite the bullet? 


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