Although the fee hike was announced on April 7, it was common knowledge since November last year that it was in the works.

“We have 15,000 more candidates this year. Such a huge increase is unthinkable in recent times,” said Sajal Dasgupta, chairman of the WBJEE Board. He attributes the rise to several other factors, including simplification of the application form.

“We have tried to ease the application method this year. Depositing fees in the bank is on a real-time system now. The journal number, which is generated after fees are paid, doesn’t have to be uploaded on the application portal any more. The board has held interactive sessions on television to clear doubts among WBJEE aspirants,” said Dasgupta. He pointed out that this is the first time that the board “extended its boundary” for candidates from other states. “We published prominent advertisements in popular dailies of south and west India,” he said.

Other state boards have pretty much the same story. The Karnataka Examination Authority (KEA), which conducts Common Entrance Test (CET) for undergraduate engineering and medical seats, has about 1.78 lakh candidates this year, up from 1.57 lakh in 2015. “The increase in enrolment for CET may be due to an increase in enrolment for Class XI and XII in the state. Also, some students take CET again to secure better rankings and bag seats in good colleges,” said D S Ramesh, executive director of KEA.

The number of JEE aspirants has shot up in Telangana, too. In Eamcet 2015, 1,39,682 students registered for the engineering entrance in 2015; this year there are 1,43,369 candidates. And in Maharashtra, 7,000 more candidates are taking the state CET. An official from the CET cell attributed the rise to the fact that engineering colleges are “becoming better” over time. But a faculty from Tata Institute of Social Sciences pointed out that after the fee hike, the IITs could be out of reach of families with an annual income between Rs 5 and Rs 10 lakh, especially if they have two children. “Not many parents would be comfortable taking a loan and if they have two kids, both whom are studying, then the IITs would be unaffordable,” he said.

“The other possible reason for the drastic fall in the number of JEE-Main aspirants may be due to the omission of 40% weightage to board marks,” feels a senior JEE official. A source in the IIT-JEE office in Kharagpur agreed and said, “From 2016, students will have to rely solely on the JEE-Mains score, which will make it difficult for many candidates to crack it and qualify for JEE-Advanced.”

An NIT director said, “There may also be a lack of interest in engineering and technical education. Only about 34,000 students find a place in IITs and NITs. The rest have to opt for colleges where the placement is not as high. Now, if they spend around Rs 4 lakh to get an engineering degree and land up with a poorly paid job, then why should they opt for JEE? They would prefer exams conducted by state JEE boards,” he said.

A WBJEE official said, “Now that there is a fee hike in IITs, students will flock to state boards. If they get a good rank, they’d rather study here. Very few can afford the IIT fees now.”

(with inputs from Hemali Chhapia from Mumbai, Preeti Biswas from Hyderabad and Pavan M V from Bangalore)
Source: TOI-Kol