India college entrance exam scandal spreads with criminal probe

Students holding placards protest outside the Ministry of Education against the cancellation of the UGC-NET examination at New Delhi on June 20, 2024.- Reuters

NEW DELHI: India’s government launched a criminal investigation into allegations of cheating and corruption in national entrance exams for medical colleges and removed the head of the agency in charge of handling the tests as student protests about the growing scandal continued to mount.

The Central Bureau of Investigation said Sunday (June 23) it will probe alleged irregularities, "including conspiracy, cheating, impersonation, breach of trust, and destruction of evidence by candidates, institutes, and middlemen.” A day earlier, the government replaced the director general of the National Testing Agency, Subodh Kumar Singh, with immediate effect.

The decision follows mounting pressure from opposition parties and protests by thousands of students demanding a cancellation of the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for admission into undergraduate medical programs for the current academic year, which are set by the federal government.

Some 2.4 million students took the exam last month, competing for the more than 100,000 seats in state-run and private medical colleges. An unusual high number of students scored perfect scores in the exam, prompting allegations of cheating and the possible leaking of exam papers.

The scandal presents Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government with its first real challenge since taking office after elections ended in June. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is forced to share power in a coalition government after losing its outright majority in the parliament. The Indian National Congress, the country’s main opposition group, has vowed to raise the exam scandal in the first session of the new parliament, which began Monday.

Exam paper leaks aren’t uncommon in India. However, the alleged irregularities this time have taken centre stage in the country and raised questions about the entire testing system. Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan told reporters last week that the government scrapped entrance tests for doctorate programmes after an inquiry revealed the exam paper was available on the "dark net.” - Bloomberg

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