National Testing Service (NTS) is Pakistan’s premier testing body. Established in 2002, it has since then evolved into a modern competitive testing system. With over 300 bodies as its client, only last year 1.8 million candidates took NTS tests. Main reasons for its success include its self-reliance and autonomous nature which is free from governmental control. However, in Balochistan NTS has been source of controversies lately.
Entry test of Bolan Medical College (BMC), Balochistan’s only medical college, was conducted by NTS. The test was allegedly out of course resulting in the failure of a huge number of candidates. Some students still managed to pass it but the majority complained about the test being out of course. Who is responsible for designing BMC’s entry test which led to such controversy? It was duty of the NTS body to ensure that the entry test was based on the course which students were expecting.
Apart from the BMC test, NTS has also attracted a great deal of infamy due to excessively high testing fees in Balochistan. Recently the Balochistan government had advertised over 4,300 vacancies in the education department. NTS got the contract for conducting the test through a process, which is at best dubious. Reportedly, NTS officials merely gave a presentation to officials of Balochistan government and that’s it, they got the contract.
NTS is charging job application fee of Rs. 1000 per application. If a candidate wants to submit applications for five vacancies, for example, then he or she has to pay Rs. 5000 as job application fee to NTS. That’s totally unfair keeping in mind the economic hardships of the people of Balochistan.
A comparison of job application fees, paid by candidates of other provinces, further exacerbates the situation for people of Balochistan. NTS is also conducting recruitment tests for education department in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). In Punjab job application fee is Rs. 600 per application and in KP its mere Rs. 300. If a candidate submits five different job applications then he has to pay Rs. 1200 in Punjab and Rs. 800 in KP.
Similar types of tests were held in Sindh in recent past. Initially the fee per application was set at Rs. 300 but that was reduced to Rs. 30 by then education minister of Sindh Pir Mazhar ul Haq. Now, the question to ask is that why the candidates of the most underprivileged province are paying the highest fee to NTS? This question has been asked over hundred times in local newspapers of Balochistan where people demanded the government of Balochistan to reduce the application fee. However, all these requests fell on deaf ears and neither Balochistan government nor NTS bothered to even issue a clarification statement.
NTS has a very poor communication system. When a caller calls the helpline, he has to wait for 3 to 4 minutes with a queue of over 20 callers. When the turn of the caller comes, the call is mostly dropped. This scribe failed to get any response from NTS even after calling them for three days and sending fax to manager operations of NTS. NTS didn’t bother to comment on the questions of charging high fees and nature of dubious process that resulted in award of the contract to NTS.
Sardar Raza Barech, advisor to Chief Minister of Balochistan on education, declared complete ignorance when asked about why was NTS charging higher fee in Balochistan. Mr. Barech even said that “he doesn’t know how NTS got the contract.” President of Balochistan School Teachers Union (BSTU) Mr. Khair M. Shaheen alleged that NTS had got the contact without the legal process and something fishy is going on. He even claimed that NTS has so far collected over Rs. 50 million from poor people of Balochistan only through education department’s job applications.
NTS has done remarkable work in ensuring merit in both recruitment and admissions tests. Also it is much better than government of Balochistan in conducting transparent tests. This critique is not meant to make either NTS or the education department vacancies controversial. However, NTS and Balochistan government should not consider themselves beyond public scrutiny and accountability. They can’t brush aside the mounting public pressure for their financial interests.