Top universities still undecided on single admission test

The government of Bangladesh is planning a single admission test for all students applying to public universities with effect from the next academic year, but five leading universities are yet to throw their weight behind the plan, raising fears about a delay in its implementation.

The single test, announced by apex regulatory body the University Grants Commission (UGC) after a meeting in early April, aims to make the admissions process less onerous for applicants and to reduce the cost for students, many of whom enrol in expensive coaching centres to prepare for the tests and are forced to travel from one city to another, sometimes staying overnight, in order to sit the different institutional tests.

Under the new plan, all public universities will enrol students through a single admission test from the 2023-24 academic year. The government envisages setting up a separate body, the National Testing Authority (NTA), to hold that exam.

Bangladesh’s Education Minister Dipu Moni told the media after the 3 April meeting that the decision on a single entrance test was taken in the interests of students and parents. The new system will be discussed with university deans and the examination committees. The single test would be inclusive and would not affect the uniqueness and autonomy of a university, she added.

Leading universities

All universities have been given until 30 April to share their views with the UGC, but uncertainty about whether major universities such as Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), Rajshahi University, Jahangirnagar University and Chittagong University, all of which are top destinations for students, will participate in the national test system has raised concerns within the UGC about the timely implementation of the plan.

The country currently has 53 public universities. Excluding five medical universities, two affiliated universities and an open university, the rest can accept around 60,000 students each academic year. Currently, 22 general, science and other public universities hold a ‘central admission test’ under a cluster. Besides this, seven agriculture and three engineering and technology universities hold joint tests in two different clusters.

Nine universities – including Dhaka University, Buet, Rajshahi University, Jahangirnagar University and Chittagong University – are not part of the cluster system, and they each hold their own separate admission tests following the HSC exam at the end of Class 12.

In interviews with University World News this week, Jahangirnagar University Vice-Chancellor Nurul Alam, Rajshahi University Vice-Chancellor Golam Shabbir Sattar and Dhaka University Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic) ASM Maksud Kamal, as well as top officials of BUET and Chittagong University, all said they are still to decide whether to join the single entry test system.

“We will take a decision after holding discussions at the academic council, and other decision-making bodies including the central admission committee,” Rajshahi University’s Sattar said.

Dhaka University’s Kamal said: “We will take a decision that will be better for admission seekers.”

The UGC, however, is hopeful all universities will join the single-entry test, saying it was the proposal of Bangladesh’s then president Mohammad Abdul Hamid. The president is chancellor of all public universities. Mohammed Shahabuddin has since taken over as president.

“We think everyone will join the single-entry test. The chancellor has given instruction to them to do so,” UGC member Muhammed Alamgir told University World News.

He said a single-entry test system will reduce the hassles attached to applications, including the need to travel from one city to another, and reduce the overall cost of the admissions process for applicants.

A better process

Around one million students pass the Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC) exams each year. Existing admissions tests are highly competitive as the number of seats is far fewer than the number of students seeking admission.

It was decided last month that a high-powered committee under the leadership of the UGC chair Kazi Shahidullah will be formed to work out how to initiate the improved admission process, Alamgir said, adding the committee would include university representatives.

The Education Ministry in a circular on 15 April said Shahabuddin had given the UGC the responsibility of taking the necessary steps to bring all the public universities under the single admission test from the academic year 2023-24.

In a separate letter to all public universities on 30 April, the UGC sought the views of respective universities within 30 days.

Former UGC chairman Professor Nazrul Islam told University World News that holding a single admission test is a positive move, but a “competent separate and dedicated testing authority” will be needed.

“If the classes of all higher education institutions start at the same time, it will help students,” he said. “If these five leading universities remain out of the single-entry test, they will be cornered and that will not be good for their image,” he added.

He pointed out that the opposition of several large and reputable universities had delayed the implementation of the cluster admission test system first planned in 2010 but not implemented till 2019 when seven agricultural universities adopted the system for the first time.