University Students Express Concern Over UGC's Decision of Conducting Final Semester Exams
After the revised guidelines on examinations and academic calendars for the universities were issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC), a chaos emerged among the students across the country.
This decision of the UGC gained mixed reaction from students and teachers. Social media was flooded with students sharing their views on the upcoming exams using posts, tweets and even memes. Micro-blogging platform Twitter saw trending hashtags like #Cancel_Exam2020, #StudentsLivesMatters, #NoExamsInCovid, #SpeakUpForStudents from students and parents asking to cancel the examinations.
In April 2020, the University Grants Commission constituted an Expert Committee to deliberate and make recommendations regarding the issues related to examinations and academic calendar. Earlier, UGC had prescribed that exams are to be conducted between July 1 to 15 and the results of the same would be released by the end of July.
Later, the Expert Committee was requested by the UGC to revisit the guidelines and suggest options for examinations, admissions in the universities and colleges and also for the beginning of the new academic session as the number of COVID cases is still increasing.
In the new guidelines UGC has decided against the cancellation of final semester exams for all students passing out this year of higher educational institutions. Further, it has asked universities and colleges to conduct examinations for final year students either online or offline by September end.
The official statement by the committee said that the decisions have been made to safeguard the principles of health, safety, fair and equal opportunity for students while ensuring academic credibility, career opportunities and future progress of students globally.
The notification also said that final year students having a backlog should compulsorily be evaluated by conducting examinations, either online or offline or blended (a combination of online and offline exams).
Those who are unable to appear for the same must be given the opportunity to reappear for a special examination at the convenience of students so that there is no disadvantage on the students’ side. The same, however, will only be applicable for the current academic session 2019-20 as a one-time measure.
Intermediate semester students will be evaluated based on internal assessment.
G Plus spoke to students from Guwahati-based universities and institutions to understand their stand on UGC’s latest decision.
Speaking to G Plus, a final semester student from Gauhati Commerce College said, “We all know these are not usual times and we have never experienced such kind of trauma and stress regarding our health and life before. We constantly live in fear of getting infected or our loved ones getting infected. Conducting exams in times like these would be so stressful. I have friends who have premedical conditions and travelling now would be risky for them. There are students who complain of bad network connections so conducting the exams either online or offline wouldn't work.”
Adding she said, “As a final year student I think that we should be able to give our 100% which is not possible given the current situation. The government should have at least waited for a final vaccine to come. Also the universities can evaluate us on the basis of our previous performances.”
A student who is currently pursuing masters in Sociology from Gauhati University told G Plus, “I think this is an anti-student move by UGC. We were already on with our assignments in our department and our teachers already told us that the assignments will be substituted for the physical exams. Now that we are already half-way through our assignments, we have received this notification by UGC. We are not mentally prepared for it. Teachers have been sending us soft notes and PDFs but it’s not possible to just go through soft copies of notes and appear in examinations.”
Further he said, “Looking at the growing number of COVID cases in Guwahati, I don't know if by September we will be ready to risk our lives and go to exam centres.”
Another final year student who has a joining in August said, “UGC has been delaying the process. I need to join my new job by August and if I have to stay back till September it will be very difficult for me.”
An engineering student who is studying under Assam Science and Technology University (ASTU) said, “I don't think exams should be conducted as classes have not been held properly. We are used to offline classes; online classes are not very comfortable. We can ask our doubts once or twice but clearing our doubts over video calls isn't working well."
Speaking on the idea of conducting online examinations he said, “If online exams are conducted I feel multiple choice questions would be a better option.”
Hirok, a Member of the Students’ Advisory Council, of Cotton University is of the opinion that examination should be conducted only if the Covid situation gets better in the state. However, before conducting examinations physical classes should be conducted for students.
“Offline examinations cannot be conducted based on online classes. There are students in our university who do not have proper access to internet. We did have online exams in the lockdown but it is not convenient for all the students,” said Hirok.
Moon Talukdar, general secretary of the Post Graduate Students’ Union (GU) told G Plus, “We had our last physical classes in March before the lockdown was announced. Currently, at least fifty per cent students are not able to take online classes due to various issues. In fact there are several professors who are struggling while using technology to take classes online.”
Speaking about online exams he said, “If we go by online form of examinations, we have to remember that most of the students of GU are from various parts of the region and not all of them have proper internet connectivity. Online exams are not feasible for them.”
Expressing his displeasure he further stated, “With this decision I am clear about one thing that UGC is not paying attention to what students are learning but their main aim is just to get done with the examinations and provide marksheets. But aren't we studying to learn something or it is just about the marks?”
“I would suggest that since each state’s situation is different the UCG should make different committees for each state so that the decision can be taken in consideration with the situation,” he added.
Speaking to G Plus, President of Gauhati University Teachers’ Association (GUTA) Prof Akhil Ranjan Dutta said, “Students who are going abroad or applying in other universities and need their transcript certificates and transcripts are very particular on marks against specific papers. Today we might be having the pandemic but tomorrow it may not be there but the mark sheets will remain. Any decision of the university regarding the students should be very futuristic in nature without compromising the predicaments of the present.”
Adding he said, “Holding examinations in whatever form is inevitable. GU being a federal university, there are post graduate and graduate students in the university and more than 2.5 lakh students spread over more than 350 colleges across the region. A lot of these colleges are in rural areas and there is a huge digital divide.”
Expressing his concern on conducting physical examinations Dutta said, “When quarantine centres are made at the universities and educational institutions, conducting examinations in a very conventional mode is difficult unless the centres are shifted, spread of pandemic is prevented and institutions are completely disinfected. Or else one cannot allow the students to come in as it is a huge challenge.”
“Keeping these points in mind the university and the state government has to work hand in hand in order to find an appropriate examination mode which would ensure the participation of each and every student. They should also consult all stakeholders including the teaching community, colleges and student community,” said Dutta.
Lastly, he also said that examination results should be declared within a given time frame so that the students don't suffer with their future plans.
A professor of a Guwahati-based private university said, “I think the decision of conducting examinations of final year students is a good decision. But choosing the mode of conducting examinations i.e. online or offline should be decided only after consulting the students. How many students will be able to manage connectivity to sit for an online exam or how many students will be able to sit for an offline examination? The university has to chalk out a strategy making sure that none of the students are affected by the decision and everyone is able to sit for the exam.”
Adding he said, “The two months of time given by the UGC should be utilized by the institutions to prepare the students for the examination and to complete the course.”
“This is a pandemic and there is no other option. Doing away with the examinations will not be wise for the final semester students,” he further added.
Maharashtra’s Higher and Technical Education Minister Uday Samant wrote a letter to the Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ and argued that the revised UGC, guidelines on exams and academic calendar should be “advisory” not “mandatory”.
“In view of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the Government of Maharashtra promoted the students of intermediate semester...the State Disaster Management Authority...was of the opinion that final or terminal exams also cannot be conducted,” said Samant in his letter.
Adding he said, “...Conducting final year exams for approximately more than 10 lakh students seems a highly infeasible task and if conducted, would endanger the wellbeing of students, parents, teachers, supporting staff and other machinery involved in the process.”
Along with Maharashtra, other states including Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Haryana and Rajasthan have already cancelled all higher education exams without waiting for the UGC guidelines.
Among various other issues the student community of Assam has also pointed out that several students are currently located in flood affected districts. There is lack of internet connectivity and insufficient data for them to attend classes over the internet. Some students have also pointed out that not all of their mates are technologically smart to go along with online examination and classes.
With these critical issues, how feasible will it be to conduct examinations of university students in Assam - be it online or offline?