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Explained: Why the jury is still out on holding final year college exams in Maharashtra

Currently, the state law and judiciary department is exploring the possibility of cancelling all final-year exams across all streams. A final decision has still not been made.

Written by Abha Goradia | Mumbai |
Updated: June 12, 2020 2:54:10 pm
Explained: Why jury is still out on holding final-year college exams in Maharashtra As per a survey by Maharashtra Students Union, which does not have apparent political affiliation, 93.1 per cent of 32,378 student respondents have favoured cancellation of exams. (Express Photo/File)

With no clarity yet on examinations, students in Maharashtra colleges and universities are in limbo, especially those who are graduating this year. The Indian Express explains the issues that beset this Coronavirus-dominated year’s college exams.

What is the latest update on college exams?

Currently, the state law and judiciary department is exploring the possibility of cancelling all final-year exams across all streams. A final decision has still not been made. After Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, in a webcast on May 31, announced scrapping of all final-year exams, his announcement was met with several objections.

This is because different colleges are governed by different councils at the central level. Medical colleges are liable to instructions by Medical Council of India (MCI), pharmacy colleges by Pharmacy Council of India, architecture colleges by Council of Architecture, engineering colleges by All India Council of Technical Education and law colleges by Bar Council of India.

So far, MCI and Council of Architecture and Bar Council of India have already advised colleges in favour of conducting online exams. Some councils have pointed out that not conducting examinations could violate respective Acts that they adhere to. This could further mean that all final-year students, who are cleared without exams, may not be recognised by these councils, and these councils may decline to register them as architects, doctors or lawyers under them. Sources said that the state, in this case, may invoke Disaster Management Act, 2005 to supersede decisions made by the councils.

Thackeray had announced that final-year results would be announced on the basis of aggregate marks scored by the student in the past semesters. “Those students who feel they can perform better can do so by appearing for exams that will be held in the winter exam session (October-November 2020),” he had said.

What about students not in their final year?

Barring final-year and final semester students, others will be promoted based on their performance in previous years (50 per cent) and marks obtained in the internal examination of the current year (50 per cent). Respective universities have issued circulars on the formula that will be applied while calculating the marks. As per the state-level committee report on the issue, students who are not happy with the marks, based on which they are promoted, can appear for exams once the universities begin.

First-year students fall into two types of courses – those with 100 marks exam and those who follow a 75:25 pattern, where 25 marks are for internal exams. In the former case, the marks of the first semester will also become the marks for the current semester. Whereas for the 75:25 pattern, internal marks of the current semester and internal marks of last semester will be considered.

This rule applies to students of engineering, architecture and law colleges as well. The internal examinations across courses have already been conducted by colleges before lockdown. For students studying through distance learning mode, they will be provisionally passed for now, but will have to appear for exams once the universities begin.

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Who makes the final decisions regarding exams in a state?

The Governor is the chancellor of all state universities, including agricultural, non-agricultural, technical and medical, and is authorised to make decisions for the universities in consultation with the vice-chancellors and elected members of universities’ academic and management councils. All state universities are autonomous institutions and are not governed by the government. While the state government can ask queries or make suggestions, it cannot decide on behalf of universities. This is also why many stakeholders have criticised the government’s move of making decisions on behalf of universities and interfering in academic matters.

Do final-year medical students also have to appear for exams?

Medical students are liable to follow the guidelines set by Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, which in turn is governed by MCI. As per recent guidelines, MCI has asked all universities to conduct final-year examinations for medical students of graduate and postgraduate courses. The students have objected and have appealed to the MCI to exempt them in wake of the current pandemic situation.

How did the government arrive at the decision to scrap exams?

In the first week of April, Minister of Higher and Technical Education Uday Samant had set up a state-level committee under Mumbai University Vice-Chancellor Dr Suhas Pednekar. The committee, which submitted a report in the first week of May, recommended that all exams, besides final-year exams, will be scrapped. It also recommended that the final-year exams should be conducted between July 1 and July 31. As per the tentative timetable shared by the committee, the universities are scheduled to open by September 1.

However last month, after Shiv Sena’s youth arm Yuva Sena demanded cancellation of final exams as well, the minister wrote to the University Grants Commission (UGC) and requested for cancellation of final-year university exams. After this, another meeting was convened between Uddhav Thackeray and V-Cs of all universities, who are said to have communicated that they were in favour of holding final-year exams. But the government decided otherwise, and announced scrapping all final-year exams. The CM was criticised by the Governor for not consulting him. Minister of Medical Education Amit Deshmukh, meanwhile, met the Governor and got approved a plan for holding exams for medical students from July 15.

Arguments in favour of holding final-year exams.

Educationists have argued that passing students without conducting exams would cause this year’s batch of students to become known as “corona graduates” and hamper their job prospects. The students would receive “stepmotherly” treatment from employers during recruitment. Final-year exams also provide a fair chance to students looking to improve their performance from previous terms.

The state-level committee has recommended that colleges conduct two-hour exams instead of three hours, switch to open book tests, multiple choice questionnaires or assignment-based exams to make the process easier for students.

Final-year exams will help ATKT (allowed to keep term) students to clear their backlog before they can appear for final-year exams. Though the CM had said that these students may take exams later on to improve their marks and clear backlogs, officials said not holding exams may also result in universities losing their place in national-level rankings, make them ineligible for CSR funds and certain UGC grants.

Arguments against of holding final-year exams

Students have pointed out issues, including the state of their mental health due to the pandemic, lack of resources such as Internet and laptops, lack of access to libraries and mentorship as well as personal financial problems due to the pandemic, as the grounds on which exams should not be held. Some experts argue that owing to the glaring digital divide prevalent in the society, it will further cause distress to underprivileged students.

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What do students want?

As per a survey by Maharashtra Students Union, which does not have apparent political affiliation, 93.1 per cent of 32,378 student respondents have favoured cancellation of exams. Students under Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, RSS’s student wing, have opposed cancellation of exams. Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena student bodies have continued to support the government’s stance of cancelling all exams.

Why does the Governor want the exams to be held?

While the Governor has not outright stated that the exams should be held, he has written to the CM saying that a decision on the final-year exams will be taken as per Maharashtra Public Universities Act, under which the Chancellor of Universities (Governor) has the final authority over all university matters.

In his letter to the CM dated June 2, the Governor said he was “surprised” by media reports that Thackeray had declared that “no examinations shall be conducted this year”. The Governor pointed out that all V-Cs of state universities had communicated to him their preparedness for conducting examinations.

The Governor said he had clearly mentioned that the Chancellor would give further directions in the matter, which was ignored by the State. He also drew attention to the UGC view that final-year examinations should be held and asked the state government to abide by this and to provisions of the Maharashtra Universities Act, 2017.

Timeline

April 6: Minister of Higher and Technical Education Uday Samant constitutes state-level committee under Mumbai University V-C Dr Suhas Pednekar

May 8: Samant announces decision to hold exams for all final-year students between July 1 and July 31 based on the state-level committee report

May 9: Yuva Sena writes to UGC demanding cancellation of all final-year exams

May 17: Samant writes to UGC stating that the government is not in a position to conduct final-year exams

May 30: Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray meets state-level panel of V-Cs to discuss possibility of scrapping final-year exams

May 31: Chief Minister announces cancellation of all final-year exams

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