Thursday’s decision of the Syndicate of the University of Kerala to take punitive action against students of two private engineering colleges for ‘mass copying’ during examinations has highlighted yet again the glaring lacunae in the laws governing the conduct of varsity examinations.

The disciplinary action has its basis on the provisions in the university’s examination manual relating to individual cases of malpractice. The manual — last revised nearly a decade ago — is silent on the whole issue of ‘mass copying.’

The university has no means now to pinpoint the blame for such incidents on anyone other than the students — the varsity has an established procedure to determine examination malpractice by students. What about the collusion or implicit participation of the invigilator in such incidents? What about a possible collusion by the management of such an institution itself to ‘boost’ its examination results and, therefore, its perceived standing in the academic community?

Crucial question

“The crucial question here is of evidence,” Syndicate member P.S. Sreekala told The Hindu here on Friday, “while we are able to gather evidence pinning the malpractice on students, there are no means now to gain evidence on the same relating to teachers. So, for all practical purposes, it is an assumed, implied guilt.” Even if such collusion on the part of teachers is proved, the university is in no position to do anything against them. In the case of government teachers, it can recommend action to the Director of Collegiate Education and in the case of aided college teachers, it can do the same to the college manager concerned. Teachers in private self-financing colleges are practically beyond the university’s reach. The only retaliatory measure that the university can possibly take in such cases is to deny the status of an examination centre to the institution concerned.

Need for laws

The university recently constituted a committee to suggest reforms in the examination manual. The Syndicate also decided to debar 18 academics from valuation duty for three years and impose a fine of Rs.500 on each for lapses in examination-related work. However, the imposition of any disciplinary action on college teachers — that impacts their service conditions such as a bar on increment — for dereliction in examination duty is likely to generate trenchant opposition from teachers’ organisations. Laws need to be passed empowering the varsity to take such action.

There is even some thought on revising downwards the three-year bar that the examination manual allows. “We are already facing an acute shortage of teachers for examination-related work. If we go on banning more teachers, it would not augur well for the university. This issue needs to be tackled by generating more awareness,’’ Controller of Examinations K. Madhukumar said. The manual revision committee has its task cut out.

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