As UGC goes ahead with final year exam plan, students and teachers highlight digital divide, anxieties

The UGC guidelines, in particular, have been called divisive and discriminatory

Updated - August 05, 2020 12:19 pm IST

Published - August 05, 2020 12:14 pm IST

File photo for representation only.

File photo for representation only.

The UGC decision to conduct final year exams by September 30 continues to draw widespread ire from students and teachers. After the decision was announced, #cancelfinalyearexams and #studentlivesmatter were two of the trending hashtags. Thousands of students took to social media to protest UGC’s decision, demanding the scrapping of final year exams.

Multiple teachers’ and students’ associations believe the UGC decision to be divisive and discriminatory. They opined that it has further sharpened the existing digital divide in the country.

For medical students, on the other hand, the primary concern is about their physical safety as they await clear guidelines from the Medical Council of India (MCI).

Also read |  Student groups slam UGC decision on final year exams

‘Cauldron of trauma’

Nandita Narain, senior associate professor St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, and former president of Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) said the UGC decision has complicated the already precarious post-lockdown mental, physical and domestic situations of students.


Terming the situation “a cauldron of trauma”, Ms. Narain said that given the risks posed by COVID-19 , UGC’s suggested “blended mode” would essentially mean exams would end up being conducted online. “At DU, we are not exam-oriented,” she said. “We follow the continual assessment method. Our students have already been tried and tested.”

She said that the discrimination was sharpest against final year students as they have already been evaluated through rigorous external and internal evaluation for about 85% of their course...The UGC option for students who are unable to avail the online mode to take their exams later, Ms. Narain opined, is divisive as that would entail a section of students getting their degrees earlier than others. Moreover, the online exam would lack credibility as there is no monitoring mechanism as a safeguard against dishonest means.

“The online mode of education is a step towards further commercialisation and privatisation in a country where economically weaker students are fast losing access to higher education,” she said. The ideal way would be to evaluate students on the basis of past semester results and internal assessment for the current semester, Ms. Narain added. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s assurance, though welcome, has not augured much hope, she said, as “the UGC has the authority to push through its agenda”.

JNUSU demands scrapping of exams

The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) put out a statement demanding the scrapping of final year exams: “The JNUSU continues to emphasize that no divisive mechanism be implemented in the name of giving choices to students and a solution be found that puts every student at parity and secures their future”.

Also read:  Degree exam schedule not announced yet, but students asked to pay fee

JNUSU Councillor Apeksha Priyadarshini said that semesters started late at the university and post-pandemic, most students went back home, with the semester remaining unfinished. “The September deadline indicates the initiation of a new semester, and that this one will be brought to closure, which has struck panic among the students,” she said.

The blended mode of examination would result in a dual method of evaluation, Ms. Priyadarshini said, which would create “two different classes among students”. The JNUSU demands that a singular and fair method of evaluation be devised. Since students can not hope for offline examinations, they would have to take them online, which entails immense inequality in distribution of course material and access to digital infrastructure among students, especially in a public university attended by numerous students from marginalised backgrounds, Ms. Priyadarshini said.

Medical students anxious

Medical students have claimed that for them, online examination was never an option to begin with, as their examinations are predominantly practical. Dr. Ravishankar Tiwari, Co-ordinator, Indian Medical Association (IMA)- Medical Student Network, Lucknow, said “to qualify for a medical college, a student has to go through pre-exams, assessments, annuals. At the national level, they would also have to qualify NEXT 1 and NEXT 2. In all- about 60 exams throughout a five-year course”.

“Because we work at hospitals, we would have to interact with patients and other staff, and stand high risks of being infected with COVID-19,” Mr. Tiwari said. The IMA, on behalf of MBBS, dental college, nursing and veterinarian students, demands promotion upon evaluation of entrance and past semester examinations, only for the duration of the pandemic.

All India Medical Students Association (AIMSA) president Dr. Jitendra Singh echoed Mr. Tiwari’s opinion. General promotions, he said, were never introduced as an option to medical students. “Since medical exams are mostly practical, the risk to our lives in the pandemic situation is much higher,” he said.

As such, these students are facing immense anxiety as they await proper guidelines, Mr. Singh added. The AIMSA also demands that fee concessions be granted in private medical colleges where students are being pressured to pay up. In this situation, Mr. Singh opined, students would not mind even online objective exams despite technical difficulties.

Teachers caught off-guard

Ms. Narain alleged that the continuously shifting deadlines, the latest one being of September 30, have caught teachers off-guard too. Moreover, the shift to online education has not been smooth. “The online mode can supplement classroom experience, but not substitute it,” she said. “Online platforms hamper teaching as a dialogue - an exchange between teachers and students. The democratic nature of a classroom is lost.”

Ms. Narain, who is also the Chairperson of the Joint Forum for Movement on Education (JFME) has launched a petition addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with a number of colleagues, demanding his immediate intervention for the withdrawal of the revised UGC guidelines and cancellation of pending exams.

The petition reads “...there appears to be some misconception that cancellation of ‘final exams’...would amount to not evaluating students or giving them an undervalued degree. This is far from true as all the semesters are modular and autonomous of each other...there is no overarching final examination”. There have been over 21,000 signatories so far.

A survey of JNU teachers was conducted by professors Ayesha Kidwai and Atul Sood, through online circulation over five days, with only those teachers who were teaching a course assigned in Winter 2020 (January to May). The respondents were 131 teachers from nine schools, across humanities, social science, languages, and the sciences, amounting to 22.74% of the 576 teachers employed currently in JNU, and 42.25% of the 310 ‘faculty involved in online education’, according to the survey.

It found that, for online teaching, only four teachers received tech support from the university. Three had access to the JNU internet services; 21 faculty have had to take out personal subscriptions to video conferencing software, and at least one course has been run on the subscription taken out by a student.


Sauraveswar Sen, founder and chief mentor of Kolkata-based Catalyst Learning Services that mentors students for careers in the social development sector, said “It is a catch-22 situation. The concerns raised by students are multi-dimensional. Apart from safety, about 30% of our students have been anxious that the 80:20 formula would not help them achieve their target aggregate as they may not have performed to the best of their abilities in the past. Of those who are learning from home, about 30% have not been able to adjust to online classes. They’re also worried regarding the mode of exams- if it is online, structure, bandwidth and accessibility of the internet are set to pose problems”.

Meghna Roy, a Sociology student at JNU, said that while the faculty has been helpful, the UGC guidelines have plunged students into uncertainty. With the academic calendar as yet unspecified, students are battling anxiety, she added.

Neelanjana Bhattacharjee, who attends the Kolkata campus of a private university, had similar thoughts. “Even though we were one of the first to shift to online classes, it has been extremely difficult to get used to. Even after around two months of online classes, the experience is anxiety-inducing. Apart from the digital divide, we also cannot rule out technical glitches,” she said. Ms. Bhattacharjee added that with the shifting deadlines, motivation has been decreasing among her peers: “We are not able to take these exams seriously enough anymore.”

Abhijit Patil, a final-year Mechanical Engineering student at Shivaji University, Kolhapur, created a Twitter campaign demanding scrapping of final year exams, with over 11,000 followers. The group pointed out that while the CBSE syllabus has been cut by 30%, it has been alleged that promoting final year students who have about 10% of their course left, would question their credibility around the globe. It also claimed that many students have already been accepted into foreign/national universities for postgraduate courses even before the final semester. “If we lose these offers, our whole year gets wasted,” the group said.

The Hindu reported on Friday that the UGC, during a hearing in the Supreme Court, based on a bunch of petitions filed by over 30 students challenging the conduct of exams, said students should continue to prepare for their final exams scheduled towards the end of September .

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