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Varsity’s Error Terror

From wrong hall tickets,incorrect timetables to last-minute changes in seating arrangement,goof-ups during exams have become an annual nightmare for students of Mumbai University.

The Mumbai University’s administrative section has an army of people — 2,500 permanent employees and temporary staff strength of another 1,000 —but this has hardly reduced the goof-ups over the years. Delays in distribution of hall tickets,errors in timetable,dispatch of wrong questions papers to exam centres,late results,and a completely new complication every year has become the norm with the over 150-year-old institution,which boasts of Grade-A ranking by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). Every year,thousands of students have to relive trauma and pain during the examination season. Something is terribly wrong with the administration of Mumbai University,the country’s second oldest university.

The variety of goof-ups by the university is shocking. Hall tickets are issued with wrong subjects,codes are incorrect,dates do not match timetables,students with no disability are declared visually impaired,are just some of the things that the university got wrong this exam season. And to top it all,the administration revised the seating arrangement just a day before the exam,leading to complete confusion and chaos.

Educationists say the poor administration standards seeped in almost a decade ago and its now time to undertake an urgent and exhaustive reform. While authorities claim that the number of goof-ups have dropped,experts and senate members allege authorities have lost control over the university’s administration.

THE MESSY EXAM SYSTEM<\b>

Every year,on an average,there are seven to eight exam-related and administrative goof-ups at the university,besides delay in declaring results. And,the biggest stakeholder – 7.16 lakh students of the university and its affiliated colleges – feel the brunt. Though the number of students has almost doubled in the last 10 years,no substantial measures were taken to reform the exam house,where of the 350 sanctioned posts,only 210 posts at present filled. The battle is fought at multiple fronts,including eligibility,enrollment,attestation,errors in mark-sheets and hall tickets. In each area,students are made to run from pillar to post. A severe dent,infact,was made in the university’s reputation last year,when the university witnessed a series of paper leaks in May 2013,following which the Mumbai police arrested 14 people in June,of which three were temporary employees of Mumbai University.

What’s more,in the span of a year,several officials have been ousted and new officers have been recruited with the hope that the exam house and examination processes would be set in order.

After Vilas Shinde was asked to vacate the post of exam controller in January 2012,deputy registrar (administration) S M Suryavanshi was asked to take charge. Three months later,after the marketing and human resource management papers were leaked,a new post of the director of examinations was created by the university in an attempt to spruce up exam work. Subhash Deo,principal of Gogate-Joglekar College in Ratnagiri,held this office till recently. After he went back to his college,Deepak Wasave was asked to hold the reins of the exam house.

In May,Dr M A Khan,director of Sydenham Institute of Management,and Dr Padma Deshmukh,lecturer at CHM College,were appointed as registrar and controller of examinations,respectively. Further,the university created yet another post and brought back an old hand as advisor for exams,last month. Prakash Wani,who was controller of examination between 2005 and 2007,was appointed as the advisor for the exam department. These appointments and new posts,however,have not been able to bring the chaos under control and goof ups and errors continue.

Advocate Manoj Tekade of Prahar Vidhyarthi Sanghatana,a students’ union,said,“Every year,the results are delayed. Even the revaluation results are declared late due to which students are forced to appear for supplementary exams and end up losing a year. Students face the same problem every year. This year,though the university has declared some of the results on time,students have not been issued their marksheets. This is a complete administrative failure,due to which careers of thousands of students are jeopardised.”

REFORMS THAT HAVE FAILED TO CLEAR THE CHAOS<\b>

Several changes have been made in the examination system in the past three years,but experts and academicians have questioned their execution,as blunders continue to occur.

BarCoding and Optical Magnetic Recognition (OMR): This system was introduced in December 2010 for the engineering exams,but was extended to all the exams from March 2011. Bar codes on answersheets were introduced to do away with the time-consuming practice of manually feeding voluminous data. The earlier system included pasting of a black sheet of mask on the answersheet,which was not secure,according to university officials.

In the bar coding system,the first page of the answersheets carry the bar code at several places. There is a students’ information sheet with the bar code that needs to be detached at the exam centre and it is sent to the exam section separately. It is then scanned and saved,enabling officials to keep track of each student.

This is followed by the optical character recognition (OCR) or optical magnetic recognition (OMR),that is a statement of marks to be filled up by the examiner after assessment. Information on both are then synchronised and scanned. The sheet required for re-evaluation also carry a bar code.

This,however,faced opposition from many teachers and examiners as they alleged that no proper workshop was conducted for them on the new system before its implementation. Further,teachers felt that the system was time consuming and tedious.

Cluster Centralised Assessment Programme (CAP) Centre: The cluster CAP centres were introduced in the first half of 2011. The move was an attempt to expedite declaration of results and make it convenient for teachers to go to the nearest evaluation centre. Hence,the university decentralised its assessment process for major exams in the first half of 2011.

Prior to that,the university followed the CAP system at its Kalina campus. By extending evaluation to cluster CAP centres at the affiliated colleges of the university,it enabled teachers to go to the nearest cluster CAP centre,instead of traveling to the Kalina exam section. Unfortunately,a large numbers of teachers fail to report for assessment duty every year,despite repeated warnings sent by the university administration to their colleges. This,in turn,causes delays in declaration of results.

Credit-based semester and grading system (CBSGS): The system was adopted in 2011 and implemented in 2012. It involves breaking down the curriculum into measurable units,which can be combined to get marks and grades in a particular course. The idea was to provide flexibility to students to choose inter-disciplinary courses. The marking system was then divided into two parts — from the previous 100-mark theory system,it was changed to a 60:40 (theory:internal tests) pattern. In this,60 marks is to be awarded for written or theory exam and the remaining 40 is awarded for practicals,projects,class tests,class performance and attendance,among others. Last year,the system was implemented only for BCom (third year) and was extended to the remaining courses in 2013. According to experts,CBSGS was implemented in the absence of fool-proof plan or back-up. Many colleges were found misusing the internal marking system; many awarded full marks to their students in the internal assessment. Some of the academicians even alleged that colleges were ‘selling’ marks,that is,accepting money for sprucing up students marks. This allegedly reflected in a dramatic rise in the pass percentage of BCom (third year) exam results in 2012,and two out of every three students,who appeared for the exam last year,scored a first class.

Digital Exam Paper Delivery (DEPD): The system was adopted and implemented by the university in March 2013. The system was adopted after a series of paper leaks last year. The system involves sending question papers to colleges via web-links. The colleges are supposed to open the web-links through a password and later get the question papers printed and photocopied. Many colleges,however,complained of power cuts and slow internet connections. Some of the colleges even said that taking printouts and photocopies of hundreds of question paper take time.

Online Assessment: The system was adopted and implemented by the university in March 2013. The system was adopted after a series of paper leaks,last year. The system involves sending question papers to colleges through web-links. The colleges are supposed to open the web-links through a password and later get the question papers printed and photocopied. Many colleges,however,complained of power cuts and slow internet connections. Some of the colleges even said that taking printouts and photocopies of the question papers took a lot of time.

ADMINISTRATIVE CHAOS<\b>

According to experts,the vice-chancellor (V-C) is the academic and administrative head of the university and the system can only function smoothly when he/she monitors,controls and provides guidance to college principals and the controller of examinations,registrar and other administrative staff. Experts said V-Cs should hold meetings with examination bodies,appoint examiners on time,supervise timely submission and printing of manuscripts,and dispatch them well in advance. This requires a lot preparation in advance,so that problems associated with shortage of principals,examiners and teachers can be addressed.

“Unfortunately,over the past few years,V-Cs have begun to look upon their exalted position as a matter of status. Unqualified and inexperienced people lobby for it,due to which the university has seen some vice-chancellors,who were neither strong academicians,nor good administrators. The process of examination and pre-examination needs administrative skills,which the present administration of the university lacks,” alleged A D Sawant,academician and former pro vice-chancellor of Mumbai University.

Sawant,who was also the vice-chancellor of University of Rajasthan,said the goof-ups and blunders were just a ‘tip of the iceberg’. “The public has heard only about the problem of question paper leaks and goof-ups related to the distribution of hall tickets,as often reported by the media. But,this isn’t the actual problem. Allowing administrators to select a candidate for the V-C’s post has affected the university’s leadership,” Sawant added.

When there were merely 200 colleges,20 departments and about two lakh students in the early 1980s,the strength of the administrative staff was only 1,500. The situation has worsened progressively. Today,with with over 681 affiliated colleges,over 50 departments and over seven lakh students,the university is grappling with severe staff shortage. This has led to the university hiring temporary employees and some of them working in the most sensitive departments of MU,which according to experts,is a huge risk.

In 2012,Dr Rajan Welukar,V-C of Mumbai University,had felt the need to divide the jurisdiction of the university into four parts and appoint four pro V-Cs. The idea was to have four pro V-Cs to head four important areas of academics such as examination,information technology,distance education and research. Though the proposal was accepted by the state government,the latter is still looking at the feasibility of the proposal and how this can be implemented.

“Various factors have thrown the system out of gear. Many colleges are unaided,most of them still have temporary affiliation of the university,which adds to the problems. In many colleges,there aren’t enough full-time qualified teachers and principals. In aided colleges,no new recruitments were made from the mid ‘90s to 2005. Even today,colleges do not have the freedom to fill up empty posts,” said Dilip Karande,senior senate member and member of the university management council.

Karande,who has been a senate member for 25 years,alleged that due to political compulsions,strong measures were not taken these days. “Academic audits have become a thing of the past and the University Grants Commission’s guidelines on quality improvement have been completely ignored. New systems are introduced,but improper implementation leads to chaos and failure of the system,” he added.

Snehalata Deshmukh,former V-C of Mumbai University,said the number of exams that are conducted now had doubled as compared to the number of exams conducted 10 years ago. “Similarly,there has been a rapid growth in the number of students each year. However,there is hardly any increase in the number of staff. The university administration is putting in tremendous effort to cope with the rapid change. There have been several reforms,but it won’t work if sufficient time and training is not given,” Deshmukh said.

INVOLVING EXTERNAL AGENCIES A FAILURE<\b>

Every year,on an average,1.5-1.7 lakh enrolled in Mumbai University’s traditional arts,science and commerce streams shell out Rs 50 each for the services of the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited (MKCL),including online enrolment,details about fees,exam timetable and online delivery of hall tickets. This online service is extended only to the traditional courses. Academicians,however,alleged the MKCL and university’s attempt to offer the basic facility to issue hall tickets online to students of commerce,had been a disaster,as the tickets were riddled with mistakes.

Following a series of blunders by MKCL over the past three years,the university’s senate members have demanded that it should scrap the contract with MKCL. “The idea to have online admission is that students can fill in their information in examination and admission forms and verify them,unlike the previous system,where information was filled in and verified by a clerk in the university. If students fail to fill the correct information and don’t verify it,we will go by the information they have given. Who is to be blamed for it?” said Sandeep Chiplunkar,programme manager of MKCL.

The university has also outsourced the DEPD project to another firm. “By outsourcing the pre- examination and admission work,the university wants to shirk its responsibility. If the plan was to bring relief to the administrative staff and get latest technology for pre-examination and admission work,than the university has failed miserably. They have instead added more problems,” said Sudhakar Tamboli,another senate member.

Dr Naresh Chandra,the pro vice-chancellor of Mumbai University,said if one closely assessed the situation,the number of goof-ups had reduced as compared to four-five years ago. “These are not even goof-ups,but just minor errors that occur when wrong information is filled in the form by either students or administrative staff of the university or its affiliated colleges. It is very human to err,and I am sure this happens everywhere. Neither the university,nor its outsourcing agencies are at fault. It is very wrong to blame the MKCL and university administration for the chaos that has occurred,without knowing the reason,” said Chandra.

dipti.sonawala@expressindia.com

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