The Students Federation of India has released a statement opposing the latest UGC circular dated July 6, which directed that all terminal students have to mandatorily give examinations. Terming the model pushed by this circular as exclusionary, the students organisation has demanded that the University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resources Development revise its guidelines to allow passing for all terminal students.
The said circular states that exams can be conducted either offline, online or a combination of the two
.Following this, the Ministry of Home Affairs had also brought out a directive to allow universities to conduct examinations by September. However, amid the ongoing pandemic induced crisis, “it is almost unthinkable that examinations can be held physically while maintaining social distancing the statement released by SFI said.
Further, due to infrastructural disparities of government operated institutions and the continuing restrictions on and risk of travelling, online examinations are the only mode left for conducting examinations by September. But, the statement highlights that only affluent urban households have unlimited access to high speed internet, as per NSSO data on internet connectivity and access in Indian households. In such a situation, most students are unable to attend online classes, let alone appear for examinations.
Earlier, several states including West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, had cancelled online examinations and promoted students based on a number of criteria, following backlash from the student community as well as civil society. However, the latest circular stands to force even those states to hold examination, despite large scale opposition to such moves from both the students and teaching community.
Calling this out as a move to push forth corporatisation in the education sector, the statement added, “This hurried decision by the UGC MHRD to force students to give exams when the whole world is in a dire condition is a precursor to allow the companies affected by a fall in profits due to one capitalist crisis or the other, to recuperate by hosting examinations of universities. This would mean no physical infrastructure in future for holding exams and the internal processes of universities and colleges surrendered for profit.
The organisation has therefore appealed to the students community to unite in opposition against such blatant and unjust diktats by the government.
The complete statement is given below.
*The UGC Guidelines of 6 July Promote Corporati
sation and Exclusion of Education*
The University Grants Commission has brought out a circular on 06.07.2020 in which it has been directed that all terminal students give examinations mandatorily.
Concurrently, the Ministry of Home Affairs has brought out a directive to allow universities to conduct examinations by September. The UGC in its circular has stated that exams can be conducted either offline, online or a combination of the two. This directive is deeply troubling and unhelpful for the students, and represents a ploy to push exclusionary models of education backed by corporate interests.
Judging by how the Pandemic is going, it is almost unthinkable that examinations can be held physically while maintaining social distancing. It is clear by the disparities of infrastructure and the laxity generally shown towards marginalised students in government operated institutions that neither physical distancing will be followed nor will students who stay in different places from their place of study will be able to come back and give examinations. Hence holding exams by September is a pipe dream. This leaves the online mode as the only method. Let us look at the unfolding situation here.
NSSO data on internet connectivity and access in Indian households points to the fact that only affluent urban households would have unlimited access to high speed internet. Most of the students would never be able to attend online classes (requiring high speed unlimited data for video conferencing software) and neither able to download videos. In Kashmir, the authorities have imposed a draconian internet shutdown with only 2G services allowed. Expecting Kashmiri students to be able to give exams is a cruel joke designed to again rub salt in the wounds of the people of that state via discriminatory treatment. Students at this time of the pandemic are facing multiple issues- many of them in homes with hardly any space, many caring for sick relatives, many grappling with mental health issues and some even quarantined after returning back to their homes from their universities. The UGC MHRD has shown no interest in disbursing fellowships of students who cannot access it due to the closure of institutions.
Let us also look at how the events panned out since the discussion on examinations was initiated. Initially when the idea of online examinations was initiated, universities started directing their constituent colleges to take online classes and exams. One instance will suffice to show the state of affairs where colleges of the Kumaun University in Uttarakhand where students had to migrate out of the state in the absence of proper colleges and facilities, refused to comply with the direction citing no mechanism available whatsoever. The reality dawned on many state governments and relaxations were provided for students. In Madhya Pradesh for instance all students including final year students were promoted with the highest grades obtained given as grades for the entire semester. Exams were similarly cancelled in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and West Bengal owing to the extreme cases of the pandemic and the unfeasibility of the online mode.
However, the new UGC guidelines mean that now these states will either be forced to reverse their stands or have online examinations- a body blow to students in distress. No wonder that after the decision was announced, Twitter was abuzz with demands for cancellation of final year examinations. So why is the government so fixated with final year examinations?
The Delhi University, ignoring the repeated appeals of students and teachers has gone on to establish the Open Book Examinations or OBE in an online mode. The OBE is being hosted by Amazon Web Services. DU is a central university in the national capital with students coming from all corners of the country to study, and now they are stranded at their homes. DU wants to treat all these students in their terminal years as guinea pigs so that the corporate friendly policy of selling education can gather momentum. We can be in no doubt that this hurried decision by the UGC MHRD to force students to give exams when the whole world is in a dire condition is a precursor to allow the companies affected by a fall in profits due to one capitalist crisis or the other, to recuperate by hosting examinations of universities. This would mean no physical infrastructure in future for holding exams and the internal processes of universities and colleges surrendered for profit. The DUTA in Delhi University carried out a survey of students finding more than 80% of students unable to participate in the online examination. A mock test held by the university was a disaster with students complaining of connectivity. It seems that the Amazon model is now being sought to be pushed for the whole of the country irrespective of consequences for lacs of students.
Let us now ask a few pertinent questions:
*Will the UGC again postpone exams if exams are not conducted by September?*
We can already imagine that most universities will not be able to hold online exams. *So isn’t it a recipe for chaos?*
A lot of universities might start online classes in July for the new semester. *Are students supposed to be giving the previous semester exams after the commencement of a new session?*
*How are students who are caring for the sick or had to take up jobs to support their families in this crisis going to fare?*
The UGC MHRD seems to have no answers for the questions. It is also intriguing that the UGC has prescribed online submissions, assignments and even telephonic viva Voce for conducting final year assessment?
*How does this test the quality of students?*
The ABVP which blindly supports any government decision has also come jumping out in support of exams at this juncture stating that they will impact students in job interviews. In a semester when the whole world is dealing with the Coronavirus, online classes have been indifferently attended, no offline classes happened, *how are these sham exams supposed to test capabilities for jobs?*
It is clear that the ABVP is happy with giving more trouble for students and participating in the selling off of education.
The SFI CEC has always maintained that solutions to the problem of terminal students must be found via sensible and mature outlook. *The University of Hyderabad via the intervention of students has established a precedent with extrapolation of grades from previous semesters and declaring results of final year students with a chance for improvement exams.*
The UGC itself in its communiqué on 6 th July has underlined that universities provide special exam opportunities for students who cannot give examinations. We demand that all students be provisionally promoted and at least those who want to look for future prospects not be unnecessarily troubled. The model of assessing students for this semester can also involve a model proposed in West Bengal and Delhi to give 75% of weight to the previous semesters and years while 25% from internal assessments carried out this year before the lockdown was initiated. Promoting all students without hassle is a requirement that we must cater to.
In this dark hour when the energies of the entire country are being invested in fighting a pandemic which has impacted each of us personally apart from larger socio-economic impacts, students cannot be subjected to such torturous schemes based on the whims and fancies of the government which has looked for opportunities in the pandemic to strengthen anti-people policies of selling off national assets, targeting student activists and commercializing education.
The treatment of the working class in this period has reminded us of the tragic miseries suffered during the great depression and similar periods. We must note that bright light in the dark which has been Kerala. The government there has through strenuous efforts managed to contain the pandemic which has been praised by the whole world. They have also ensured that the disparities of class, caste, region etc have almost no impact on students. The government undertook a massive project of distributing smartphones, Television and Laptops to all students. They have also ensured proper physical distancing in conduct of school examinations. The commitment that the state government has ensured there cannot be expected from regimes which operate on division based on class, caste, gender and religion, Hence a coercion of students to give exams without arrangements for their welfare is unacceptable.
The Students' Federation of India appeals to the entire student community of the country to rise against such unjust diktats and not give in to such whimsical impositions of unrealistic policies. The UGC and MHRD must amend their guidelines and ensure promotion of all students in their terminal year.
*V.P. Sanu (President)*
*Mayukh Biswas (General Secretary)*