The world is reeling under the Corona Pandemic for more than five months. It has shaken every step of a human being from individual to social activities. One of the sectors is education which is very crucial in the globalised world. The University Grants Commission (UGC), which regulates the colleges and universities across the country, remains very sensitive to the concerns of students and teachers during the period of Corona epidemic. It sent time to time instructions to the colleges and universities. The chairman, Prof DP Singh himself addressed many times through Webinar to the teaching fraternity. HRD Minister Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal kept his ministry and institutions on alert mode so COVID-19 could not derail the academic roadmap. Now the high time of conducting the final exam has become imminent.
There are two ways to do it. One is to upgrade the final year’s students through upgrading them by adjudging average marks on earlier performance in semester exams. Another way is to conduct exams, either online or offline. The current decision of UGC for conducting examinations by the end of September 31 to college and universities has stirred the political debate at the national level.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of Congress Party, tweeted against the decision of UGC. The Congress has launched a “Speak-Up” campaign against the move by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to conduct final-year examination in colleges in September despite the spiralling spike of the Covid-19 cases nationwide. They demanded the students, instead, are promoted based on their earlier performance. The tweet of Rahul Gandhi has given the political colour of the academic and administrative decision. Six non-BJP states wrote to the PM Narendra Modi against the instructions of UGC.
The Delhi Government cancelled all upcoming examinations to be conducted in state universities, both for final and intermediate year/semester students, arguing it would be “unfair” to hold exams as the teaching-learning process was “hampered” due to COVID. Earlier, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal had decided to cancel final-year examinations
The Delhi Government was more vocal. The Government cancelled all upcoming examinations to be conducted in state universities, both for final and intermediate year/semester students, arguing it would be “unfair” to hold exams as the teaching-learning process was “hampered” due to COVID. Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said state universities have been asked to come up with “a set of parametres for evaluation based on the students’ past performance” and award them degrees. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, suggesting that exams in central universities be scrapped and students evaluated based on internal assessment and previous marks. Earlier, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal had decided to cancel final-year examinations in their universities because of the academic disruptions caused by the pandemic.
The UGC issued a statement saying: “Out of the 640 universities that submitted their response to UGC— 182 have already conducted examination (online/offline), 234 are planning to conduct examination (online/offline/blended mode) in August/September and 38 are planning to conduct the examination as per the directions of the relevant Statutory Council”
Will the demands of Delhi Government and Rahul Gandhi restore the academic credibility of students? This is a more serious question that needs to be thought of. After a few years, the batch of 2020 pass out, the students when they move for jobs, their degree may be called the ‘Corona Degree’. Their aggregated mark sheet will have a negative tag which will linger during their professional life. It will have self-defeating trauma for these students. Like a post-COVID graduate’s certificate would mention that his final marks were averaged out. Effectively meaning he didn’t take the final exam. It also raised questions of its legality. Will it serve the purpose? Will the tweet of Rahul Gandhi convince the job providers companies after a few years, when people start forgetting about the pandemic?
Secondly, most of the students work very hard during the time of final examinations. They do not take semester exams very seriously. If the average marks are adjudged on their earlier performance, it could be a deliberate attempt to deny them the fair opportunities of justice. It might trigger some of the affected students approaching the courts. Third, there are many eminent universities of the world, including Cambridge of Britain and MIT of America have conducted their scheduled exams (offline-online) mode. If some of the students pursue getting admission in these universities without clearing the final year exams will have a huge negative impression.
Prof SP Singh of Delhi University categorically said, “It may appear as the best way of awarding degrees today as it’s an easy route, but it will put the future of students at stake. Marksheets and transcripts have to be issued, mentioning that average marking was done. And, the degrees awarded to students in such a manner will always be known as ‘corona degree’ for the rest of their life”.
For its part, the UGC is not in favour of cancelling exams and awarding degrees through average scores from past semesters. It issued a directive on July 8 that mandates all universities to conduct final-year examinations by the end of September, either offline (pen and paper), online, or blended (online plus offline). A plausible reason could be that a degree without an exam could undermine a student’s “professional credibility”—especially the bright ones. Former UGC chairman Ved Prakash says, “If a degree is awarded with average marking, a student who has been toiling hard to improve his performance, scores and grading will be deprived (of a fair assessment)”.
In Delhi, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and requested him to ensure that the examinations in universities across the country are cancelled “in the larger interest of the students”. With the Delhi government refusing to abide by the UGC directive and Kejriwal writing to the PM, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Punjab counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh have also joined the chorus against holding examinations till the pandemic wears down. Both Banerjee and Singh have urged the PM to review the UGC’s directive.
The UGC is in no mood to change its stand. “I have not gone into its legal aspects but even if they (state governments) are using their powers under the national disaster management act to cancel the examinations, they should take decisions keeping the students’ interest in mind,” UGC vice-chairman Patwardhan says. The UGC in the wake of states cancelling final year university exams has said that states are not permissible to do this and commission does have the power to take action. Asking state universities to follow the revised guidelines, UGC has said that states are legally bound to follow its guidelines. “As per the UGC Act, State governments cannot take this decision. Unlike school education, which is on the State list, higher education is on the concurrent list. UGC and AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) directives have to be implemented. It is there in the act”.
The pandemic should not be a reason to disturb the federal polity on a very sensitive issue of the country. The students are the future and backbone of knowledge-based economy. Any decision taken in haste or bearing political underpinnings would be detrimental for the country. The Central Government has restored hope and motivations against the pandemic. It is equally sensitive for the future of the students. Conducting examinations does not mean compromising with the safety and health of students and teaching fraternity. The universities and colleges will strictly adhere to all instructions of UGC of safety and health. It is an attempt to defuse the pandemic which may create psychological disorder among the passing out of students; a disorder of depression which their average mark sheet would bring and tag lifelong on their head. It is always better to have a clean certificate without any tag of negativity. To have this, we need to undertake the examinations.
(The writer is an Associate Prof of Political Science at MMH College, Ghaziabad)