India’s testing agency chief sacked as anger grows over exams fiasco

India’s testing agency chief sacked as anger grows over exams fiasco

The Indian government has sacked the head of the country's National Testing Agency following allegations of irregularities in competitive exams for higher education and cancellations that have sparked nationwide protests.

Subodh Kumar Singh was sacked on Saturday while the federal education ministry appointed a committee to review the agency's functioning and recommend exam reforms.

The National Testing Agency is an autonomous body under the education ministry tasked with conducting nationwide exams for college admissions and government teaching jobs, including the controversial NEET test for admission to medical colleges.

This year’s NEET saw thousands of candidates secure unprecedented high marks, sparking allegations that the exam paper was leaker.

Nearly 2.4 million students competed for just 110,000 seats in the fiercely competitive exam this year.

The results were declared on 4 June and at least 67 candidates shared the first rank, eight of them from one centre in the northern state of Haryana.

The marks given to some students did not add up and when this was pointed out, the agency said it had awarded grace marks for loss of time at the exam centres.

The award of compensatory marks was cancelled by the supreme court after several students filed pleas challenging the testing agency’s decision.

The education ministry last week said it had sought a report from police about "certain irregularities alleged" in the conduct of the medical entrance exam. The government was "committed to ensure the sanctity of examinations and protect the interest of students" and the guilty would be punished, the ministry said.

The ministry has also cancelled an exam held earlier this week for admission to doctoral programmes and for appointment of college and university teachers, based on inputs from a government cyber crime team that the "integrity of the aforesaid examination may have been compromised".

It said the country’s top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, will look into the matter.

Another entrance exam for postgraduate programmes in medicine scheduled for Sunday was postponed indefinitely.

The main opposition Congress party, which made a strong comeback in the recent general election, said the "Narendra Modi government has ruined the country's education and recruitment system".

"There is huge pressure on our students. There’s largescale unemployment in the country," leading party member Rahul Gandhi said.

"The youngsters in India have no way through. The youth of India have nowhere to go. It's a profound national crisis."

The rate of unemployment among Indians aged 15 to 24 was 18 per cent last year, according to estimates by the International Labour Organisation, higher than in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan.