College students observed a protest across the country on Saturday, demanding that final year or terminal semester exams be scrapped, without any further delay, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The agitation was part of a four-day long campaign, called by the All India Forum To Save Public Education, a coming together of over thirty student groups across campuses.
On July 6, the University Grants Commission revised its guidelines on examinations and the academic calender for universities, making final year examinations compulsory and extending the examination period till the end of September – a move that drew flak from both, the students and teachers communities.
“This distressing document is a clear indication that the Central Government instead of seeking a solution to the pandemic is trying to convert a crisis which is a reflection of its failure to respond appropriately to the health emergency, into an opportunity to carry forward a fundamentally anti-people, anti-student, and anti-academic agenda in higher education (sic),” the umbrella students’ body said in a press release.
Uncertainty, marked with delay, continues over the final-year examinations, as even after months into the pandemic, a final call has not been taken yet – distressing college students.
“The voices of university stakeholders are not being heard at all,” said Sumit Kataria, President, Students’ Federation of India, Delhi. “UGC guidelines don’t consider the prevailing conditions in the country,” he added.
In wait of a final word from the UGC or the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), at least seven states – Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, Odisha, and Kerala – had earlier decided to cancel final year examinations.
Despite this, the UGC reportedly made it clear that it will ask all the states to reconsider their decisions in line with the revised guidelines issued on July 6. However, the move has not gone down well with the state governments, which are battling a surge of COVID-19 cases.
On Friday, Maharashtra, one of the states worst-hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, insisted that it will not conduct university examinations and would clear lakhs of final year university students, including those with backlogs.
On Saturday, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia announced that state universities have been asked to evaluate students according to their previous academic record, and cancelled all examinations.
The Punjab government has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking review of UGC’s directive; Rajasthan government is consulting legal experts, with its higher education minister Bhanwar Singh Bhati saying that it won’t be “feasible” to conduct examinations.
Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, two states where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power – as part of an alliance in the later – have, however, taken a U-turn and are now preparing to conduct final year examinations according to the UGC’s latest guidelines.
“Students in different states are not sure whether to prepare for exams or focus on their post-college plans. The confusion over exams is adding to their distress back home, over and above the financial difficulties that families of many of these students would be facing in the aftermath of a nationwide lockdown,” Kataria told NewsClick.
To add to their woes, many institutions, including several central universities, are looking to conduct examinations online, an option that students’ groups have called a “sham”, given the poor internet connectivity in the majority of Indian households.
Two days after the UGC’s directive, Delhi University postponed its online open book examination – scheduled for July 10 – ignoring demands made by teachers and students to scrap it altogether.
Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice Chancellor M. Jagadesh Kumar issued a statement on July 7, reiterating that many schools in the university have conducted online end-semester examinations and for those who are unable to write them, examinations will be conducted later.
“The academic calender at all levels of education must be extended to ensure that no student loses out in case universities choose to delay or extend the date of examinations,” N. Sai Balaji, President of the All India Students’ Association (AISA), told NewsClick.
On July 10, the Federation of Central Universities Teachers’ Associations (FEDCUTA) also expressed its “disappointment” at the Centre’s insistence to conduct final year examinations, defying “all logic, academic or otherwise”.
In a letter to the UGC’s Chairman the same day, the teachers’ body accused the university watchdog of “coming under pressure from the Government and from commercial interests which are hoping to make money from the online examination process by providing their ‘services’ for a fee.”