A high-level committee formed to overhaul NTA: Dharmendra Pradhan

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Under fire from all quarters over alleged paper leaks leading to the cancellation of the UGC-NET 2024 examination and other malpractices identified during the conduct of NEET, the education Ministry has ordered the setting up of a high-level committee aimed at re-looking into the working of the National Testing Agency (NTA), the apex body that carries out such competitive-level exams in the country. 

The two exams — the UGC-NET for assistant professors and junior fellow researchers and the NEET for medical aspirants — affect 35 lakh students in the country.

The committee will re-look at the working of the agency, identify shortcomings, come up with suggestions to plug them. It will also suggest “holistic ways” to conduct such pan-India tests.

According to Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Education Minister, the committee will consist of academicians, educators, social scientists, technocrats, and psychologists, among others. 

“A notification regarding the constitution of this committee, its objectives, and other requirements will be put up in the public domain soon. The committee will examine the workings of the NTA, identify gaps, and make suggestions, which will then be taken up to overhaul the testing agency and this system of conducting the exams,” he said on Thursday. 

Calling the instances of paper leaks unfortunate, Pradhan said, “This was an institutional failure” of the NTA. He did mention that some of the allegations were “isolated” and restricted to specific geographical regions, rather than being a pan-India phenomenon. 

“Probes are on. And action will be taken against anyone proved guilty. It does not matter whether the guilty is an NTA official or anyone else,” the Minister said. 

UGC NET paper leak 

The UGC NET was cancelled on Wednesday, a day after the examination was held, over suspicion of a paper leak.

According to Pradhan, the examination was cancelled on the basis of input received from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, which stated that the paper was being circulated on the dark web and through some select messaging channels. 

“On receiving the inputs, we cross-checked the matter. We saw questions circulated on the dark web that were similar to the questions in the UGC NET paper. Hence, a conscious call was taken to cancel the exam in the best interest of students,” he said. 

“The matter has been handed over to the CBI. A fresh examination shall be conducted, for which information will be shared soon,” a senior Ministry official said earlier in the day. 

Pradhan added that a shift was made from computer-driven testing to OMR (pen and paper) based on inputs received from various stakeholders and in order to “improve experience.”

NEET irregularities 

Incidentally, the Education Ministry and the NTA are already under fire over alleged irregularities in the conduct of the NEET exams. A whopping 24 lakh students took the exam. 

Reports of irregularities — the award of grace marks, allegations of a paper leak, etc. — have now prompted nationwide protests and triggered demands for a re-test.

Previously, the Education Ministry had decided to scrap the grace marks awarded and hold a retest for 1,563 students. 

However, subsequently, allegations of paper leaks have surfaced in Bihar. And a probe into it is being conducted by the Economic Offences Wing of the Bihar Police. 

Arrests have also been made in connection with the alleged leaks, which include students as well as the alleged mastermind. 

“We are awaiting further details and a complete investigation report from the Bihar police. We will take action accordingly. The probe is going on and progressing well. The truth will come out soon,” Pradhan said. 

The Minister reiterated that the paper leak was restricted to a specific region. Other instances have not surfaced as of yet. 

In general, different State governments have been grappling with issues of paper leaks and cheating in exams, which has called for stricter laws in this regard. 

“We accept moral responsibilities for the students paper leaks and will take corrective action in this regard,” Pradhan said.

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