At this point, the discussion over at Abi’s blog (and elsewhere) on the under-representation of women in IITs has gone all over the map. One of the essential questions is whether the IIT JEE is too difficult and unfairly biases admissions to those who can afford coaching classes (some say yes, some say no). Another related question is whether using the JEE as one of many criteria will improve matters (most people think that it will only increase favouritism, and certainly increase allegations of favouritism).
So I thought this link, an article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell on admissions in North America, would be of interest. (I have drawn no conclusions from it for the present context, but you are free to do so.)
The author’s description of his own admission process in Canada is not very different from how one would choose among colleges in Delhi University. Meanwhile, he says, US universities like Harvard in the early 1900s relied on the College Entrance Examination Board tests for admission, but switched to a more diverse set of criteria within a couple of decades. The reason was not to increase diversity, but because too many Jews were getting in. And, the author argues, nothing significant has changed, to this day, in the way these universities admit their students. He extensively discusses studies on how well students that go to Ivy institutions, versus students who get comparable grades but go to other institutions, perform later in life. Read it for yourself: it’s a fun read, no matter what sort of college you went to or what side of the argument you fall in.
I have to say, with some amusement, that this passage
Wherever there was one Harvard graduate, another lurked not far behind, ready to swap tales of late nights at the Hasty Pudding, or recount the intricacies of the college-application essay, or wonder out loud about the whereabouts of Prince So-and-So, who lived down the hall and whose family had a place in the South of France that you would not believe. In the novels they were writing, the precocious and sensitive protagonist always went to Harvard; if he was troubled, he dropped out of Harvard; in the end, he returned to Harvard to complete his senior thesis. Once, I attended a wedding of a Harvard alum in his fifties, at which the best man spoke of his college days with the groom as if neither could have accomplished anything of greater importance in the intervening thirty years. By the end, I half expected him to take off his shirt and proudly display the large crimson “H” tattooed on his chest. What is this “Harvard” of which you Americans speak so reverently?
reminded me of my own alma mater — St Stephen’s College, an institution that (I say this while donning my flame-retardant vest) offers all the pretentiousness of Harvard with none of its accomplishments.