The recent incidents of protest in Dr. Ambedkar Government Arts College, Vyasarpadi, have brought into focus questions regarding the attendance criterion for college students to be eligible to appear for the semester examination.

As per the norms of the University of Madras, students must have 75 per cent of attendance in each course to be able to take the examination. Those with 74 to 65 per cent attendance have the option of attempting the exam by paying an additional fee. Students with 64 to 50 per cent attendance could apply with an additional fee and a medical certificate validating their reason for absence. Those with attendance below 50 per cent would have to re-do the semester(s) after completion of the programme.

Consistent system

The system is consistent for all colleges, including those which are autonomous. “The time students spend in classes is suggestive of the commitment on the part of students when they take up a course. How can we assess a student without his presence in the classroom lectures?” asks Vice-Chancellor, University of Madras, G. Thiruvasagam.

With the introduction of the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), the need for students to attend classes has become even more important. “The internal tests and seminars conducted in classes form a significant part of the continuous evaluation that needs to be done throughout the year,” says T. Leo Alexander, Controller of Examinations at the University of Madras.

Enquiries with some city colleges reveal that the number of students who are not eligible to appear for the exam because of lack of attendance varies from 15 to 100, depending on the semester.

Elayaraja, the Ambedkar College student who allegedly committed suicide, is said to have had attendance below 50 per cent. According to S. Jayakumar, Controller of Examinations, Dr. Ambedkar Government Arts College, the student was asked to take up the examination in the following semester.

The issue of attendance has to be seen in the context of the modest backgrounds that several students come from, which forces them to work, say some students. Many students going to city colleges are engaged in different kinds of part-time jobs for some financial support.

“Some of us work overnight because we need the money. We work with caterers, cutting vegetables in the night for them. We do try to go to college regularly but sometimes we find it hard,” said one of the students, who took part in a protest following the suicide Elayaraja after he was allegedly denied the hall ticket.

Awareness

Raising awareness among students is also important, say some.

A. Antony Raj, president of the students' union at Presidency College, says the attendance norm is useful to ensure more students are regular. “But there is need for more awareness, since most students particularly in the first semester, do not know about the consequence of poor attendance,” he says.

In the case of students who find it genuinely difficult to attend classes, the college administration plays a vital role.

“It is the duty of the administration to regularly follow up with the students. Informing them towards the end of the semester will not be of much help,” says Mr. Thiruvasagam.

While the government colleges complain of irregularity among students, private colleges have resorted to some firm measures. Loyola College uploads the attendance of students on the Internet everyday. “Besides this, we inform the students every 15 days on their status and every month the parent is intimated,” says G. Ramamurthy, Vice-Principal (administration), Loyola College.

In colleges such as Quaid-e-Millath Government College For Women, there are student counselling centres set up to help the students. “Since most of these students are from relatively poor backgrounds, teachers talk to them about their problems and find out if their issues are genuine,” said B. Thilagavathi, assistant professor, Department of English.

Meetings with parents

“We arrange for meetings with parents, but the daily wage labourers find it difficult to visit us. So we try and call them over phone,” says Ms. Thilagavathi. But in case of students whose parents cannot be contacted, the college has no option but to ask students to repeat the semester.

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