Decision Maker Response

The Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association (FEDCUTA)’s response

The Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association (FEDCUTA)

Jul 16, 2020 — Dear students,

We came across this petition by Rahul Kapoor, and wish to say that we stand in support of the students with regards to online exams.

The FEDCUTA expresses its deep shock and disappointment at the ‘Revised Guidelines on Examinations and Academic Calendar for the Universities in view of COVID-l9 Pandemic’ issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on 6th July 2020.

These Revised Guidelines apply only to the final year/terminal semester students while for intermediate year/semester students the guidelines issued earlier in April 2020 have been retained. The revised guidelines defy all logic, academic and otherwise, and appear to completely ignore the very situation prevailing in the country that they are apparently responding to.

It is most unfair that even those Universities that had cancelled examinations and announced alternative modes of evaluation for the terminal batch of students are now faced with the prospect of having to mandatorily conduct examinations.

Final year/terminal semester students pursuing any Bachelor’s or Master’s degree are those for whom completion of the year/semester has a greater urgency than their intermediate year/semester counterparts as they need to get their degrees and move on to further studies or employment.

They are also the students who have already been through several rounds of formal evaluation and assessments while pursuing their courses. Only a small part of the total evaluation, their last round of examinations, was typically pending when colleges and Universities were shut down across the country because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In comparison, those at earlier and more foundational stages of the courses have been evaluated to a much lesser extent.

Yet, the UGC’s revised guidelines have mandated that examinations must be held for the final year/semester students though intermediate year/semester students can be promoted on the basis of some combination of past evaluation and internal assessment.

The corollary of this is that the date of completion of the year/semester has also been pushed further ahead for final year/semester students, to the end of September 2020 (or even later since only examinations and not declaration of results have to be completed by then). However, those who will not be leaving their Universities this year but continue in their courses will finish the term earlier, by midAugust.

The UGC’s guidelines are thus self-contradictory, as in both cases they are the exact opposite of what all common sense and reason says they should be. It is final stage students who need to complete early, and in the current circumstances it would be criminal to deprive them of availing of any possible job opportunities by delaying award of degrees.

It is in their case too that some combination of past assessment and internal assessment is most likely to serve as an accurate index of their overall learning and performance. Yet, while such an assessment has been considered acceptable for continuing students, the UGC insists that this is not a ‘privilege’ that can be granted to final year/semester students and they must go through the ‘rigours’ of one more round of examination in order to be considered worthy of receiving a degree.

The UGC Guidelines have presented Universities with a Hobson’s choice. Even if that option is available on paper, conducting their regular examinations in offline (pen & paper) mode by end of September would be impossible for most Universities. As per current Government guidelines, it is not safe to reopen Universities and Colleges and given the state of the pandemic in India, it would be foolish to bet on it being a near certainty that the situation will change so dramatically in so short a time that it would be possible to have students back on campuses in large numbers with all required safety protocols in place.

Even in the best of scenarios, the sheer logistics of conducting examinations and putting in place all the required safety protocols would place impossible demands on large Universities like Delhi University.

It must also be asked – would this be really worth all the effort if the only purpose is to conduct an examination that would in any case be marked by abnormality, as students would be required to sit for examinations in conditions where they have not had the ideal opportunities to study and would be subject to the exceptional and extraordinary pressures created by the pandemic?

If at all such an effort is to be made, would it not be better to direct it towards creating at the earliest the conditions for resumption of regular academic activity for continuing students and to admit the new batch of students?

Therefore, the UGC’s insistence on examinations being conducted for final stage students is clearly aimed at promoting online examinations. If regular examinations are not possible, the only alternative Universities would be left with is to conduct examinations online, which simply cannot match up to the standards of the regular examination in terms of the evaluation process and preserving its integrity are concerned.

Teachers and students across the country have opposed the online method of examination for being discriminatory and for promoting dishonesty. Far from yielding a more accurate and credible assessment of students, hence, it will only introduce the possibility of greater distortion of that assessment in comparison to the alternative methods being applied in the case of continuing students. These serious distortions would definitely tilt the scales even more against students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Further, an examination with no provision for monitoring use of unfair means and thereby changing the ranking of students in favour of those engaging in malpractice is both unfair and undermining of the credibility of any degree awarded on the basis of it.

The previous UGC guidelines had acknowledged that most Universities are not in a position to conduct examinations online. Surely the situation could not have changed so dramatically between April and July as to render that assessment invalid. The UGC’s volte-face therefore can only be explained by it coming under pressure from the Government and from commercial interests which are hoping to make money from the online examination process by providing their ‘services’ for a fee.

It fits in neatly with the NPE 2019’s agenda of promoting privatization of higher education. Encouraging the use of online methods of teaching and evaluation would serve the dual objective of making education viable for private profiteering while simultaneously reducing the burden on the state of public investment in education. That the quality of education and equality of access to it will both suffer as a result is something that does not bother the Government.

The FEDCUTA demands immediate withdrawal of the UGC’s Revised Guidelines which reflect a complete betrayal of its responsibilities towards the interests of students, faculty, and society at large.

Fresh guidelines must be issued promptly to enable closure of the courses for final year/semester students through the safest and most credible methods available, without any straitjacket of end-term examinations being imposed as a necessity, so that they may receive their degrees at the earliest.

Thank you,
Rajib Ray, President
D. K. Lobiyal, Secretary
Picture credit: JNUTA