June 30, 2024

CPI(M) MP Writes to Education Minister on NEET & NET Exams

John Brittas, CPI(M) MP in Rajya Sabha, has written a letter to Dharmendra Pradhan, minister for education, Government of India, on June 21, 2024 expressing pressing concerns surrounding the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and the University Grants Commission National Eligibility Test (UGC NET). Both examinations have elicited significant criticism for their impact on the federal structure and the autonomy of state educational institutions. Below we publish the full text of the letter.

THE introduction of NEET in the past decade, ostensibly aimed at standardising medical entrance examinations nationwide, serves as a classic example of the erosion of the federal structure and the undermining of the autonomy of states. With education now residing in the concurrent list, a harmonious balance between union and state powers is imperative. However, NEET disrupts this balance, depriving states of their rightful authority to conduct entrance examinations tailored to their specific socio-educational contexts. There is widespread sentiment across the country against NEET, which stems from its infringement on states' rights to regulate medical education, its alignment with the CBSE syllabus, necessity of costly extra coaching, etc.

A significant criticism of NEET is its failure to account for the diverse educational backgrounds of students from different states. The uniform syllabus, heavily aligned with the CBSE curriculum, places state board students and economically weaker sections at a disadvantage, thereby undermining the principle of equal opportunity.

NEET has also been criticised for fostering a coaching culture favouring affluent and urban students, disadvantaging financially poor and rural students, thereby raising concerns about social justice and equality. Reports suggest that top NEET performers often come from privileged urban backgrounds with access to costly coaching, perpetuating inequality.

Furthermore, the transparency and security of this centralised examination process by NTA has been repeatedly called into question. NEET’s integrity has been compromised due to scandals involving question paper leaks and arbitrary awarding of grace marks. Even your goodself has recently acknowledged the irregularities in the NEET UG - 2024, emphasizing the need for improvements. These issues raise concerns about the centralised examination process, with the Supreme Court time and again stressing the importance of maintaining the sanctity of the examinations.

Similar to NEET, the UGC NET examination has also faced significant challenges and criticisms, echoing most of the concerns raised about NEET. Additionally, the recent directive (Public Notice No. F. 4-1 (UGC-NET Review Committee)/2024(NET)/140648 dated 27.03.2024) from the UGC mandating the use of NET scores for PhD admissions from 2024-25 academic session onwards, replacing entrance tests conducted by various central/state/private/deemed universities/higher education institutions, represents an infringement on the autonomy of universities including state universities. This move contravenes the UGC’s own 2022 Regulations, and diminishes the role of university faculties and academic councils in shaping admission process. This new development raises concerns for students as well. Since the validity of the NET score is only for one year, students have to reappear annually for PhD admissions, imposing a financial burden on them. Though Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) students have lifetime eligibility for PhD admissions based on their score, they too will be compelled to sit for the NET examination because JRF category students must secure 100 per cent in the interview, while NET qualified students face only 30 per cent weightage in the interview, with the remaining 70 per cent based on NET scoring. 

Furthermore, the reliance on MCQs in NET, which are primarily factual and memory-based, doesn’t evaluate research aptitude or analytical thinking essential for PhD programmes and, like NEET, it promotes a rush to coaching centres.

The centralised administration of NET has also been marred by allegations of question paper leaks, as exemplified by the recent decision of the government to cancel the UGC-NET June 2024 examination due to inputs from the National Cyber Crime Threat Analytics Unit, compounding doubts about the institutional integrity of NTA. 

Additionally, there have been claims of saffronisation of these examinations, with questions reflecting a bias towards particular cultural and historical narratives. For example, the latest NET questions for Performing Arts consisted of questions pertaining to Pran-Prathishta date of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, the composition of the "Prasthan Trayi" of Hindu Philosophy, the appearance of Hanuman in Ramacharit Manas, the beheading of a warrior in the Mahabharata who remained alive to witness the Kurukshetra war, etc. At this juncture, it is pertinent to quote Article 51A (h) of our Constitution: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform”.

Similarly, the high stakes associated with NEET and NET have also led to increased stress, anxiety, and tragic instances of suicides among aspirants. 

Given these pressing issues, it is the need of the hour to discontinue the centralised NEET, limiting its scope to central medical institutions like AIIMS, PGIMER, JIPMER, etc. Similarly, it is also imperative to have a comprehensive review of the NET to restore the autonomy of universities and to uphold the academic standards and transparency. States and universities are better positioned to address the diverse educational needs and challenges of their students. Allowing them to administer their own exams will ensure a more equitable, contextualised, and effective evaluation process.

I earnestly urge you to act expeditiously on these vital aspects, thereby reinforcing the federal principles enshrined in our constitution and promoting a more inclusive and just educational system.