NB: The opinions and assertions in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the attitudes and opinions of QS, the TopMBA Career Guide, TopMBA.com or any other QS product.
The Ivy League of the Indian MBA - the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian School of Business - have for long stood the test of time, and with great success, as shown by the number of Indians as the chief executives of several big firms. Also, a chain of close tie-ups & student exchange programs between various Indian and foreign universities and the breakthrough of big Indian MBA players such as SP Jain Institute of Management & Research and Institute of Management Technology into regions such as Singapore and Dubai, providing evidence of the emerging global footprint that India offers in terms of higher education & its wide acceptability.Admission to these coveted colleges has been based on the Common Admission Test, the CAT. This is an all-India test conducted by the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) as an entrance exam for the management programs of its seven business schools. According to Wikipedia, bout 250,000 students took CAT in 2008 for about 1,500 seats in the IIMs.
With more than a thousand affiliated & privately funded colleges accepting the scores of the CAT alone, the pressure is bound to be immense on the proper and fair conduct of the exam.
Of late, with the recent proliferation of business schools, students are often left in a fix to apply to the school of their choice. With the skyscraping rates of applications to individual institutions and their corresponding exams, often in the price band of Rs.1000 to Rs.1600 each, I seriously doubt the capability of a typical aspirant in the developing Indian subcontinent, with a per capita income of a meager Rs.38,084 to be able to fill the forms and successfully attempt a shot at his choice of school amongst a cut-throat competition. What I would suggest is a centralized system of testing at the Master's level on the example of the GMAT, relieving the candidate of the monetary limitations imposed by individual application and thus providing a wider pool of colleges to choose from.
Another pressure is to keep up with the paperwork involved in testing the aptitude of an increasingly greater number of students every year. To tackle this, the CAT governing body decided to twist things a bit from this year. The plan to conduct the CAT in its online format was justified enough to deal with such progressive hiccups and also ensure a swift & fair testing procedure. Things seemed all set for a metamorphosis when IIM authorities tied up with Prometric (of GRE fame) in a $40m deal for 5 years, starting from November 28th 2009.
But, things started to go wrong right from day one of the testing procedure. With a series of reports of server crashes, unidentified virus attacks on the server, confusion over slot bookings, the testing stations behaving erratically, answers not being submitted at all for a few candidates on almost every testing day, the most awaited test in the country suddenly became the most dreaded exam to deal with. With the authorities failing to take immediate control of the situation and even the Ministry of Human Resource and Development leaving the onus on the CAT organizers' to take charge of things, it seems hard to be able to call this year's CAT a success.
But as they say in cricket, you never lose till you face the last ball. The same is the case here. The CAT can still have the scope of getting the same respect it used to have until this downturn happened. I would suggest the following three-point approach for immediate reprise.
1. Scrap this year's CAT, whatever the implication may be, for the good of both the students and the legacy of the famous institutions to admit only the best brains in the country. Support in this regard is quite widespread both amongst students and their teachers alike. Charters of signed petitions for a 'fair' and 'hassle-free' test are already making news on almost every big web portal. So making the students agree for the same will not be a problem.
2. With the data that has been accumulated, setup an inquiry to probe into concrete causes of failure for this year's CAT along with supporting proof of inadequacies in the system setup by Prometric.
3. Conduct CAT online from next year again, but this time with ample number of dry runs and load testing over a substantial period of time. Also, extending the window of testing will do a bit of good.
With these steps, and a robust administration, resurrecting the golden image of CAT, and thereby of the distinguished colleges of the Indian MBA sphere, should not seem a distant dream. Till then, it's in the hands of the governing bodies to decide the fate of whether a compromise on the talent pool seems justified enough or not.