The decision of the University of Calicut to award 20 marks as moderation to B.Tech. students did raise eyebrows initially. Abdul Latheef Naha says the controversy had a sudden death as student organisations and others were reluctant to raise their voice.

Moderation, or award of marks to help students pass examinations, has come into sharp focus in the University of Calicut.

Sharp reactions followed the university’s decision to award up to 20 marks by way of moderation for B.Tech. students who have passed in all but one paper and secured 50 per cent of the marks required for a pass in the failed paper. But, to the surprise of many, the criticism died down much faster than anticipated.

Sections of the media had flayed the university authorities for the mark largesse. News reports pointed out that any student who scored just 20 marks in a paper would qualify for further studies in engineering.

But no student organisations or employee groups took up the issue seriously. A close look into the matter reveals that moderation, a decades-long practice, is not opposed by any, although it looks unfair.

Moderation, some say, is given not with the aim of helping a failed student pass. It is a method adopted to overcome the limitations of evaluation. Moderation has been given in different styles and quantity at different times on the decisions of the Academic Council of the university and the Pass Boards of different subjects.

Even when teachers and university officers having ideological leanings towards the ruling and the Opposition fronts in the State try to find fault with each other on moderation, the practice is rarely opposed by anyone.

“We don’t generally oppose moves that help weak students,” P. Ravindran, Reader at the Department of Chemistry of the university, says.

None of the student organisations which takes out protests against marks largesse by educational institutions has spoken out against moderation. Rather, they insist that moderation should be in force.

Till 2008, Pass Boards of respective subjects used to give high marks by way moderation. A controversy erupted when a student who scored only three marks was awarded 37 marks, prompting the Academic Council to fix five per cent of the aggregate marks as the maximum moderation and 10 per cent for an individual paper.

This rule, however, had its shortfalls. When a student who fell short of pass marks by 10 marks in four or five subjects was eligible for pass by way of moderation, another who fell short of pass by 11 marks in only one subject was not eligible.

“This was the big irony of our moderation rule,” V.T. Madhu, System Administrator at the university, says.

Hundreds pass

The latest decision of the Academic Council to award up to 20 marks to B.Tech. students has benefited hundreds of students who have been trying hard to clear the examinations for years.

The university has, in fact, done the moderation trick as part of allowing a large number of engineering students who keep writing the exams without success for years. “Nobody wants to harass students or fail them. If a little push can help them cross a major barrier, then let them clear it and decide the next move,” says a Professor in the Academic Council, choosing not to go on record.

Before the council took the decision on moderation, the examination committee and the Syndicate held discussions. The Syndicate was blamed for the largesse, in which it technically has no say.

But the university move to give retrospective effect to the decision of the Academic Council has brought frowns on many faces. Why retrospective from 2008? The benefits of the decisions should not be restricted to a small group, the authorities say. They should be enjoyed by all.

Major teacher organisations have different views on moderation. The recommendation made by the B. Hridayakumari Committee report on higher education to do away with moderation is welcomed by the All Kerala Private College Teachers’ Association. Its general secretary, K.A. Siraj, says that moderation does not have much meaning today when pass percentage in examinations has increased tremendously.

“There used to be a time when the pass percentage of students in the examinations was too low. In those times, moderation had a solid meaning. It could be used to ensure a minimum standard in the results of the examination,” Prof. Siraj says. “But it should be reduced and done away with,” he says.

P. Mammad, president of the association, has a different view.

“The right to decide upon moderation should be with the respective Pass Boards. No one else should be allowed to make any interventions there,” he says. When the university has been liberal in moderation for B.Tech., it has not been so for the MBBS course. The maximum marks by way of moderation for MBBS remains five, that too only in one paper.

The fears raised by academics of dwindling quality because of moderation find not many takers. “We used to give 30 marks for B.Tech. even before 2008.

Then no one spoke about deterioration of quality. Now we have reduced the moderation marks to 20. It is strange that now they speak of quality going down because of moderation,” says a Syndicate member, requesting anonymity.

The moderation system followed for the recently introduced choice-based credit-and- semester system at the undergraduate level looks strange. The new system requires a C grade for a pass with grade points between 1.5 and 2.5. If a student scores D grade with grade points between 0.5 and 1.49 in one paper, he can be promoted with even 25 per cent moderation. But if one scores points in the 1.45-1.47 range, for example, in more than one paper, then he or she cannot be promoted. “That is quite strange,” Prof. Siraj says.