A sense of relief was felt by HSC 2020 examinees when the Ministry of Education declared on October 7, 2020 that exams wouldn't be held, and everyone would pass automatically and receive grades based on their results in JSC and SSC. Back then, most candidates had an estimation of what their result would look like. However, some students, especially ones who switched groups in college, were sceptical of the alternative grading process and its effects on their grades.
The announcement of HSC results on January 30, 2021 marked the official end of college life for HSC 2020 students. After waiting for results for more than three months since the final board exam of their life was cancelled, candidates now can solely focus on university admission exams.
This year, a whopping 1,61,807 students out of 13,67,377 got GPA 5, which is a record high. The figure is more than thrice of what it was in 2019 (47,286). While the number of GPA 5 holders has skyrocketed, seat allocations in universities have remained unchanged. From this, anyone including admission candidates can infer that the competition for securing a spot in any university, especially top public universities, is going to be more intense than ever.
Unlike private universities, some of the most coveted public universities give interested applicants only one chance to appear for exams. This means it's now or never for these examinees as there's no next chance. And given that public institutions provide students with quality education as well as accommodation facilities for nominal cost, almost everyone aims for a seat in one of these places. Additionally, high-ranked public universities can offer the opportunity to sit for exams to only a small number of students. A handful of candidates again from these examinees are finally selected for admission to these institutions. Because of the exponentially high number of admission candidates but limited number of seats this year, chances are that there is going to be unprecedented competition just to get the opportunity to sit for exams as well.
It would not be surprising if top universities imposed stringent eligibility conditions on interested candidates to curtail the number of applicants. This might be done in one of the following ways: by allowing only those candidates to apply who have achieved GPA 5 without taking fourth subject in consideration, and/or by setting a very high threshold for marks in certain HSC subject(s) and letting only those candidates sit for exams who meet/surpass the threshold. These methods are questionable because the process followed this time for grading students is vague. Even if the process were clear to everyone, determining eligibility of students for appearing in exams based on their performance in JSC and SSC is largely unfair because there is zero relation between university curriculum and school curriculum. If any of these scenarios were to happen, a lot of unlucky students would be rejected and they'd have to look elsewhere for pursuing higher studies.
A fairer way to filter through the applicants would be to hold the exams in two/multiple stages. Initial preliminary exam(s) would sieve out the less qualified candidates, and the final exam would be attended by the deserving examinees only. Luck would play a far smaller role in admissions this way than it would if students were filtered based on HSC grades and/or marks. Although letting everyone sit for one-stage exams over a period of a few days by increasing the number of exam centres would theoretically be a solution as well, it is practically almost impossible because of a multitude of reasons, such as inadequacy of exam centres, risks involving question leaks, and difficulty in ensuring safe travel to universities across the country during the pandemic.
Now that they're past the HSC ordeal, university admission candidates have to wait for exam circulars. Many universities are yet to clarify how they want to conduct their admissions. The longer they keep interested applicants in the dark, the more the preparation of these applicants gets hampered. It is a hope that concerned authorities will provide clarifications at the earliest and make it easier for prospective examinees to finalise their university preferences. Whether facing strict eligibility criteria for applying to universities or attending exams in multiple stages or experiencing both, university admission candidates should brace themselves for the long haul in days ahead.
The writer was an HSC candidate in 2020.