Worried Students & Even more Confused governments| Frontlist Insight

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The UGC has asked all universities to conduct final exams by September 30. Some states have already canceled these exams. What now?

 

On July 6, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), following a recommendation from the University Grants Commission (UGC), instructed all universities to conduct their final year and semester termination examinations compulsorily by September 30. This directive has created an awkward situation for seven state governments that had unilaterally canceled these examinations and added to the uncertainty for millions of students who are planning the next step of their careers. Students who are unable to take examinations must be offered a chance subsequently to take it, says the HRD/ UGC directive, and all universities must clear backlogs for the award of degrees.

Even as #StudentsLivesMatter began trending to oppose final examinations, Union HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal reiterated the UGC’s consistent stand: “It is very crucial to ensure academic credibility, career opportunities, and future progress of students globally.” Exams can be held online, offline or a hybrid of both, says the UGC, running contrary to the popular view that final marks should be awarded on the basis of past performance. Students of some streams, such as medicine, await directives from other regulatory bodies. The Dental Council of India wants final exams to be conducted, but has given colleges the flexibility to hold examinations at their convenience and allowed intermediate students to be promoted to the next grade, says Vaibhav Galriya, secretary of medical education in Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh, the government has ordered students to be physically present in classes, and for exams to subsequently be held for first- and final-year MBBS students, some of whom have challenged this directive at the state high court, arguing that they have not had enough time for their theory and practical learning because of the lockdown. The Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi has also criticized the decision to hold classes for medical students.

In the field of technical education, the All India Council for Technical Education has asked affiliated institutions to follow UGC guidelines, which means final exams are a must for engineering degrees. Rajasthan’s minister of state for technical education, Subhash Garg, says that institutions that have either already conducted the majority of their exams or have mostly semester and continuous evaluation systems in place, can award final marks on the basis of past performance as IIT Mumbai has chosen to do. For PhDs, the UGC has allowed the use of video apps such as Skype for taking vivas online, as well as extensions in research periods.

The states that had already announced the cancellation of exams—Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Kerala, West Bengal, Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh—are now either approaching the HRD ministry to explain why it is not currently possible to conduct exams or trying to identify other solutions. Some states like Maharashtra are adamant about not holding exams given the danger posed by the Covid pandemic. Any decision contrary to UGC guidelines brings with it the peril of facing de-recognition of the degree in question, but cancellation relieves the authorities of the challenge of holding exams in such circumstances and allows them to focus on next academic year, while giving students certainty in July itself of the marks they will be awarded.

Other critics of the UGC recommendation say September 30 is too late a date for the conclusion of examinations, as that will hamper students seeking admission to colleges abroad and those seeking jobs this year, and will also push the beginning of new PG degree sessions to November. “What is the guarantee that COVID-19 will be under control by September 30?” asks Garg, pointing out that intra-state movement is required for exams to be held, which increases the risk of COVID-19 spreading further. In some states, governments have also converted students’ hostels into quarantine centers—this has created further problems for students seeking housing.

Suchi Sharma, secretary of higher education in the Rajasthan government fears that the uncertainty around exams and the risk of losing a year if exams are deferred will add to the already considerable stress students are under. “Let there be cancellation [of exams] or assessment of home-based projects instead of holding multiple exams for students who cannot take these by September 30,” she says. The issues some students raise to justify her concern. “The HRD ministry and the UGC have shown absolutely no concern towards the issues raised by students,” says Utkarsh Kakkar, a student of Economics (Hons) at the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi. “Any delay in exams will ruin our future plans.” Besides, as many point out, scores in final year examinations hardly matter. “There is little weight attached to degrees in real life, where one has to sit for competitive examinations to get jobs or admission into higher classes,” says Ayush Bhardwaj, a research scholar and general secretary of the Rajasthan Youth Congress.

Not everyone agrees with these views. An official from the HRD ministry tells INDIA TODAY that states and universities are shirking their responsibilities towards students. “They have enough time to evolve a new examination system which will be useful subsequently too,” he says. The ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad), the student wing of the Sangh Parivar, supports the Government/ UGC approach: “Many students who are expected to do well in examinations want [them to be held], and universities have already charged [exam] fees,” says Nikita Shekhawat, general secretary of ABVP, Jaipur Mahanagar.

Source: India Today.

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