Backtracking on its plan to introduce a uniform admission test at the public universities, the University Grants Commission has decided to follow "a cluster system" for admission tests this year.
The decision comes as five leading universities said no to uniform tests. The members of UGC and vice-chancellors of 35 public universities decided this at a meeting at the UGC office in the capital yesterday. VCs of Dhaka, Rajshahi and Jahangirnagar universities were not present at the meeting chaired by UGC Chairman Prof Kazi Shahidullah.
Earlier on February 11, UGC announced a "Centralised Admission Test" or a uniform admission test to reduce the hassles and expenses of admission seekers.
But Dhaka University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), Jahangirnagar University, Rajshahi University and Chittagong University over the last few days said they would hold admission tests following their own methods.
"Since five universities informed they would not adopt the centralised admission tests, we have decided to introduce a system of clusters for enrolling students, like the agricultural universities did last year," Prof Kazi Shahidullah told reporters after the meeting.
It would be difficult to hold a centralised entrance test without the logistical support of the five universities, he said, adding, "We may face challenges in making seating arrangements for such a large number of admission seekers, and that's why we agreed to the cluster system."
Last year, seven public agricultural universities introduced a cluster system, an idea first mooted by the education ministry in 2010. Authorities at several top universities have since been opposing the idea.
In this system, universities with similar characteristics will belong to a cluster. Students seeking admission to any of the universities in that cluster will have to sit for just one test.
The initiative was aimed at relieving admission seekers from travelling to different universities spending time and money. At present, only medical colleges hold uniform entrance tests.
After yesterday's meeting, UGC Chairman Prof Shahidullah told reporters that there would be four clusters, including one for seven agricultural universities. Eleven science and technology universities would form another cluster. The two other clusters would be for the three engineering universities, excluding Buet, and nine general universities, he added.
However, three specialised universities and Textile University will later decide which cluster they would join.
The UGC chief said several technical committees would be formed under the leadership of UGC member Prof Dil Afroza Begum in the second week of next month. The committees would work out the procedures and modalities involving exam centres, question papers, and admission tests.
At the general university cluster, three entry tests would be required to enrol students in science, humanities and business studies, Prof Kazi Shahidullah said.
The other three clusters will hold one single test each, he said.
"Our main aim is to reduce the hassles of admission seekers. We will try our best to bring down the number of exams. It used to take four to five days for a university to complete its admission tests [under the existing system]."
Thirty-nine public universities enrol around 65,000 students every year through separate admission tests. Last year, some 9.88 lakh students passed the HSC and its equivalent exams under the 10 education boards.
Asked whether efforts would be made to bring the five universities under the new system, the UGC chairman said, "We would welcome them if they approach us."
About the fears of possible question paper leaks, Prof Shahidullah said, "I took six such [admission] tests when I was a dean at Dhaka University. As the VC of National University, I took exams simultaneously across the country. There was no question leak during those exams. It does not mean that questions won't be leaked. But we will take all the [preventive] measures required," he added.
The idea of a cluster has long been discussed by academics and officials as admission seekers and their parents go through a lot of hassles every admission season.
Chancellor Abdul Hamid on several occasions asked the VCs of public universities to introduce a system to reduce the hassles.
However, the system could not be introduced due to the opposition of several top public universities.
Officials said one of the reasons behind their opposition was that the implementation of such a system would cut the income of the universities and teachers from the sale of admission forms, invigilation and evaluation of answer scripts.