Technology serves a bigger purpose like solving problems or making life easier and better. What is the purpose of advancement of technology if we can not use it to make our lives easier?
In the western universities and across many Asian countries, students have the option to opt for online interviews like Skype, Google Hangout and through university website platforms as a part of admission process. This is a measure taken up by these universities in order to prevent students from spending unnecessarily in traveling and other expenses.
Coming to the case of India. We still use the traditional method of face to face for interviews during the admission process. There are many pros and cons of face to face interview. But I will only talk about one problem i.e regarding the cost and expenses.
In the undergraduate level, Indian Universities hardly make interviews mandatory. There are some exceptional cases were technical and professional courses have weightage for interviews. But we can not negate this factor even though the incidence is less.
Moving towards the postgraduate and doctoral level, interviews are mandatory. This helps in understanding the strength and weakness of the candidates.
But it is also important to highlight the fact that large number of candidates apply for universities that are not in their home state or hundreds of miles away. Indian Universities do not have the option for online interviews yet.
I have applied for a Ph.d course in Tezpur University, Assam but I am currently located in Delhi. If everything goes well, I will be called for an interview within ten days from the entrance results announcement. Now at that point of time, flight tickets will be astronimcally high and railway will take a lot of time to reach and there is uncertainty of getting a ticket.
There are arrangements in some universities where the candidates from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes get reimbursements of the traveling expenses. This is limited to one way or return tickets in the Indian Railway Sleepers class. There are no reimburesments for flight tickets.
If we look objectively, online interviews will save the government expenditures. The expenses earmarked for reimbursing to the SC/ST candidates can be utilized for some other purposes (though the fund earmarked for this purpose is very small). Online interviews will help the students to save money. Otherwise, along with the air/rail tickets, they have to make arrangements for accommodations and other daily expenses of food and local commute.
One of my friends from Manipur applied for Ph.d admissions in four universities- Jawaharlal Nehru University, Banaras Hindu University, University of Hyderbad and Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. Luckily, he qualified UGC/JRF and did not require to write the entrance examinations. He was supposed to go directly for the interviews.
He booked air tickets to three different locations from Imphal and in order to save money took a bus from Imphal to Guwahati for his IIT, Guwahati interview. The bus took him around 24-26 hours. In total, including the air tickets, bus tickets, accommodations and other expenses, he spent about Rs 45,000 – 50,000.
If there was an option for online interview, he could have easily saved that amount. In a least developed state like Manipur, Rs 50,000 is a four to five months salary. He exhausted his savings just because he wanted to study further and there are no other means than traveling for thousands of miles.
I also have a story about a friend who spent nearly Rs 35,000 to attend his Ph.d interviews across three universities. Everybody knows that the seats are limited. And sometimes it is a matter of luck rather than your academic records and research proposals. Connections and nepotism are everywhere. He was quite confident after giving the interviews that he will at least get through one of the universities. Unfortunately, he did not get through in any of the universities. Now, he does not even want to think of applying for Ph.d. He is afraid that he might exhaust his savings.
India is the 7th largest country in terms of area. Most of the popular universities are concentrated in the National Capital Region of Delhi or other Tier 1 cities. We can also see deep inequalities among the states. In this kind of situation, I really believe that we should think of using technology to reduce the expenses and ease our lives.
I do know that the Internet penetration in India is weak, especially in the rural India. Most of the rural and semi-rural or semi-urban areas might not even have well functioning computers with pre-installed web cameras. These are some of the infrastructural challenges.
But the Government of India have made efforts to pass Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in schools through the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). Therefore, the schools and other community centers equipped with computers can be one solution to this problem.
The availability of computers is not the end of the problem. We will require to expand internet penetration in every nook and corner of the country through the help of Public-Private Partnership. We will also require to build a good internet speed in order to prevent any form of issues during the interviews.
Faculty and Administrations will have reservations for online interviews. But if entrance exams can be conducted online, why can’t the same thing happen for the interviews?