Holding final year exams in Sept to protect students' future: UGC tells SC

Topics UGC | Supreme Court

Students of class 10th celebrating after clearing MP board exams at a school, in Jabalpur.

The UGC Thursday justified in the Supreme Court it decision directing all universities and institutions to hold final year/semester examinations in September saying it was done to protect the academic future of students across the country.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) filed a 50-page affidavit on a batch of petitions, including the one filed by Shiv Sena's youth wing 'Yuva Sena', which have challenged its guidelines issued on July 6 for holding the exams in September amidst the persisting coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It said that in June this year, considering the evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, it requested the expert committee to revisit the April 29 guidelines, by which it had asked the Universities and Institutions to hold final year examinations in July 2020.

Accordingly, the expert committee (which also included vice-chancellors of technical universities and a representative of industry) did so, and submitted a report recommending that terminal semester/final year examinations should be conducted by universities/ institutions by the end of September, 2020 in offline (pen & paper)/ online/ blended (online + offline) mode, the UGC said.

It added that this report of the expert committee was deliberated and approved by the UGC in its emergent meeting held on July 6, since the conduct of the final year/terminal examination is a time-sensitive issue.

Consequently, the UGC immediately issued the Revised Guidelines on Examination and Academic Calendar for the Universities in view of COVID-19 Pandemic' on July 6, it said, adding that all universities/ institutions in the country are obligated to conduct terminal semester/final year examination by the end of September, 2020.

The UGC said it has issued such guidelines to "protect the academic future of students across the country which will be irreparably damaged if their final year/terminal semester examinations are not held, while also keeping in mind their health and safety.

Assailing the decisions of some states like Maharashtra and Delhi of cancelling the final year examinations, the commission said that such decisions directly affect the standards of higher education and will be an encroachment on the legislative field of coordinating and determining the standards of higher education that is exclusively reserved for Parliament under Schedule VII of the Constitution.

Therefore, the decisions of certain State Governments (Maharashtra and Delhi) to either cancel the terminal semester/final year examinations for UG/PG students, and/or to graduate such students and confer degrees without appearing for the final year/terminal semester examinations is plainly contrary to the UGC's guidelines, it said.

The UGC justified the revised guidelines issued on July 6 and said that it adequately takes into account the evolving situation of the COVID-19 pandemic because it provide sufficient time till the end of September 2020 to conduct the final year/terminal semester examinations after following the prescribed protocols and procedures relating to COVID-19.

It gives sufficient flexibility to universities/ institutions to conduct such examinations online, offline (pen and paper) or blended (online + offline) mode and provide for an examination through special chance for students who for whatsoever the reason(s) may be are unable to appear for the examination conducted by a university/institution by end of September, 2020, the UGC said.

It said that the Universities/Institutions may conduct such special examinations as and when feasible so that the students concerned are not put to any inconvenience or disadvantage.

It is also wrong to say that students will be forced' to appear for such examinations at the cost of their health because the UGC's guidelines permit universities/institutions to hold examinations as a special chance for those students who are unable to participate in the examinations that will be held by the end of September 2020, it added.

Referring to April 29 Guidelines and the July 6, revised Guidelines, the affidavit said that these were made following a report by an expert committee under the Chairmanship R C Kuhad, Vice Chancellor of Central University of Haryana.

It is humbly submitted that final year/terminal semester examinations are important because the learning process is a dynamic interaction where the only way to figure out what students know is to seek evidence of their knowledge and to evaluate it," it said.

A rejoinder to the commission's reply affidavit was also filed in a petition moved by 31 final year students through advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava in which it was said that UGC has miserably failed to take into account the worsening COVID-19 crisis in India, wherein more than 52,000 COVID-19 cases have been added in last 24-hours alone and there is no sign of any improvement/ betterment before September 30, as per the ICMR Report.

On July 27, the top court had asked the UGC to file a consolidated reply to the batch of petitions challenging its revised guidelines to conduct final year examinations by September 30 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several issues have been raised in a batch of petitions, including the plight of lakhs of students in places like Bihar and Assam which are reeling under floods and also that many states have already cancelled the final year examinations of state universities due to the pandemic.

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