The UGC had argued that the exams were a must to “protect the academic future of students” and that degrees cannot be given without examinations.
Since, March, educational facilities around the country have been closed and remains under a cloud of doubt as they reopen as COVID-19 cases continue to increase. Against this backdrop, the updated guidelines released on August 28 by the University Grants Commission (UGC) requiring universities to conduct final year exams by the end of September raise important questions. The guidelines are in direct contrast with the decision of many higher education institutions, including the Indian Technology Institutes, and state governments such as Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, etc. to cancel pandemic exams.
The decision taken by UGC
The UGC “revised” its guidelines as the ones released on April 29 did not account for the length of the pandemic as long as it has. However, they only refer to the terminal year or semester tests; the previous guidelines have been maintained for other tests. Moreover, although the previous guidelines were “consultative” in nature, the language of the revised ones has an element of manipulation and compulsion.
The latest Directives tend to have the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) go-ahead. A press release issued on 6 July by the MHA and an Office Memorandum issued on the same day by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) had the same interpretations of the UGC guidelines. The press release of the MHA stated that the final term exams shall be carried out compulsorily by the university guidelines and academic calendar of the UGC. They will be step with the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). They will also be authorized through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of the Union.
Objection by the State
- Given the increase in COVID-19 incidents, at least four state governments, regional teacher unions, and their federations, and student bodies, objected.
- On 11 July, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to the Prime Minister. She issued an advisory to all State-aided universities and colleges on 26 June. They were requested to provide “due weighting of the candidate’s inner assessment and overall performance within side the preceding semesters to make certain that the candidate’s overall performance.
- She wrote that this advisory was “given in the students ‘ interest, wellness, protection, and future.”
- Special exams were also recommended to the State colleges and universities. This became common for those students who wanted to participate in a formal examination rather than an alternative method of assessment.
- Mamata Banerjee wrote State-aided institutions had already taken the steps in line with the advisory. She was “overwhelmingly welcomed” by “students, parents, and other stakeholders,” as evidenced by the “hundreds of emails” sent by students and the teachers.
- The Prime Minister was advised to “have the matter immediately re-examined and restore the UGC’s earlier advisory” to protect students ‘ interests.
- Tamil Nadu’s chief minister also had similar issues. He wrote to Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. He reminded him that the UGC had “flexibility” to conduct examinations. Irrespective of any limits, guidelines, or instructions from the appropriate government or authority in its April 29 guidelines given to universities and colleges.
- The All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organizations (AIFUCTO) represents teachers in state universities and colleges. It slammed the guidelines, saying that the UGC “did not take COVID-19 into account in different parts of the country.” His opinion would be highly risky to perform end-semester exams even by September 30.
- The Federation of Central Universities ‘Teachers’ Associations (FEDCUTA) slammed the UGC guidelines for being self-contradictory. They echoed the arguments of the DUTA. Emphasis was laid on the fact that the guidelines applied only to students of the final year who had experienced several evaluations as compared to students who had evaluations to a much lesser extent.
- The new guidelines have many limitations, arguing that it would be impossible for some students to reach exam centers.
- Online reviews were just as unfeasible as “various digital access issues.”
- Many public and private educational facilities were being used as COVID-19 treatment centers. It consisted of asymptomatic people who had tested positive for the disease. They were being quarantined, and this was likely to continue for some time.
- The Chief Minister wrote that apex bodies such as the UGC and the All India Technical Education Council should be guided ‘to support the respective state governments’ decisions based on the prevailing local COVID-19. The States should be given the freedom to carry out their ‘own evaluation methods without compromising on quality and academic reputation,’
- They could not be advanced without examinations, according to the UGC but could be the students of the intermediate semester. That will also mean that the year/semester completion date for final year students would be extended into September, while other students would end their term in mid-August.
- Students in the final year, however, have a greater need to complete early. Delaying the process until September 30 or later could deprive them of the chance to take up job opportunities. This was one of the reasons UGC / MHRD / MHA cited as the rationale for insisting on completing exams by September 30.