Opposing UGC Guidelines For Exams: Who are #StudentsInSCAgainstUGC?

Opposing UGC Guidelines For Exams: Who are #StudentsInSCAgainstUGC? The students are uniformly resistant to UGC guidelines amid the rising number coronavirus cases. (Source: Shutterstock)
Team Careers360 | Jul 27, 2020 - 3:23 p.m. IST
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By Abhay Anand and R. Radhika

NEW DELHI: “For the last four months, we have been away from the college campus, we do not have the resources to study and the UGC is asking us to take exams,” said a final-year student of Smt. Kashibai Navale College of Engineering, under Savitribai Phule Pune University, incredulously. “This, after we have successfully completed seven semesters and even in the internal [exams].”

The student, from Latur in Maharashtra, is one of the 31 students to move Supreme Court against the University Grants Commission’s exam guidelines issued on July 6. The UGC’s revised guidelines instructed universities to compulsorily hold exams for final-year or final-semester students by the end of September in offline, online or blended mode. This was an update on a previous set of UGC guidelines aimed at helping universities plan admission, exams and academic calendar amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Admitting the petition, the SC has directed UGC to file its reply by Friday, July 31 when the next hearing is scheduled.

Some of the petitioners, speaking to Careers360 explained why each of the three modes is out of the question. Conventional, offline exams are an “invitation to community transmission” of the coronavirus, said a petitioner from Assam which is also facing floods.

The student from Latur pointed out that large numbers of students do not have the technological resources - laptops, stable internet connections -- required for online learning or exams, a problem even the premier Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, are facing. And a “blended mode” would only mix the problems of both.

Their public interest litigation case, filed on July 19, talked about with the hashtag “#31studentsinSCforjustice” on social media. The petition is scheduled for hearing today.

Together against UGC guidelines for examination 2020

The students came together on the messaging service, Telegram. Mumbai-based lawyer, Anubha Shrivastava Sahai helped set it up and around 7,000 students from across the country joined to share their concerns about the UGC guidelines.

Although the guidelines affect a very large number of students, not everyone was ready to be a petitioner. “It is not easy to become a petitioner because we are concerned about our identity being revealed,” said a law student, a petitioner from Uttar Pradesh.

After their names became public on social media, some of the students alleged they received calls and messages asking them to withdraw the petition. “All of us have stopped taking calls from unknown numbers and sometimes even blocked phone numbers our advocate has advised us to not reveal our personal information,” a student told Careers360 explaining why the petitioners did not want to be named.

“We have raised funds from the students,” added the student from Latur.

Final year exams: ‘Invitation to community transmission’

The primary concern for students is their health. One of the 31 petitioners, a student from Cuttack, Odisha, suffers from asthma and is unwilling to put her life at risk for an exam amid the pandemic. She joined the petitions considering her poor immunity and the rising number of coronavirus cases in the state.

“My college had cancelled the exam but when the revised guidelines were issued we were told that online exams will be conducted,” she told Careers360.

Initially, she appealed to the college but despite many requests, the students’ concerns were not addressed and she felt compelled to join the others on the UGC petition.

Offline exams are an “invitation to community transmission,” argued the student. “I am at Latur now which is more than 450 kilometres away from my college campus. My college is in the containment zone. I am in the green zone but if there is an exam...what will we do?

The situation is especially dire for students in Assam. "I may get infected with COVID-19 if I go for an offline exam,” said the student petitioner from the state. “Plus, the flood situation in Assam is terrible.”

UGC guidelines for exams: Online exams

The students are uniformly resistant to online exams. “At the beginning of July, our college had conducted [online] mock exams but there were so many technical issues, the website had crashed,” said the Cuttack student.

The final-year student from Assam explained that internet access is especially difficult in the rural parts. It has already affected teaching and is sure to affect exams. “No proper classes, either online or offline, have taken place and the syllabus is incomplete,” he said.

The onset of monsoon has only worsened the situation. The Uttar Pradesh student has returned to his village where the rains have further affected the area’s poor network connectivity. In this state, too, the syllabus remains incomplete. “The problem arises when the university conducts an exam without even completing the syllabus,” he said. “Many students, who have returned to their homes were unable to access the online classes. There are teachers who are living in remote villages who were not able to conduct online classes.”

Jobs and higher studies

Apart from the risk to health and logistical problems, students are also peeved about the timing. Every year, by September, students are on their way to the next step - further studies or employment. But the UGC’s insisting on exams has the potential to upset those plans.

“We are asking for results before 31st of July and results to be calculated based on internal assessment and past performance,” said the student from Latur. He went on to explain that many of his classmates have already secured jobs through campus placement drives and were set to join in August. They are now at risk of losing these offers as a September exam would imply their joining work before completing their degree programmes.

Students who had secured seats in foreign universities for postgraduate studies are in a similarly precarious position. “They have paid lakhs in fees and if the decision is not taken soon they will lose opportunities,” he added. His counterpart in Assam agreed and added that it is holding up preparation for competitive exams as well.

The student from Cuttack is confused. She had been preparing to apply for a master’s course - MCom - when the new guidelines were issued. “I am very confused about the entire situation. Should I move ahead and fill the application form for the master’s program or start preparing for my BCom exams?” she wondered.

“As most courses follow a semester pattern which means subjects change per semester. It effectively means a final year student has completed 85% - 90% of his course and even studied for the final semester,” said the student from Latur explaining why the petitioners believe final exams are an unnecessary risk during a pandemic. “An aggregate of previous examination marks should be used to arrive at the results as being done by many of the foreign universities to evaluate students.”

He added: “As per CGPA system every semester is equally important. If UGC can promote other students they can promote us too.”

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