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The University Grants Commission (UGC) on 23 January declared a uniform entry test for all public universities across the country from the next academic year (2020-2021). Though, for several years, the issue had been in focus, five universities -- Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka University, Chittagong University and Rajshahi University -- are yet to agree on this. Separate entry tests have their hurdles when an integrated system too is not free of challenges. How do the students evaluate these?

Prothom Alo has talked to several public university students to know their opinion on the issue.

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"The physical and mental labour would be less in the uniform test system," said Ratri Sarker, a student of law and justice at Jahangirnagar University. She sees the decision opens opportunity for many who cannot afford travelling to various places for the tests. "Usually the various university entry forms along with the travelling expenses would cost Tk 15,000-20,000," she said. “It would cost much less if one has to buy only one form."

Ratri stressed that the exam centres should be set up in a manner that allows a student to sit for the exam in his/her own or nearby district. "Corruption and fake admission should be strictly controlled too," she added. She said there should be alternatives for a student who cannot make the schedule for sickness or other reasons. She pointed out that the autonomy of the universities including Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University, Rajshahi University or Chittagong University must be conversed under the uniform system.

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Zemima Binte Zahid, a student of agriculture economy and rural sociology of Bangladesh Agricultural University, shares her experience of taking a unified entry test last year. She took the test for seven universities specialised in agriculture. "Though I wanted to study agriculture, it was very hard for me to take all the tests of different agricultural universities scattered across the country." She was also afraid of visiting unknown places and sit for the exams.

"I had seen that my senior female students would take their family members wherever they went to sit for an exam." All her fears were gone as she had to take only one exam and that too near her home, at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University. "I didn't have to travel across the country nor did I had to take separate preparations for each university."

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Musarrat Tasmia Rahim, an Islamic Studies sophomore at Jagannath University, welcomes the UGC decision saying, "Earlier, at times, exams at different universities would fall on the same day. A number of universities held unit-wise tests when some others would hold department-wise tests and a huge money, time and labour were spent in the whole process."

Musarrat still questions some issues. "Departments are not the same at different universities. Dhaka University has departments of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu and so on, but Jagannath University does not have such departments." She asks whether all the universities under the uniform test system will introduce similar faculties and departments. "Moreover, which university will control the exams?" There are some universities that are specialised in specific subjects when some only teach them at departments, she said adding, and where will a student be enrolled if he wants to study that specific subject?

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Md. Syed Bin Abdullah, a third year law student at Dhaka University, also finds some challenges in the unified test. "Not all universities are of equal quality," he said. "The questionnaire for the top ranked universities may not go with the new universities," observed Syed. He said it was easier for medical college tests as the syllabus was the same, but there is no common syllabus for universities.

"It would be a big challenge to coordinate among the various departments and faculties of all the universities." Syed rather preferred the unified test for specialised universities giving example of the test followed at agricultural universities last year. "There is no ranking of our universities, one cannot simply say that Rajshahi University ranks higher than Chittagong University," he says adding that, "All the departments of the universities are not equally developed either, which leaves it hard to rank."

Md. Shariful Islam, a mass communication and journalism sophomore at Khulna University, is optimistic that the top level of the government was giving a thought over the uniform system. “But a number of universities are yet to comply with the decision, so it is still uncertain whether the system will be implemented from next year." He says it took a long time for the medical and dental colleges to free the unified entry test of errors, so the universities should start the preparations as soon as possible.

*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.

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