With the state under lockdown, Maharashtra faces another serious challenge – examinations for its third-year degree students. The examinations have either not been conducted or remain incomplete. The state government had come up the option of aggregate marks. However, Governor B.S. Koshyari is not ready to accept the option, with it becoming another flashpoint between him and the state government.
Kapil Khandagale is from Chandibai College in Ulhasnagar, Thane. He is a third-year Bachelor of Arts student in language (Marathi). His examinations were supposed to begin on April 7 but were postponed due to the lockdown. Since then, his future seemed uncertain.
Neha Kadam is a third-year B.A. (Economics) student from Ruia College in Matunga, Mumbai. With her college being an autonomous institute, it began its exams before Mumbai University. Even then, her last two papers – Corporate Finance and Behavioural Economics – remain undone due to the lockdown and COVID-19. She does not know if the examinations will take place or if she will be passed with aggregate marks for those two papers.
Shruti Makwana, another student from Viva College in Virar, has had her examinations postponed. She is waiting for clarity on whether her examinations will happen or not.
These are just a few students out of about eight lakh students in Maharashtra, all of whom are in their third year.
In the last week of May, the Maharashtra government came up with the policy that these students will be passed without examinations, with aggregate marks from their fifth semester. The state government also gave the option of an examination for those students unhappy with their aggregate marks, for examinations once the situation improved.
However, it is where the Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena disagreed. BJP leader Ashish Shelar met Governor Koshyari and handed over a letter opposing the government policy.
A few days later, Governor Koshyari, also chancellor of all universities on account of being governor, opposed the state government's policy and supported the idea of examinations. It happened over the first and second weeks of June. Since then, both sides have playing with the fate of lakhs of students.
Governor Koshyari has been citing the UGC’s position on the matter. UGC Vice-Chancellor Dr. Bhushan Patwardhan has said that passing students sans exams would have negative impact on their careers. "Exams are an integral part of academic life. No one will trust the doctor, engineer, lawyer or any other professional where the person has not given the final exam. In foreign countries, the exams have been either deferred by on year or conducted via online. No exams can not be the option," said Dr Patwardhan.
Governor Koshyari too took a similar stand. "There is no need to take the stance of not conducting the exams. There should be exams. They could begin at the end of September," said Koshyari.
However, the state government has been firmly opposing it. State's Minister of Higher Education And Technical Education, Uday Samant, cited the COVID-19 situation. "Maharashtra government cannot take the risk. COVID-19 patients have been found in Raj Bhavan and in Mumbai University. So, calling students for examinations during the pandemic would be riskier. We will not take risks with the health of students," said Samant.
In the last week of June, vice chancellors of all universities in the state have been consulted about the examinations. Out of the total, almost 13 vice chancellors have supported the government's stand. However, news reports mentioned that Governor Koshyari has received differing opinions from the same vice chancellors. Last week, Samant again called for an online meeting of vice chancellors which was broadcast live on TV. In the meeting, the VCs supported the government.
The uncertainty about examinations has given rise to other issues. Career councillor Ashutosh Shirke told NewsClick that the parents of some of his clients are tired of the uncertainty. “They are now worried about their careers. Many of them asked me about the options for them in such a situation. Losing focus at such crucial period of your career is definitely not good. It is why a decision is needed," said Shirke.
"I am ready to give my examinations and I have serious doubts about aggregate marks. However, if examinations are not possible due to COVID-19 I am ready to accept aggregate marks. One cannot compromise on health issues," said Neha Kadam.
Kapil Khandagale too supported the idea of aggregate marks. "Forcing or pressuring to conduct examinations is not the right approach in the current situation," said Kapil.
"I read somewhere that the Governor is of the opinion that examinations should happen by September-end or October. However, what is the guarantee that COVID-19 will be over by then? So, either defer the examinations by an entire year and scrap this educational year completely or pass the students with aggregate marks," said Shruti Makwana.
Senior educationist and former professor, Sudhir Panase, slammed UGC for the mess. "The state government is handling the situation on the ground. They are better informed about the situation. They are the ones who conduct the examinations by providing necessary infrastructure through colleges. In the current situation, there was no need to create the mess. The state government has come up with options and the UGC should have accepted it," said Panase.
In the unprecedented situation that COVID-19 has brought with it, Maharashtra is India's worst hit state with over 2.75 lakh cases. Whatever the debate, it is clear that an insensitive approach in dealing with the situation will hurt eight lakh students across Maharashtra.