There have been a lot of debate in the newspapers as well as on my blog (1, 2, 3) on the Ramasami Committee report, the desirability of considering board performance in engineering admission, and the problems of the boards, etc. One aspect that has not been considered is the legal process that needs to be followed for bringing about any change in the system. Who has the authority to decide that there will be no JEE tomorrow.
Let us start from the Institutes of Technology Act, which forms the legal basis for setting up IITs. Relevant parts of the Act, which deal with admissions are reproduced below (thanks to my colleague Neeraj Misra for pointing this out):
28. Subject to the provisions of this Act and the Statutes. The Ordinances of each Institute may provide for all or any of the following matters, namely:-
(a) the admission of the students to the Institute; 29.
(1) Save as otherwise provided in this section, Ordinances shall made by the Senate. (2) All Ordinances made by the Senate shall have effect from such date as it may direct, but every Ordinance so made shall be submitted, as soon as may be, to the Board and shall be considered by the Board at its next succeeding meeting. (3) The Board shall have power by resolution to modify or cancel any such Ordinance and such Ordinance shall from the date of such resolution stand modified accordingly or cancelled, as the case may be. 33.
(1) It shall be the general duty of the Council to co-ordinate the activities of all the institutes. (2) Without prejudice to the provisions of sub-section (1), the Council shall perform the following functions, namely:- Functions of Council
(a) to advise on matters relating to the duration of the courses, the degrees and other academic distinctions to be conferred by the Institutes, admission standards and other academic matters.
Reading the Act, it is amply clear that admission to IITs has to be done as per their respective ordinances, and that ordinances can only be made by their respective Senates (with some power to their respective Boards to modify and cancel any proposed ordinance).
Now, let us look at the Ordinances of IIT Kanpur (and I would assume that other IITs would have taken a similar decision for admission to under-graduate programs). The Ordinance 3.2 says:
3.2 The Admission of Indian Nationals to the B. Tech., B. Tech.-M. Tech. (Dual Degree) and M.Sc. (Integrated) Programmes shall be made once a year on the basis of the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) conducted jointly by all the IITs.
The Ordinance is very clear how the admission has to take place. As far as spirit of the Act is concerned, any significant change in JEE should be first approved by Senates of all seven IITs, but that spirit was lost long time ago. As far as the letter of the Act is concerned, changes to admission process can be done by those conducting and managing JEE (that is Directors, Chairpersons and Vice Chairs of JEE), but only as long as the exam name remains Joint Entrance Examination, and it is conducted jointly by all the IITs.
In the proposed set up, the examination name is being changed to ISEET (Indian Science-Engineering Entrance Test), and its conduct will be the responsibility of an external body. How would this stand a legal challenge. If any stake holder, any student, any potential student, any parent, were to challenge such a decision (as and when it is announced) in any High Court of the country, getting a stay should be possible. And since ISEET would be discriminating against those who are giving board exams in 2012, it really should not be too difficult to at least get a stay order (though I must admit that I am not a legal expert).
The way IIT Council has operated so far, it is not just assuming the power of Senates of seven IITs, it also seems to believe that it has the power to decide admission policies for all other colleges and universities in the country. It has no problem in deciding that admissions to all engineering colleges should be on the basis of ISEET and board marks. Why is IIT Council discussing admissions in NITs, IISERs, IIITs, and other places. Does it believe that it has the legal mandate and that those systems can't think for themselves. Interestingly, the minutes issued by the Ministry for the September 2011 meeting initially said,
"the Council appreciated efforts and accepted the broad principles indicated in the report. It asked Dr. Ramasami to submit the final report, which was to be placed before CABE and State Education Ministers for a final decision."
The revised minutes for the meeting say,
"the Council decided that for admission to undergraduate programmes in Science and Engineering weightage be given to the marks obtained by the students in class XIIth board examination after scientific statistical normalization. It was also decided that the report, which has been accepted by the IIT Council would also be placed before the CABE and State Education Ministers so that the new system could be put in place by the academic session 2013-14."
It is extremely interesting that IIT Council accepts a report which is not even submitted at that time. Someone also decided between the initial minutes and the revised minutes that IIT Council indeed had the power to force this way of admissions on everyone, and they don't need to talk to State Education Ministers for a final decision.
People who reach at the top should be humble. Unfortunately the minutes of the IIT Council do not express that humility.