If there is one word which defines the state of mind of students, especially those in their final year across state universities today, it would have to be uncertainty. With no clarity on whether end-of-year examinations will be conducted and no direction on the way forward, Dr Nitin Karmalkar, vice-chancellor of Savitribai Phule Pune University, answers a few questions from The Indian Express to alleviate students’ fears
What is the status of year-end examinations? Should students expect to write them?
Honestly, the answer is I don’t know that yet. What happened initially was that a committee of vice chancellors from across the state was set up, and we recommended that first and second-year exams should be cancelled and only final year exams should be held between July 1 and 31. It was accepted and we were preparing for the same. To bring in any change in exam conduct pattern, our board of examinations and academic council has to ratify it before it is put before the management council and we had already done that.
Then, the chief minister and education minister, as you know, announced that all exams will be cancelled, including final year. But the latest is that the Governor, who is the chancellor of the university, has written, saying that exams should be held as per the Universities Act. Frankly, even we are waiting for the final directives.
What seems likely? What should students do?
On one hand, of course, health and safety of students are of utmost concern but there are other issues. For professional courses, if students are passed without exams, will the licencing bodies, like the Bar Council of India, in case of law degrees, give license to students?
Also, the UGC is the affiliating body for the university and they have already given a variety of options including online exams, MCQ-type questions, in-camera Viva and so on. We had decided to go for 50-marks papers, of which 20 marks would be MCQ type and others would be short answers. But those plans are on hold till the final directives.
I think at the moment what students need to have is patience. I know it’s tough but these are unprecedented times. Students should have faith that we have their best interests at heart.
But how will they prepare for exams in a new format at a short notice?
… I can tell them confidently, we will give them adequate notice… a month in advance. They would be notified of the format of the paper and also be given pointers. It will not catch them unawares, of that they can be assured.
What is the planning done at your end if exams are to be conducted amid restrictions?
We envisaged that the exam duration would be short so students don’t have to sit in class for a long time, we would stagger it in batches to maintain social distancing while conducting papers. Also, if horizontal mobility cannot happen, … if students can’t come to exam centres, we will take the exams near their hometowns.
Why can’t online examinations be conducted?
Most students are at their native places. In a public university, students come from all spheres of life… there are connectivity issues, bandwidth problems. So, we have taken an unanimous decision since we did not have the required infrastructure. We decided to hold an exam of shorter duration… another option is to not ask students to write a paper but teachers can take individual vivas.
What about first and second-year students?
We will declare their results by July 15. Their marks are being calculated based on last semester and internals.
How will this impact the coming year’s academic calendar?
Of course, things are already a bit staggered but then we have already started the admission process. The advertisements will be put up soon. Even earlier, in some cases, say for students from other states, we gave provisional admission before results were declared. So, whether results are declared or not, we will start the next academic year by September 1.
How will lectures be conducted?
It will be a kind of mixed mode. Presently, the two-and-a-half-months that we have got, we are utilising in preparing for it. I have already asked professors to check the Swayam and NTPL portal for mapping with our syllabus and see how much e-content and courses are available. Earlier, the credit transfer was up to 20 percent but we have recommended raising it to 40 per cent, which means 60 per cent academics roughly for classroom teaching. On the university campus, it is not really a problem since we have more space and fewer students but at the affiliated colleges, it can get overcrowded.
So, we are addressing the gap area – creation of new e-content. A task force has been created for it and in fact, our edutech company on campus has set up a separate portal for it.
These are financially tough times for many families. Any consideration about fee restructuring?
We have announced that we are deferring the fee hike for this year, which was approved before the Covid- 19 crisis. Also, students need not pay academic or exam fees at one go… we are also speaking to companies for students’ loans.
In the last few years, the number of foreign students on campus has dropped. Will Covid-19 affect this further?
Yes, it is true that the number of foreign students went down to 800 last year compared to 1,200-1,400 a few years ago. But for now, we are providing them the facility of taking admissions and staying in their home countries for the first semester. We have already started the application process and a good number of applications have come in.
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