High costs, pressure on students — why govt scrapped entrance test for KVPY science fellowship

Bengaluru: Since 1999, the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) exam has been the preferred choice of undergraduate students who have chosen it over JEE, AIIMS, NEET, and the like.

However, students interested in science and research streams now find themselves left in the lurch after the KVPY entrance exam and programme was scrapped last week.

Each year, about two lakh aspirants – from students of Class XI to first-year students of BSc, BS, B Math, etc. – appear for the exam. Apart from fellowships, the exam was also, until last year, considered by IISc, Bengaluru and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) for admission to undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

“DST [Department of Science and Technology] has decided to subsume KVPY with INSPIRE. KVPY Aptitude test will not be conducted from the year 2022 onwards. Ongoing KVPY fellows will continue to receive fellowship as per norms from DST,” reads an announcement on KVPY’s official website. 

The INSPIRE programme, in turn, provides fellowships at the national level for top students of JEE, NEET, National Talent Search Exam (NTSE), International Olympiad medalists, etc.

“Scholarships for the ongoing KVPY fellows will continue,” Namita Gupta, head of the KVPY-INSPIRE programme, told ThePrint. 

“New students do not have to give an extra exam in the form of KVPY. Any student generally appears for five to six exams. 

“Within a certain ranking (within top 10,000), if they want to pursue basic science, they can apply to these institutes and for INSPIRE scholarship. The work of DST has always been limited to providing scholarships, (previously) based on KVPY examinations,” she said.

Students are now expecting — or hoping — that IISc would come up with its own entrance exam for undergraduate admissions, with focus on maths and biology, and geared towards research, but the institute is yet to announce its revised admission procedures. 

A representative for the institute told ThePrint: “IISc respects the decision taken by DST to discontinue KVPY. IISc will take care of the modalities for admitting students soon.” 

Also Read: IISc, India’s lone science gem that keeps topping global rankings, leaving IITs, IIMs behind

Limited options

“With the cancellation of the KVPY exam as an entrance for IISc, my options are limited and I am now relying mostly on IAT [IISER Aptitude Test] or NEST [National Entrance Screening Test]. However, the scores of these exams are not considered for IISc [Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru] admissions,” said Rucha Shobhane, a Bengaluru-based student of Class XI, who had been waiting for the KVPY exam.

“If IISc (and other such institutes) decides to shortlist toppers from JEE/NEET exams who are also capable of getting into institutions like IIT/AIIMS, are they not depriving able candidates aspiring for pure science the chance to get admission?” asked Rucha’s father Shashin.

The question highlights that even for fellowships and admissions, candidates focussing on research and natural sciences right from school will now have to compete with candidates whose focus is on engineering and medical sciences.

Many researchers have also criticised the decision to scrap the KVPY exam, describing it as a “blow” to the “basic science ecosystem” in the country. 

“KVPY had become a flagship program for students aspiring to do basic science in India,” said Arindam Ghosh, experimental condensed-matter physicist and professor at IISc. 

“It provided a common platform for such evaluation, across different boards and educational structures in the country. I think abolishing KVPY would affect that sense of identity, and a new brand needs to be created, which will take time. It took more than two decades for KVPY to create this sense of identity among students,” he added.

High operational costs for conducting exams

The decision to do away with the exam was taken to “promote ease of doing science”, based on the recommendations of “an empowered committee, represented by the leader in science, [sic],” a representative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) told ThePrint in a statement. 

“There are multiple instances of young children getting over the examination stress. [sic],” the statement said.

It added: “The decision will do away with the high operational cost of conducting the exam and use the resources to reach out to more students. Since [sic] it was taxing on the parents of KVPY aspirants to pay a hefty examination fee and only 300 fellowships per year were awarded.” 

Now, KVPY aspirants will qualify for 2,000 fellowships every year through national-level competitive examinations like JEE and NEET, it said. By contrast, the KVPY exam was directly administered by IISc.

However, merging KVPY with INSPIRE changes the scholarship structure. 

While KVPY funded students for the full term of their fellowship, with an increase after a brief period, INSPIRE grants are awarded more like stipends, explained Sukriyo Chakraborty, an undergraduate chemistry researcher at IISc, on Twitter.

“My daughter is eligible to apply for the INSPIRE scholarship,” said Shashin Shobhane, adding that the criteria for scholarship, however, is “top 1 per cent across all regions and boards (state, CBSE, ICSE).” 

The stakes are higher with those who would have otherwise sat for the KVPY exam, now having to face off against JEE aspirants who prepare through intensive Kota-like institutions.

Meanwhile, for such aspirants of JEE and other national exams, they now have additional options to pursue research.

“As you know, there are two major streams after XII in science — Engineering (JEE), Medical stream (NEET) which are more of applied science streams,” said Shashin Shobhane, explaining the dilemma for higher secondary school students. 

“KVPY is altogether a different exam pattern and very different from JEE/NEET. One distinct difference is, Maths and Biology, both are compulsory for KVPY; whereas in JEE, biology is optional; in NEET, maths is optional. What do KVPY students wanting to get into basic sciences do for admissions now?”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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