Why thousands of NIT and IIIT seats will be wasted again in 2018

Update (24 July 2018): #JoSAA 2018 just announced 6,133 unnecessary vacancies at the country’s most sought after engineering colleges after main rounds = 25% of NIT+IIIT seats! Entirely predictable and entirely avoidable. Keep reading..

“Hon. HRD Minister @PrakashJavdekar: Stop wasting seats at IITs+NITs+IIITs” — Sign the Petition at https://chn.ge/2uOhBAf via @Change.

Joint seat allocation to all the IITs, NITs, IIITs and other Indian government funded engineering colleges for 2018 is in full swing under the Joint Seat Allocation Authority (JoSAA). Since its implementation in 2015, the joint process has successfully reduced vacancies at the IITs by nearly 75%, to under 200/10k seats per year. But 6,510 out of 25k seats at the non-IITs (NITs, IIITs and others) were vacant at the end of the main rounds of JoSAA 2017. 2,680 of these highly sought after seats were vacant even after the Special Round, though thousands of deserving candidates waiting in line wanted them. Worse yet, something similar will happen again in 2018. Let’s see why.

(What do I know about any of this? As it happens, I was the one who proposed the core methodology for joint seat allocation back in 2013, and have been intimately involved in the successful implementation under JoSAA. Our academic paper, co-authored with my excellent collaborators from various IITs, covers the vacancy issue, and offers clear suggestions to solve the problem in Table 2 and Section 6. I specialize in the design of matching markets such as college admissions, though I originally did a B. Tech. in EE at IITB. See my homepage.)

Cause of vacancies:
Studying the data, we have traced the problem to the fact that thousands of candidates list program “choices” and further accept non-IIT seats casually, but then either Withdraw just before the last round, or simply do not show up for classes. These candidates are still allowed to write the JEE Main exam and apply for a non-IIT seat again (in contrast with the rule that if you accept an IIT seat, you are not allowed to write the JEE Advanced exam and apply for an IIT seat ever again), which encourages this type of casual behavior by candidates. Candidates who withdraw before the last round don’t really help us allot the seats successfully: last year around 75% of fresh allocations at non-IITs in the last round were Rejected by candidates.

The solution:
For many years now, candidates who Accept a seat at an IIT are not permitted to write JEE Advanced again, and unsurprisingly, the IITs have few vacancies. In March 2018, we strongly proposed to JoSAA that this rule should be extended to all institutes participating in JoSAA (NITs, IIITs, etc.) “if you list a program and then further Accept the seat, you cannot write JEE Main again” for the 2018 cycle. Though such a rule would seem to slightly restrict an individual candidate from changing his mind, in fact it would vastly improve the efficiency of utilizing seats, and as a result everyone would be better off. Here’s a loose analogy:

Imagine 10 people trying to share half a cake, each with a big spoon in hand. Someone comes and says, “I can instead give you a full cake to share, but each of you can only use a small spoon.” Of course the second option is better for everyone.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and explanations, JoSAA did not accept our proposal. Perhaps they were worried that candidates would fail to understand the benefits of this rule change and instead protest against it. It may be that reducing vacancies is not a priority since there are few complaints about this issue! JoSAA also rejected our other proposals, e.g., to close the Withdraw option two rounds before the end (so that we could successfully reallot more of the vacated seats), and ultimately didn’t even allow candidates to “Restrict” (i.e., delete) choices they are no longer interested in.

So what can be done to reduce vacancies? If you are a candidate, you can be a good citizen by doing the following:

  • If you have decided to go to a non-JoSAA institute or to write JEE again, Withdraw immediately so somebody else can get your seat. Don’t wait for the last moment. This will probably change someone else’s life for the better when the seat is successfully reallotted.
  • Do not Accept a seat if you don’t want it.

Unfortunately, even if a few nice candidates follow these practices, I expect over 5k vacancies at the end of the main rounds in 2018 because the rules are still the problematic ones from 2017. Ultimately, our proposed simple rule changes are truly needed to minimize vacancies.

Journalists take note: 
TOI ran a nice article on July 12 describing the problem and our proposed solution using excerpts from our paper, but omitted a crucial aspect: we told JoSAA all this not now but a full four months ago (in fact one of my very nice profs from undergrad is running the show there this year) but got stonewalled in our efforts to solve the problem in the 2018 cycle. Nothing will change even in 2019 unless candidates complain about unnecessary vacancies, and demand a solution, while demonstrating that they do prefer to share the full cake with a slightly smaller spoon in hand.

Make your voice heard! Hon. HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar: Stop wasting seats at IITs+NITs+IIITs — Sign and forward the Petition! https://chn.ge/2uOhBAf via @Change.

P. S. Joint seat allocation itself was the result of a public interest court case W.P.(C) 2275/2010. Good things rarely happen without a struggle!