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Foreign ExCHANGE?

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Every year, foreign exchange remains one of the most hyped opportunities amongst sophomores providing them with a delightful opportunity to spend a semester in a new land.

Amongst the many who apply for it (leaving out those whose grade sheets weigh too less in numbers to make them eligible for a semester abroad), only a few get through and the shattered dreams of the rest compel them to question the procedure and they do deserve an answer to “why not them”. In conversation with Associate Dean (Academics) and Assistant Registrar(UG Section), we tried to delve a bit into the exact selection procedure for foreign exchange programme.

CGPA 8:  Only sophomores with a cumulative grade point average of 8 or more are permitted to apply for ForEx to ensure a certain level of academic proficiency in the aspirants. 

Who lays down the rules?

A committee is formed for the selection process leaded by a Chairman who is a professor. The Chairman selects the other committee members which include a few deans and some professors. Prof. S. R. Kale of the Mechanical Engineering Department has been the Chairman of the committee since the last three years. The criteria for selection and the course of action is laid down by the committee. According to the Associate Dean (Academics), the process is varied each year so that it doesn't become static. The Chairman decides what procedure is to be followed each year. 

Weightage of the written test and the interview

The final selection is based on both the written test (which is evaluated prior to the interview by the panelists) and the interview. The panelists sit together in a room to discuss and evaluate the written test. The exact weightage, however, is decided by the committee. 

Is the slotting random?

The slotting pattern for the interviews shows a specific pattern. The applicants are arranged in a decreasing order of their Grade Point Average and then divided into 8 groups of 20 students each. This is done such that the 1st, 9th, 17th and so on ranker holders (on the basis of CGPA) lie in the 1st group and so on and so forth. This is done to ensure uniformity in academic proficiency of students across all panels.

Uniformity across panels (Is it?)

Before the interview, the panelists have a discussion on what guidelines to follow during the interviews to ensure uniformity across all panels. The purpose is to keep the questions mostly similar across all panels. However, there are no predefined questions else students will come prepared with an answer. Every panel ranks the students in their panel, and the selection procedure finishes with another round of discussion amongst the panelists to decide on how to compare students from different panels. This discussion is presided by the Chairman. 

Decoding the selections: Is there any pattern? 

The results of the Foreign Exchange Program showed that strictly 5 students from each panel were shortlisted in the final list of 40 candidates. This is indicative of a means to ensure uniformity in the selections from each panel and in a way to normalise the whole system so as to counter the variations in questions and judging criteria from panel to panel. It was also observed that there was one student from each slot in the top 8 selected candidates. The question of how fair this method of normalisation has been is still prevalent. Some might question that it possible for the 6th best candidate in a slot to be better than the best one in another slot.

Does being a girl increase my chances?

Another interesting fact that was observed was that 9 out of 40 shortlisted candidates were females. This is a huge share (nearly 25%) as compared to the on-campus sex ratio of 1:10. This can be seen as an attempt to ensure diversity and inclusion in the selection procedure. 

Is merit given preference?

Only 25% of the selected candidates had a CGPA higher than 9.0 and four out of these ten students (with CGPA > 9) were in the top 10.

 

Is the length of the interview an indicative of my selection?

The longer the interview the better are your chances of getting selected? Majority of the selected candidates (55%) said that their interviews lasted for about 10 to 15 minutes. Another 24% said the time scale in their case was 7 to 10 minutes. Only one candidate said her interview was just about 3-5 minutes and yet holds a spot in the top 5.

 

The average length of the interview (among the shortlisted candidates) was found be higher for those with CGPAs in the range of 8.0 to 9.0 than for those above 9 with an exception across some panels. Professor Aditya Mittal said, “I tried to keep the interviews longer for students with a higher grade and grilled them more so as to ensure that those with lower grades stood a fair chance of selection. ”                 

An insight into the Interviews

Each year, after the day of the interviews for the exchange programme, it is quite common to hear a lot of people feeling that the interview procedure was not quite up to their expectations.
This year, we decided to put things in perspective and took a survey of about 50 students who gave the interviews.  

When asked “Did you feel that your interview was unfair?”, there were varied responses. It was observed from the survey that in most groups, was almost all the candidates had the same opinion as to whether the interview was unfair or not. Yet, there were some groups in which the opinion was divided. Many candidates in some particular groups felt that towards the end of the day, the panelists were getting quite tired and chose to take shorter interviewers of those candidates whose slots were towards the end. This is perhaps a reason for the disparity in the opinions within a group. While in most panels, candidates were called in the same order as their CGPA, some groups had candidates called in randomly. Thus, the candidates who were called in first or last in such groups were quite unsatisfied. A candidate noted that his interview panel consisted of three members at the beginning of the proceedings, but towards the end of the day, the number dwindled down to one. Another candidate reports that one of his panelists left the room mid way through his interview. Such incidents are perhaps one of the main reasons for a general lack of satisfaction amongst the candidates.

After going through the survey responses, we realised that though there is no defined set of questions that the panelists ask, the general nature of the questions were of certain fixed kinds. The following pie chart depicts the kind of questions each of the candidates were asked.

 

Results based on survey of the 50 people who responded. The numbers indicate the percentage of candidates that were asked questions of a certain kind.

It is quite surprising that about 43% of the candidates were not asked much about what they wrote in the written examination raising a question about their relevance to the panelists. Another astonishing fact is that almost a third of the candidates were quizzed on their general knowledge. True, you must have certain basic information about what is happening around the World, but is it really necessary to know how many Indians there are in Saudi Arabia or what the history of electrical engineering is?

(Note to future aspirants: questions on Qutub Minar were apparently a hot favourite amongst the panelists)

We agree, that the panelists may be trying to see the reaction of students to a question to which they don’t know the answer. However, there is no denying that it does reflect bad upon the student if he unfortunately doesn’t know two consecutive answers in a row. Even if general knowledge questions are to be included, everyone should be quizzed on the same during their interviews. The problem is that some students are given a chance to prove themselves after direct questions like “Why do you want to go to country X as an ambassador for IITD?” and they can hence direct the interview their way while some have to wriggle their way out of the fact that they don’t know the history of Jhansi ki Rani in depth.

Leaving aside the wide non-uniformity in terms of the kind of questions asked, there was also a lot of mismanagement in terms of the way the interviews were conducted to add to the frustration of the students. From interviews starting hours late, to a case of the written test going missing, only to be found later, some interviews turned out to be quite eventful.  

However, all this is just one side of the story. In order to understand the rationale behind the procedure and the kind of questions asked, we tried to dig into what goes on the mind of the panelists themselves. 

Understanding the panelists’ mind

We were lucky to be able to talk to Professor Narayanan Kurur, for whom foreign exchange interviews are slightly more academic than job oriented. Therefore, he is not really interested in anyone’s positions of responsibility while taking an interview. For him, the subjectivity involved is a necessity, and makes selection process better.

He said that how much a student has grown after coming to IIT Delhi is more of a concern to him, perhaps to see who would benefit from the opportunity the most. He said that solely using CGPA as a criterion would cause students who are otherwise already doing everything to reappear in the foreign exchange programs. They mostly do not to try and get the best out of this opportunity, but rather wish to mark another CV point for a higher package. PoRs, he says, are irrelevant to academics.

To understand his views, you need to see IIT as an educational institute, which has the prime motive to educate its students, and not to ensure a job for them. To provide equal opportunities to all, Prof. Kurur usually don’t account for how many PoR the person being interviewed has. This opportunity, he says, is more worthy to someone who wishes to grow academically, after all.

However, he does say that the panelists usually have differing opinions on people they think can make the best use of the opportunity. Thus, they rank students based on what their personal criteria and subjectivity, and a student liked by all is usually shortlisted. While some students see this as randomness, he explains beautifully that if you have not grown much during your time in IIT, and have just run after PoRs and the conventional norms that exist regarding career in IIT, then you’d not figure in his list. If you present who you’re naturally, in the absence of these norms to the panel, you might get selected for him.

In conclusion, we feel that something should be done about the way the ForEx selections are done. Now, the same procedure has been in place since years and the subjectivity of the procedure gets questioned every year. In the first place, the selection procedure needs to be more transparent in terms of the weightage allotted to the Statement of Purpose, the written test and the interview. The alleged uniformity across panels is again a questionable issue which makes slotting very crucial. The disparity across panels and the lack of transparency in the process leads to a majority of students calling the process random. Since the subjectivity of the interview cannot be done away with, to be fair to all the applicants, a mark sheet comprising of the scores of the applicants in the various aspects of the selection procedure should be declared. The result needs to be quantitatively more convincing than just the rank list that is usually put up.

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