College Admissions

Why does the government require colleges in India to have “objective criteria” for admissions? I understand that such criteria are necessary for government-owned or run or aided colleges where there’s scope for rent seeking. But why is it that “private” colleges are also forced to adopt “objective criteria” such as board exam marks or entrance test scores for admission?

Abroad, and here, too for MBA admissions, admission is more “subjective”. While of course this has the scope to introduce bias, and is a fairly random process (though I’d argue that the JEE is also a fairly random process), won’t it reduce pressure on the overall student population, and bring in more diversity into colleges?

As a natural experiment I want to see a few state governments deregulating the admissions process for private colleges, making it possible for the colleges to choose their students based on whatever criterion. So what would happen? Of course, some seats would be “reserved” for those with big moneybags. Some more would be reserved for people who are well connected with the college management. But would it be rational for the college boards to “reserve” all the seats this way?

Maybe some colleges would take a short-term view and try to thus “cash out”. The cleverer ones will realize that they need to build up a reputation. So while some seats will be thus “reserved”, others will be used to attract what the college thinks are “good students”. Some might define “good students” to be those that got high marks in board exams. Others might pick students based on how far they can throw a cricket ball. The colleges have a wide variety of ways in which to make a name, and they’ll pick students accordingly.

The problem with such a measure is that there is a transient cost. A few batches of students might get screwed, since they wouldn’t have figured out the reputations of colleges (or maybe not – assuming colleges don’t change drastically from the way they are right now). But in a few years’ time, reputations of various sorts would have been built. Colleges would have figured out various business models. The willingness to pay of the collective population would ensure that reasonably priced “seats” are available.

And remember that I mentioned that a few states should implement this, with the others sticking to the current system of regulating admissions and fees and all such. In due course of time it’ll be known what works better. Rather, it’ll be known what the students prefer.

It’s crazy that colleges now require students to get “cent per cent” in their board exams as a prerequisite to admission. It’s crazy that hundreds of thousands of students all over India, every year, spend two years of their prime youth just preparing to get into a good college (nowadays the madness is spreading. A cousin-in-law is in 9th standard, and he’s already joined JEE coaching). On reflection, it’s crazy that I wasted all of my 12th standard simply mugging, for an exam that would admit me to a college that I knew little about. Madness, sheer madness.

Missing BRacket

Last night then-classmate now-colleague Baada and I were having a long bitchy conversation, mostly carried over text messages (SMS). As the conversation developed and grew in intricacy, several threads developed. This is not unusual for a conversation with Baada – it usually takes on several dimensions, and it always helps having a mechanism to keep track of all the threads simultaneously.

That’s when we realized how much we miss BRacket, the local instant messaging system we had at IIMB (a version of DBabble). I might have written this before but the beauty of BRacket was that conversation was “offline”. There was no chat window, and you would reply to individual messages, like you would in email. While on one hand this allowed “offline conversation”,i..e. the conversation didn’t die if one person respond immediately like it can happen in Y!M/GTalk, the more important thing was that by having conversation history in each thread, this allowed for some serious multithreaded conversation.

While instant text messaging offers the former feature (you can reply to a message several hours later and still continue the conversation), the latter feature is lost. There’s no way to keep track of threads, and like a bad juggler you soon end up losing track of half the threads and the conversation peters out.

I don’t know if DBabble is still widely used elsewhere but it’s death knell in IIMB was sounded when Sigma (the student IT club) in its infinite wisdom allowed for a “chat mode”. Along with the conventional offline messaging system, it also gave the option of Y!M style chat windows. And having been used to Y!M, batches junior to mine started using this chat feature extensively. The immediate rewards of using it were huge – no need to hit “send” (I’ve even forgotten the keyboard shortcut for that), no need to open a new message each time it arrives, and so on.

While we held up the virtues of “old BRacket” (like i used to refuse to reply when juniors pinged me in chat mode. A notable exception being the famous “Pichai files”) there was no one to do that after we graduated. I’m told that the incoming batch of 2006 exclusively used chat mode. The two major advantages that BRacket offered over “window chat” were gone. GTalk came up sometime around then, and with its better and faster servers (the IIMB network was notoriously slow) it could easily offer as good if not better services than BRacket. It was clear then that BRacket would die.

I’m told that now no one uses BRacket. I don’t even have it installed on my last two computers. Unfortunately no other “offline-messaging” technology has quite caught on since then. And so I miss multithreaded conversation. It’s very sad, I tell you. I wonder if even DBabble is still used extensively.

It’s fascinating how some technology dies. You come up with a purported “improvement” which offers short-term gains, and catches people’s fancy. While people flock to the “improved version” in hordes, it turns out that the features that made ┬áthe original version so popular are now lost. And this new version has competition, and so the technology itself gets killed. All because of some purported “innovation”.