Business Today

Honey, I shrank the CAT!

Number of applicants for the CAT exam dips; middle-rung B-schools won’t have it easy either.

Saumya Bhattacharya | Print Edition: November 15, 2009

The CAT is out of the bag and has stunned business schools. For the first time in 10 years, the number of applicants for the Common Admission Test (CAT) has taken a plunge. In spite of an extension of 10 days for online registration, a little over 2.41 lakh applicants registered for the exam this year, against 2.7 lakh last year. The CAT exam is the gateway to MBA in Indian Institutes of Management and other top-rung business schools.

The lower number of applicants also caught the CAT Committee unawares. The committee that’s holding this year’s examination had made a provision for 3 lakh applicants and had kept a buffer ready in case more applied. Now it’s searching for answers. “This year, candidates probably noticed the effect on salaries and employment due to economic slowdown,” says Satish Deodhar, CAT 2009 Convener and faculty at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A). CAT numbers have consistently registered impressive year-on-year growth of 15-20 per cent in recent years.

Expected applicants in 2009: 300,000+
Applicants in 2009: 241,582
Applicants in 2008: 270,000

Devi Singh, Director, IIM Lucknow, blames unexpected numbers on poor placements. “Since last year’s placement scenario wasn’t so good, it seems only serious students are going in for MBAs. Earlier, everyone— whether a serious candidate or not— would write the CAT exam.”

While CAT organisers are slightly startled, some industry watchers expected this decline. Says Gautam Puri, Vice Chairman & Co-founder, Career Launcher: “I am surprised the number of applicants managed to touch 2.41 lakh. We were expecting the numbers to be between 2 lakh and 2.25 lakh.” Career Launcher, an education services company, offers test preparation to potential MBAs.

Puri attributes his pessimism to poor placement record at B-schools last year. “The feeling among students was that there was no point taking the CAT if it did not guarantee impressive placements,” he says.

Another major factor for numbers taking a free fall seems to be CAT turning computer-based. “The moment it became computer-based, students from hinterland backed out,” claims Puri. Career Launcher registered higher enrolments for its MBA preparation modules in metros while fewer enrolments were recorded in smaller cities such as Lucknow, Kanpur and Jaipur.

In view of fewer applicants for the CAT, lower-rung institutes that had a harrowing admission and placement season last year have started gathering their act together. One of the steps being considered is reduction in admission fee, according to Puri.

What’s in store for the CAT next year? “The numbers will in all probability come back. Or even when they stay at these levels, that’s good enough for IIMs. We have only a little more than 2,000 seats on offer,” says Devi Singh.

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