States, UGC must resolve exam issue

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It is unfortunate that there is no agreement between the University Grants Commission (UGC) and some states on the conduct of examinations for the final semester students of undergraduate courses for the current academic year. The academic year is over and the examinations should have been held by June 30. But the Covid-19 epidemic and the lockdown disrupted the academic programmes of all universities and the attempt now is to ensure that the students emerge with the least damage from a lost semester. The disagreement is over how to do that. The UGC has asked the universities to conduct the final examinations by September 30, and the HRD Ministry is of the same view. It has recommended the cancellation of intermediate semester exams but mandated that the final examinations be held in the interest of academic credibility. It says the evaluation of students is an important milestone and should be done by giving all students a “fair and equal opportunity”. The decision has been receiving a lot of backlash from students, who took to social media to voice their concern. Several students and faculty members were expecting the UGC to announce cancellation of exams as many states have already decided not to conduct UG and PG exams. A number of states, including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, West Bengal and Odisha, have opposed the UGC plan on a number of grounds. They hold that it is difficult to hold the exams now, and it will become more difficult to hold them with the Covid-19 situation worsening and likely to peak in the coming weeks. Most of these states are badly affected by the pandemic. The UGC had first recommended the holding of online exams. But when it was pointed out that this would adversely affect many students because of the digital divide in the country, it agreed that the exams may be held offline or as a blend of online and offline tests. But it was pointed out even this would present difficulties because many students have to travel between states and across the country as most universities have students from many states. The states also argue that there is nothing to test the students on because the semester was washed out. They have proposed the award of marks or credits to the students on the basis of their performance in the previous semesters and internal assessment. Moreover, there is no free movement of Railways and only a selected number of trains are operating. In such a situation, a student who has to travel to his/ her examination centre through public transport, will have to face immense difficulty. The details of the method have varied between the states. They have also pointed out that this is an accepted practice worldwide, and the IITs and the National Law Universities have completed the evaluation of students without tests. The disagreement has assumed a political character involving federal rights because the states which oppose the UGC guidelines are Opposition-ruled states. But the students need to graduate and look for jobs or go for higher education. The UGC and the states should resolve the issue at the earliest in the interest of the students.

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