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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Explained: What changes has AICTE made to qualifications for admission to BE and B.Tech programmes?

Is studying Physics and Mathematics in high school no longer a prerequisite for pursuing B.Tech or B.E?

Written by Ritika Chopra , Edited by Explained Desk |
Updated: March 18, 2021 8:05:02 am
AICTE, AICTE new rules, AICTE changes, AICTE news, All Indian Council For Technical Education, BE, B.Tech, JEE entrance Physics, JEE entrance mathermatics, JEE physics, JEE mathematics, JEE entry, JEE admissionThe Council decided to revisit the entry qualifications for engineering after receiving representations from state governments on this matter.

On Friday, the All Indian Council For Technical Education (AICTE) announced changes to the entry-level qualifications for engineering programmes that created quite a stir among students and the academic community.

Is studying Physics and Mathematics in high school no longer a prerequisite for pursuing B.Tech or B.E? We explain:

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What changes has the AICTE made to the entry-level qualifications for admission to the four-year undergraduate degree in engineering?

The AICTE is the standard-setting body for technical education in India. Every year, it brings out an ‘Approval Process Handbook’ (or APH) that lays down the basic norms for recognising new technical education institutes, new programmes, and entry-level qualifications for admission to degree and diploma programmes, among other things. This year’s handbook carries a change in the eligibility criteria for admission to the four-year B.Tech and B.E. programmes.

Earlier, an engineering aspirant should have passed high school with Physics and Mathematics as compulsory subjects. The third subject could have been one from a list of 11 subjects — Chemistry, Biotechnology, Biology, Computer Science, Information Technology, Informatics Practices, Agriculture, Engineering Graphics, Business Studies, and technical vocational subjects. A general category candidate should have secured at least 45% overall in the three subjects.

Under the new norms, a candidate is expected to have scored at least 45% in any three subjects out of the list of 14 provided in the new handbook, which are Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Electronics, Information Technology, Biology, Informatics Practices, Biotechnology, Technical Vocational subject, Engineering Graphics, Business Studies and Entrepreneurship.

So can someone now take admission in a B.Tech programme without having studied Physics and Mathematics Classes 11 & 12? 

The AICTE has left this decision to the universities and engineering institutes. But with the change to the entry-level qualifications, a senior officer told The Indian Express that the Council hopes to “open a door of opportunity” for students who may not have studied either physics or mathematics (or both) in Classes 11 and 12 but are keen on pursuing engineering at the undergraduate level.

“To give you one example, students who had PCB (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) in school often face problems in getting enrolled in the Biotechnology programme. This is because our old APH mandated the study of Mathematics in high school. Under the new norms, candidates will PCB can also be admitted to Biotechnology if the university or institutes permits it,” said a senior officer with AICTE.

What if a candidate had, for instance, studied Computer Science, Business Studies, and Entrepreneurship in high school. Is she now eligible to apply for, say, B.Tech in Computer Science?

Yes, if one goes by the new norms and the list of 14 subjects mentioned in AICTE’s Handbook. However, the final decision (whether to admit such candidates to B.Tech Computer Science) still rests with the college or institute. It’s not binding on them.

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Isn’t a foundation in Mathematics essential for pursuing engineering in Computer Science? Won’t a student with the above combination of subjects struggle in class?

When asked this question, the above-quoted AICTE officer said that the new APH also states that institutes and universities can offer “bridge courses” to help such students with subjects (in this instance, Mathematics) they didn’t have in Classes 11 and 12.

“Universities will offer suitable bridge courses such as Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Drawing, for students coming from diverse backgrounds to achieve the desired learning outcome of the programme,” the handbook states.

The academic community, however, doubts the feasibility of this suggestion. “The growing spirit of interdisciplinary engineering education necessitates foundational study of Maths in high school even for isolated and specific engineering programmes like Textile Engineering or Biotechnology,” S Vaidhyasubramaniam, vice-chancellor of SASTRA Deemed University, told this newspaper.

“A bridge course is a remedial course and can only fill a gap in learning. It cannot be a foundational course. I agree that the choice of subjects in high schools should promote creative thinking but not at the cost of basic subjects required for professional and technical programmes,” said the head of a private deemed-to-be university in South India, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

AICTE Chairman Anil Sahasrabuddhe begs to differ. “What we are suggesting is not impractical. If a student has the aptitude, a bridge course can help him cope in the classroom. Take the example of students who are pursuing a diploma in engineering. They enroll in this programme directly after Class 10, and their diploma curriculum doesn’t cover everything that is taught in physics, chemistry and mathematics in high school. Yet, when these students enroll in a B.Tech programme (through lateral entry in second year), many do well in college,” he said.

But why did the AICTE decide to change the entry criteria for engineering? 

The Council decided to revisit the entry qualifications for engineering after receiving representations from state governments on this matter. “For instance, the Uttar Pradesh Technical University had written to us requesting a waiver of the eligibility criteria to admit students who didn’t have PCM in Class 12 but had agriculture as a subject to the Agriculture Engineering programme,” said an AICTE officer.

Haryana’s engineering counseling board had also written recently to the Council asking for permission to admit students with Physics, Chemistry and Biology (but no mathematics) in Class 12 to biotechnology programs.

The changed entry criteria, Saharabuddhe says, is also in line with the new National Education Policy (NEP) that promoted interdisciplinary in school and higher education.

What does the new National Education Policy exactly say on interdisciplinarity?

The new NEP talks about doing away with rigid separation between curricular and extracurricular, vocational and academic streams and between arts, humanities, and sciences in school education. “Students will be given increased flexibility and choice of subjects to study, particularly in secondary school — including subjects in physical education, the arts and crafts, and vocational skills – so that they can design their own paths of study and life plans. Holistic development and a wide choice of subjects and courses year to year will be the new distinguishing feature of secondary school education,” the policy document states.

“The NEP talks about giving students the freedom to choose subjects across the arts, science, and commerce streams in school. AICTE has introduced an enabling provision (through the new entry-qualification criteria) to help such students pursue their dreams even in higher education. What we have introduced doesn’t have to be implemented tomorrow. It may take a few years for the universities and colleges to come around. Still, we have provided them with an enabling architecture if they change their minds in the future,” Sahasrabuddhe told The Indian Express.

Will the IITs ever come around the idea of diluting the mandatory PCM criteria for admissions to undergraduate programmes? 

Unlikely, says an IIT director, who did not wish to be identified.

“Mathematics is what unifies all branches of engineering. I don’t think the IITs will ever agree to admit a candidate who hasn’t studied maths in school, for instance. Even in biotechnology, there are components for which you need mathematics. What AICTE is saying (about bridge courses) is not impossible to achieve, but I am not sure how well such students will do in class. This may work for exceptional candidates, but it cannot be the norm,” the IIT director said.

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