NET: Is lower threshold for OBC really needed?

Thanks to @realitycheckind on Twitter, the topic of the recent notification by UGC on the issue of cut-off percentages for “Qualifying” in the National Eligibility Test came up. This test allows candidates to apply for the posts of Assistant Professor and/or Junior Research Fellowship in various Universities and Colleges in the country

I am sincerely hoping @realitycheckind will soon write a blog on the unconstitutionality of the selection/cut-off methodology that had been adapted by UGC till recently. I say ’till recently’ because in January 2017, in the Nair Service Society vs UGC and Ors case, the Kerala High Court has stuck down as unconstitutional one of the elements involved in the process of declaring a candidate as “Qualified” in NET.

In this post, after giving a brief background into what the procedure is, I want to provide some data that will allow us to question the practice of grouping OBC with SC, STs and Disabled Persons and granting them a lower cut-off (pass) percentage in the NET exam.

The NET Exam Procedure (till 2017):

  • The exams are held for 83 different subjects such as Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Computer Science, Electronics, various languages and so on.
  • The exam consists of three papers.
  • Paper 1 is a common one to all candidates appearing.
  • Paper 2 and Paper 3 are specific to the subject for which the candidate is appearing.
  • All 3 papers are objective type.
  • General Category students can write the exam if they have scored 55% in the Master’s Degree or equivalent exam
  • SC/ST/OBC and DC students can write the exam if they have scored 50% in the Master’s Degree or equivalent exam

Cut-off Criteria for Passing NET:

  • Paper 1 is for 100 marks
  • Paper 2 is for 100 marks
  • Paper 3 is for 150 marks
  • Pass marks for Paper 1
    • General category students : 40
    • Others : 35
  • Pass marks for Paper 2
    • General category students : 40
    • Others : 35
  • Pass marks for Paper 3
    • General category students : 75
    • Others : 60

Qualifying candidate list:

  • Amongst all candidates who pass NET scoring the necessary marks as mentioned above, UGC will determine a “qualifying candidate” list. The students in this list are declared to have qualified in the NET and are eligible for appearing for interviews and other procedures as individual Universities and Colleges may determine necessary.
  • From 2010 till 2017, UGC created this list of qualified candidates by selecting the top 15% of students from each category.
  • First, a list of all candidates who passed as per above mentioned criteria for each subject is drawn. Under each subject there are 5 sublists – GC, OBC, SC, ST, DC
    • For e.g. Economics GC list, Economics OBC list, Economics SC list, Economics ST list and Economics DC list.
  • Now within each sub-list, the top 15% of students are selected and declared as having qualified.
  • The sum-total of all qualified candidates form the list for the respective year.

Problem area:

  • Remember under each category, the 15% is derived from the list of all students who passed the test.
  • And the ‘pass’ criteria is different depending upon whether you are general category or otherwise.
  • For e.g.
    • In Category 1, if total pass candidates are 200, then 30 people qualify
    • In Category 2, if total pass candidates are 300, then 45 people qualify

It has been so happening that due to lower pass criteria (35% and 60% vs 40% and 75%) for OBC also, the number of candidates who pass NET has turned out to be much much bigger than General Category students.

In NET 2015, as per the above rules, the following number of students were declared as qualified.

  • Total: 23595
  • General Category: 6229 (26%)
  • OBC: 12095 (51%)
  • SC: 3574  (15%)
  • ST: 1335 (5.6%)
  • Disabled Category: 362 (plus a few more under SC/ST) (1.5%)

The reservation percentages in jobs in almost all states is

  • OBC: 27%
  • SC: 16%
  • ST: 7%
  • DC: 3%

It is quite clear that the pool of qualified candidates being created is totally skewed in favor of OBCs.

Is the lower cutoff for OBCs needed?

The entire list of candidates who have qualified in NET 2015, based on which the Kerala High Court ruled the procedure as unconstitutional is available here.

In addition to candidate list, the following information is available

  • Candidate category (OBC, GC, etc)
  • Marks of each paper
  • Total marks
  • Miscellaneous (gender, etc)

I managed to convert the PDF document containing the list of students into an excel sheet and performed some calculations.

Following were the steps:

  • Extract list of all candidates qualified under OBC category.
    • Total number of OBC students : 12098
  • Increase cut-off marks for Paper 1 from 35 to 40 (same as general category)
    • Remove all candidates who scored less than 40
    • Total number of OBC students: 11723
  • Increase cut-off marks for Paper 2 from 35 to 40 & remove all candidates scoring less than 40
    • Total number of OBC students: 11655
  • Increase cut-off marks for Paper 3 from 60 to 75 & remove all candidates scoring less than 75
    • Total number of OBC students applying general category cut-off: 9342

Thus, even after applying the same cut-off criteria as General Category students, the total number of qualifying OBC students is 9342, which is about 50% more than the GC students.

Are lesser number of GC students qualifying?

For General Category, since the cut-off is already high, there is no filter with respect to individual paper marks that can be applied. However, remember that the bare minimum total for a General Category student is 155 marks (40 – Paper 1 + 40 – Paper 2 + 75 – Paper 3)

Applying this criteria and looking at the list of 6229 GC students, we see that the minimum total marks scored by any student is 172. Corresponding lowest mark in OBC is 142, about 30 marks less.

Even if an additional condition had been imposed on the OBC students that their lowest total must be same as GC, we find that the total number of qualifying students with 172 or above is 9340 (just 2 less than above number of 9342).


Based on the actual marks obtained by students, the lower cut-off for OBC is totally unnecessary and is only causing a significant skew in favor or OBC at the expense of students belonging to other categories in the “qualified candidate” pool of NET.

Hopefully, the new system announced by UGC for NET 2017 and onwards will set right this anomaly. Since the notification is due only in July 2017. we will have to wait and see.