The current impasse on the holding of final year or final semester examinations in Maharashtra’s colleges amid the COVID-19 outbreak is unfortunate and unnecessary. In April, the state government had set up a state-level committee of experts under Mumbai University Vice-Chancellor Dr Suhas Pednekar to make a recommendation on this issue. In May, this committee reported back to the government that final year and final semester exams should be held. Minister of Higher and Technical Education Uday Samant announced that as per the committee’s recommendation, examinations for graduating students would be held. But in a flip-flop days later, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that the exams would not be held.
What happened in between the two announcements is well known. The Yuva Sena, the Shiv Sena’s youth wing, which is headed by the chief minister’s son and MLA, Aditya Thackeray, led a highly visible campaign, on social media and elsewhere, asking the University Grants Commission to cancel the exams for all colleges in Maharashtra. The Yuva Sena’s locus standi in this matter, other than its position as an affiliate of one of the three ruling parties in the state, is questionable. Moreover, the UGC had already issued guidelines advising that exams be held, but left it open to states to take the final decision depending on their respective situations vis a vis COVID-19. The chief minister seems inclined to go along with the Yuva Sena’s demand. He has also perhaps let himself be influenced by his old mistrust of Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, who, as the chancellor of universities, has demanded a say in the matter. A final decision has not yet been taken. The students find themselves trapped in no man’s land.
Chief Minister Thackeray would not be sending the right signal by dumping the recommendation of the experts. Many vice chancellors in the state have said they are prepared to hold the exams. Moreover, when the state has opened up the lockdown and allowed people to resume their lives with just a few restrictions, and is also determined to reopen schools, even if online, it appears contradictory that the government should draw the line at college exams. The arguments for holding examinations are many. The COVID-19 effect is likely to linger for years to come, especially in the job market and the economy. There is concern among professional associations about certification to “unqualified” graduates. An error of judgement at this time could end up affecting the future prospects of lakhs of young people in the state.