COVID-19 drives up competition for top university places

With many Indian students shelving plans or hesitant to commit to study abroad because of the global coronavirus pandemic, more are turning to top universities at home, pushing up marks required for admissions to top universities amid intense competition. This year, some Delhi University courses are requiring perfect scores for entry.

Top colleges affiliated to Delhi University (DU) – which attracts students from around the country – have always had very high cut-off marks for popular courses. But cut-offs shot up this year as the university released its cut-off lists – the minimum score a candidate needs for admission to undergraduate courses.

This year, the cut-off score of DU’s Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College for Women reached 100% marks required for BA programmes in political science, economics, and psychology. It is the first time a DU college has asked for a 100% cut-off since 2015 when both DU’s Indraprastha College for Women and the College of Vocational Studies asked for perfect scores for their BSc in computer science.

Dev Kumar Sinha, an executive council member of Delhi University, said the main reason for the high cut-off marks this year is that, earlier, a large number of academically bright students used to go abroad for higher studies. “But, in the current situation, due to COVID-19, they were not able to go and so competition in India is increasing. Delhi University is a prime university, so children are turning to it.”

Uncertainty over face-to-face teaching, poorer job prospects abroad due to the COVID-19 related economic downturn, fear of contracting the virus in countries such as the United States and United Kingdom with high incidence rates on campuses, and loss of family income in India has curbed numbers looking to study abroad.

Banks are reporting a dramatic decline in family remittances to children studying abroad this year as many students returned after the imposition of lockdowns.

DU has some 83 affiliated colleges. Cut-off lists depend on the number of remaining seats as students make their choices about which institution to accept. DU keeps on releasing cut-off scores until the seats are filled in its affiliated colleges. This year, more than 350,000 students, most of them passing the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), the main school-leaving exam, applied for 70,000 DU seats.

More high scores in school-leaving exams

More than 184,000 students scored above 90% and more than 41,000 students scored above 95% in the CBSE school-leaving exams this year.

Kumar said students missed some of their board exam papers due to the pandemic and they were awarded marks based on their scores in other papers. This meant the overall percentage increased for many students.

“Board exam results saw better scores on average this year as marks were awarded liberally due to the COVID crisis,” he said. “More students scored above 95% in board examinations. Therefore, the cut-off increased substantially.”

Sapna Chamadia, a professor at Delhi University’s Rajdhani College, said: “We’ve been witnessing this trend [of rising cut-off] for the past few years. They are increasing the cut-off significantly as they want to admit the best students. High cut-off is also seen in subjects like commerce, economics and science, which are more in demand.”

Other top-tier DU colleges, including Shri Ram College of Commerce, Hindu College and Miranda House also released a high cut-off.

The cut-off for popular courses at most DU colleges has increased appreciably compared to previous years.

Hansraj College’s cut-off for Bachelor of Commerce degrees has increased from 98.25% last year to 99.25% this year, while the cut-off for economics and English went up by 0.25% and 0.75% respectively. Shri Ram College of Commerce cut-off for commerce increased from 98.5% in 2019 to 99.5%. The economics degree cut-off is up by 0.25% to 99%. For many courses, there was a rise of 1% to 2% this year compared with 2019.

Many students feel the high cut-offs announced for undergraduate admission put many deserving students at a disadvantage. Sarika Saxena, a second-year student at a DU college said: “The government wants to double the country’s college and university enrolment, but how can this goal be achieved if young students are denied admission in colleges and courses of their choice soon after completing their school education? We need more transparency in the admission process.”

On 12 October student groups the Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS) and the left-affiliated Students’ Federation of India (SFI) staged protests against the Delhi University administration in the capital, New Delhi, over high cut-offs which they said were unfair and unjustifiable. Such admission standards ensure the most marginalised students are deprived access to quality higher education, they said.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal recently underscored the need to open more colleges and universities in Delhi to provide higher education opportunities in the city.

“Around 250,000 students in Delhi pass Class 12 board exams every year and, of them, only 125,000 get admission in city colleges,” he said, noting that DU has not affiliated any new colleges in the past 30 years.

“The DU Act requires that new colleges established in Delhi will have to be affiliated to Delhi University. I’ve requested Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal [to make] suitable changes in the DU Act so that more higher-education institutions could be set up in Delhi,” Kejriwal added.