Second opportunity

Court must heed the concerns of medical students regarding multiple tests, opaque standards.

In a welcome development, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a plea seeking review of its earlier judgment against a common entrance test for admission to medical and dental colleges. On Thursday, a three-judge bench of Justices H.L. Dattu, A.R. Dave and Vikramjit Sen issued notices to private and minority colleges whose challenge to the test had been upheld in July by a two-one verdict. The then chief justice, Altamas Kabir, and Justice Sen had held that a mandatory common examination was unconstitutional, that it violated the rights of private, minority and linguistic institutions and of states. Justice Dave had said that the common test was "legal, practical and the need of the society". It would be an understatement to say that on the progress of the review petition ride hopes of freeing aspirants to medical and dental colleges, for graduate and post-graduate courses, from the logistical and financial burdens of multiple tests around the country as well as the opacity of admission standards.

In an educational subset dominated by politically influential private colleges and coaching centres, the absence of a commonly agreed standard to measure merit has obvious consequences. With the number of medical seats falling short of demand in terms of candidates as well as vacancies for qualified doctors, it exposes candidates to the vagaries of high capitation fee and an extortionist coaching industry. In addition, just the logistics of travelling around the country to take multiple entrance tests limits students' opportunities, and loads the system against the less advantaged. In many judgments, the courts have upheld the rights of private and minority institutions and states to set guidelines for admission, with the caveat that merit be a cornerstone. The National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, introduced by the Medical and Dental Councils of India, was seen to be a way of measuring merit, while allowing states and colleges to enforce diverse policies of reservation and other forms of affirmative action.

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