The University Grants Commission's (UGC) National Eligibility Test (NET) on Saturday was marred with technical glitches across several centres in the country, resulting either in cancellation or delays that led to walk-outs and protests.
There were two shifts of the three-hour exam, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning shift was scheduled to start at 9 a.m., and the afternoon shift at 3 p.m. But at some centres, the morning test did not start till 12 noon, while at others it started after a delay of over two hours.
At JSS Institute of Technology in Noida, the candidates had assembled inside the examination hall and were waiting at their assigned places to start the test at 9 a.m. But as the clock struck 9, their computer screens didn't reflect their question papers.
"Students started panicking when the exam didn't start. We were initially told to wait for five-ten minutes, but we were in the hall till 12 p.m. and they were still not able to fix the technical problem. The representatives of the exam centre said that the glitch was from the National Testing Agency's (NTA) end," Arham Ali Khan, a post-graduate from Jamia Millia Islamia University, said.
He added that by 12 p.m., students had begun to get restless and started walking out. “But we were not allowed to leave for nearly 30 minutes. The NTA staff asked those who were leaving for an undertaking, which many protested against as the onus [for the students’ not taking the exam] is on the NTA,” Mr. Khan said.
Vineet Joshi, Director General, NTA, said the exam was cancelled only at four-five centres, where it would be conducted again. “The delay was due to extra security in our system, due to which it took more time to download the papers. But students were given full time to write the exam,” he said. He admitted that students could have faced a technical lag, but said candidates who experienced such problems would have to write to the NTA.
In U.P.’s Ghaziabad, at the Bhagwati Institute of Technology, the exam started at 11.30 a.m. “Many like me reached the centre at 7 a.m. and so some candidates demanded refreshments, but nothing was available. Many had travelled from the interior parts of Uttar Pradesh such as Muzaffarnagar and Bijnore and they were hungry. The exam centre was not in the city, so there were no shops or eateries around either,” Niharika Shukla, a post-graduate student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said. She demanded that the exam should be held again.
The National Institute of Technology in Kozhikode saw protests after the morning shift started three hours late, at 12 noon, and many students faced technical problems while answering the test.
"Students say there were too many technical errors and when they tried to move from one question to another, the system would take at least 20 seconds. They said they would have wasted 20-30 minutes because of the issues. While the invigilators told the candidates that they would be given extra time, since it is a computer-based test, their time was up after three hours," said Mohammed Shaquib, who was in the second shift, which was also delayed.
At Bengaluru’s JSS Academy of Technical Education, too, the exam started at 11 a.m. and students complained that they encountered technical problems. “The computer would throw ups system error messages or they were unable to move to the next page on the question paper,” said Kaibalyapati Mishra, who was accompanying a friend who took the exam.
Students said that not just on the day of the exam but the days leading up to it were also stressful as they were informed of the exam dates only four days previously and received their admit cards with information on their exam centres only on Friday.
The NTA conducts the NET on behalf of the UGC. The test is to determine the eligibility of Indian nationals for the post of Assistant Professors and the awarding of Junior Research Fellowships in Indian universities and colleges. The exam is conducted twice every year. But after the December 2021 exam was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NTA merged December 2021 cycle with June 2022 cycle of the exam.