As Delhi became the latest State to cancel final year university examinations in defiance of University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines, both the Centre and the regulatory agency reiterated that guidelines were legally binding on the States and must be followed.
“As per the UGC Act, State governments cannot take this decision. Unlike school education, which is on the State list, higher education is on the concurrent list. UGC and AICTE [All India Council for Technical Education] directives have to be implemented. It is there in the Act,” Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare told The Hindu . “It is not permissible for States to do like this. UGC does have the power to take action. First we will try to take States on board.”
On Monday, the UGC had directed that final year examinations must be conducted by September-end in online or offline mode. As The Hindu had then reported, the Commission said it would tell States which had already cancelled examinations to comply with the fresh directions.
However, in what is fast becoming a political battle, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi calling for the cancellation of exams, several non-BJP ruled States which had already cancelled exams — Punjab, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal — have written to the Centre saying they did not wish to conduct examsin their states. On Monday, Delhi joined them as the first State to cancel exams after the UGC guidelines were issued, citing the fear of COVID-19 cases spreading.
Strengthening the idea that political sides are being taken on this issue, BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, which had cancelled its exams, took a U-turn after the UGC guidelines were issued, saying it would now conduct exams. Congress-ruled Rajasthan and BJP-ruled Haryana, which had both cancelled exams earlier, are yet to announce their course of action after the guidelines were issued.
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“As per our guidelines, they are binding in nature. The original guidelines [on exams, issued in April] had flexibility, but guidelines are usually binding in nature,” said UGC general secretary Rajnish Jain.
He told The Hindu that so far, UGC has only received a representation from Punjab, and has replied asking them to reconsider as the guidelines must be mandatorily adopted by States.
“For us, all universities are similar in terms of implementation of guidelines, wherever they are,” added Prof. Jain. “We have given them different options on when and how to conduct the exams, based on their COVID situation. They are free to choose within those options.”
On Thursday, the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the UGC of “creating confusion” and called for students to be promoted on the basis of past performances in light of the COVID crisis. He was speaking as part of the #SpeakUpForStudents online campaign being piloted by the Congress’ student wing, National Students Union of India (NSUI).
NSUI in-charge Ruchi Gupta said the UGC had failed to follow legal norms by not holding consultations with States before announcing its guidelines. “Under the UGC Act, UGC must hold consultations before taking such decisions. No such consultations were held, at least not with State universities in non-BJP ruled states,” she said.
Ms. Gupta also raised questions regarding the panel headed by UGC member R.C. Kuhad, which was asked to make recommendations on the issue. “What was actually in the Kuhad Committee report? Why was that not made public?” she asked.
HRD Secretary Khare indicated that the Centre is also closely watching the proceedings in the ongoing Delhi High Court case on Delhi University exams. The next hearing is on July 14.
“[Consider] the future if those degrees are granted without any assessments. Even if final term [degrees] are granted now without exams, what will happen to the next term? If COVID continues for a year, will we start granting degrees without exams for years together?” asked Mr. Khare. “Or if there is some other exigency somewhere else, then this practice may actually affect the entire education system. Next, somebody in Bihar will say there were floods this year so now you give degree [without exams]…This populist action versus long term goals of the education system needs to be considered together,” he added.