Rohit Awasthi wrote in to me with info on a screw up at this year's IIFT extrance exam, held on 27th Nov. As this thread on pagalguy.com shows, students at some centres are aggrieved. This is the gist of their online petition which currently has 69 signatures
1) The papers were not sealed and were distributed 5-7 minute before the test started. In some centres they were distributed 10-15 min earlier because invigilator were unaware of the correct instructions to be followed i.e. Question papers were distributed before OMR sheets.
The point being that in an exam where there is fierce competition even a small headstart may give an unfair advantage. A single extra answer may get you that coveted GD/ PI call.
2) At some centres there was precious time lost by the students owing to mismatching between Question paper and OMR sheets distributed by the invigilators. In many centres the mismatching went unnoticed.
3) There were numerous printing errors on the paper leading to confusion in marking answers.
More discussion is going on here.
There is even talk of exerting pressure on IIFT to reconduct the exam - by filing a PIL. Given the current media obsession with everything-to-do-with-bschools, it may make the front pages as well.
Not a nice prospect for IIFT, which is generally considered an A + or "top 10 institute".
Questions that arise
Must IIFT have its own separate exam based on the argument that we are a 'foreign trade institute'? If MICA can take in students through CAT, although it is a specialised advertising and communications course, why not IIFT?
They can test short-listed candidates on foreign trade knowledge at the GD and interview stage - MICA does something similar.
The reason I stress on more institutes joining CAT is that barring the 2003 leak it is a well-conducted exam. There is a set procedure where senior academic and non-academic staff from IIMs are deputed to supervise the administration of the exam at different centres.
From what I know they take the discharge of this duty extremely seriously and one has not heard of IIFT-like complaints.
The reason b schools insist on their own exams is to make a neat packet on the exam fee (average : Rs 1000) from the 10-15,000 students who take each test. (adding up to a couple of easily earned crores)
To put students through this expense and hassle and then not conduct a fair exam is, therefore, rather inexcusable.
With regard to the IIFT exam the buzz is 'such things have happened before'. It's just that with online discussion forums like pagalguy.com more students are airing their grievances. And their voice is more likely to be heard.
Conducting paper and pen exams on gigantic scale is becoming a pain for b schools. But when XLRI did an online exam a couple years ago the result was an embarassing system crash. They're back to pen and paper since.
The future of b school entrance is online, but getting the technical and infrastructural details right will take a couple of years. We would have to go the GRE/ GMAT way and not insist on a simultaneous exam for 150,000 students.
But then, doubts might be raised about the difficulty levels not being the same for every exam taker. Yes, the same happens with GRE/ GMAT but that is not a make-or-break score.
Even with a relatively poor GMAT score you can hope to get into a good b school - if your profile is outstanding in other ways. The same is not true in India.
If CAT is to go online, the entire approach to b school admission would have to change. But, you might ask, how will an IIM A or B cope with the US style admissions. How will they sift through essays from 150,000 students?
Allwin Agnel, a non-MBA and founder of pagalguy.com has an interesting perspective on this. Right now, he says, we have 150,000 applicants because all they have to do is take a 2 hour multiple choice exam.
Make it harder - ask applicants to write 3 essays, get recommendation letters, demonstrate leadership capability through past work experience. The number will fall drastically, as only committed students will apply.
Winds of change
That could well be true. IIM A's newly launched PGP X program is a 1 year course for managers with 7-15 years experience. The admission procedure was very different - GMAT scores were accepted, candidates had to write essays and 'leadership potential' was an important selection criteria.
This participant profile: average GMAT of 700, age of 32 years and work experience of over 9 years. The average salary applicants are forgoing to join the program is Rs 10.7 lakhs. The course fee for PGP X is another Rs 10 lakhs.
So while IIMA is offering placement services, that is not the only carrot. This is going to be one bunch of let-me-get-the-most-out-of-this-course participants. Compared to regular PGP students, these folks will be far more knowledge-hungry - no doubt about it!
As regards selectivity: around 1000 applications were received; admit offers were made to 71 candidates of which 67 accepted (a bit of a surprise - the institute was expecting 60 to join). But overall, the selection committee was delighted with the profile, depth and breadth of experience on offer.
This could well be the future of b school entrance but then we would have to accept some level of subjectivity creeping in. And that, in India, always leaves scope for doubts and corruption.
ISB admissions and IIM A's PGP X are indications that it can be done in a fair and credible manner. But it would mean moving out of the comfort zone. Never easy but probably inevitable.
Let's wait and watch!