The Common University Entrance Test (CUET)-UG will be conducted in three shifts this year instead of two and plans for its merger with crucial entrance exams like JEE and NEET will be announced at least two years in advance, according to UGC chairman M Jagadesh Kumar.

In an interview to PTI, Kumar said the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the National Testing Agency (NTA) are prepared to ensure that the second edition of CUET-UG is glitch-free.

"With respect to the experience of students last year, I do agree that at few centres there were glitches and this year we are taking care of all issues related to those kinds of experiences that the students went through. We will make sure that this time the students have to focus only on exams and not on any possible glitches and how are we doing that.

"We are doing that by identifying the centres well in advance and by looking at the infrastructure that is available including the computers, bandwidth, and technical personnel at the centres so that the second edition is glitch-free," he said.

"I agree there were several glitches during the exam last time but this year all issues have been ironed out. Keeping in mind the experience of the students, a plan has been chalked out and we are ready to ensure that the candidates just have to worry about the exam and not any glitches," he said.

Kumar said that extra computers and extra centres have been arranged as plan B so that in case there are any glitches, the candidates can be shifted there and the exam for a particular shift will not be cancelled.

The UGC chief also announced that in a deviation from the usual pattern, the exam will be conducted in three shifts from this year.

Asked about the proposal to merge CUET with the engineering entrance exam JEE and the medical entrance exam NEET, he said, "It is definitely doable. The details are being worked out but whenever the merger happens, announcements will be made at least two years in advance so the students can prepare accordingly."

"NEP 2020 has clearly said the burden should be reduced on students by having a single national-level entrance examination. We floated the idea to mentally prepare students that NEP has proposed such a thing and there is a possibility in the coming years. We are working internally, how to take this forward."

The UGC had in March last year announced that undergraduate admissions will be conducted in all central universities through a common entrance test and not on the basis of class 12 marks.

The debut edition of the CUET-UG was conducted in July last year and was marred by glitches, prompting the NTA to cancel the exam at multiple centres. While several students were informed about cancellation a night before the exam, many of them were turned away from centres.

The UGC chairman had then said the exams at certain centres have been cancelled following reports of "sabotage".

With 14.9 lakh registrations, the CUET, the common gateway for undergraduate admissions in all central universities, became the second biggest entrance exam in the country, surpassing JEE-Main's average registration of nine lakh.

"We have already received over 11.5 lakh registrations this year. The deadline has been extended till March 30 and we are expecting the applications to cross last year's number," Kumar said.

Asked about "normalisation" of scores which left several aspirants disappointed as they found their marks reduced from their original scores, making it difficult for them to get their dream college, he said efforts have been made to minimise any errors during the process.

"The schedule of the exam has been compressed this year to 10 days instead of over one and half month in order to minimise any errors in the normalisation as the variation is more when the exam is held over a bigger period of time," he said.

The normalisation formula using the "equipercentile method" has been decided by a panel comprising professors from Indian Statistical Institute, IIT Delhi and Delhi University.

Kumar explained that CUET centres have been identified in three categories.

"We have categorised the centres in category A, B and C. Some of the centres where we faced problems last year were divided into category C and we will not use those centres this time.

"Category B will have the centres where we need to handhold the centres and some groundwork needs to be done and make sure appropriate infrastructure is available. Category A centres are absolutely fine," he said.