Withdraw UGC Revised Guidelines - Cancel Pending Examinations

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Respected Prime Minister,

The Joint Forum for Movement on Education (JFME) wishes to draw your attention to the crisis engulfing the education sector in India amidst the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. The sudden announcement of the lockdown across the country in the month of March forced students and teachers to take recourse to online resources, which were found to be inadequate and at best, temporary solutions. The differential access to digital devices and infrastructure required for this mode of teaching has accentuated the already existing inequalities in the country. In this context, the recently released 'UGC Revised Guidelines on Examinations and Academic Calendar for the Universities in view of COVID-l9 Pandemic', propose illogical and unacademic solutions for evaluating and granting degrees to students.

The insistence on holding terminal semester or final year examinations "by the end of September 2020 in offline (pen & paper), online / blended (online + offline) mode", as proposed in the UGC Guidelines is supposedly premised on the idea of ​​upholding "The principles of health, safety, fair and equal opportunity for students" while increasing the academic credibility of the degrees received by students and their future prospects. It also erroneously supposes that online examinations can replicate assessments done through examinations in pen and paper mode or that these are the best available alternative in the current context. Both these premises are ill-founded erroneous and hence, the solution proposed in the document does the opposite of what is stated in the objectives.

We all know that the spread of COVID-19 is intensifying in the country with an increase in case load by more than 30,000 per day. The situation in many parts of the country is extremely critical. Recent floods in some parts of the country and consequent problems of electricity, etc. will also make it difficult for the conduct of examinations. As for this mode of examination itself, we urge you to intervene to withdraw the UGC Guidelines for the following reasons:

 Firstly , the diverse ground realities prevailing in different parts of the country and the concerns expressed by different Sta te Governments and Universities are not acknowledged in the said Guidelines.The one-size-fits-all approach cannot work because of the sheer diversity in the circumstances of different universities - their sizes and geographical spreads, socio-economic status of their students, whether they are unitary universities or have affiliated institutions, the relative importance of undergraduate and post-graduate courses, their disciplinary mix, their mediums of instruction and examination, etc. It also ignores the fact that Education is on the concurrent list and State Governments ought to have a say in what is to be implemented. Not letting State Governments and Universities choose the method most appropriate to their conditions through their respective statutory processes and consultation with all stakeholders, therefore, amounts to a serious erosion of academic standards and institutional autonomy.

Secondly, given that it would be near impossible for regular examinations to be conducted by September without seriously compromising on the safety of students, faculty and staff in most parts of the country due to the pandemic situation, the insistence on examinations for grant of degree would mean that most Universities would have to opt for the Online / blended mode of examination. This mode of examination has no sanctity or credibility for reasons stated below:

  • The online / blended mode of examination suggested by the UGC for universities across the country cannot match up to the standards of the regular examination in terms of ensuring the fairness, credibility and integrity of the process. This in turn will undermine the very credibility of the degree awarded through such a process.
  • This mode of examination is discriminatory towards those without access to books, notes and online resources. Lack of stable internet connectivity, especially in the remote parts of the country, will put a large section of students at a huge disadvantage. Differently-abled students and those from the underprivileged sections of society will be the worst hit.
  • An examination that cannot monitor the use of unfair means will effectively penalize those who are honest and promote malpractice. It will also affect the overall merit positions of students to favor those engaging in malpractice. Hence, it erodes the sanctity and credibility of the examination process and of the degree awarded. 

Other forms of credible and meaningful assessment like internal / continuous assessment and / or average scores of past semesters would meet the criteria of fairness and integrity better.

Finally, there appears to be some misconception that cancellation of “final exams” in view of the pandemic 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, students are examined on the courses covered in only one semester and there is no overarching final examination. Students of the final year have already been through several rounds of formal evaluation and assessments and only a small part of the total evaluation is pending. As per the UGC Guidelines, intermediate students are to be evaluated and promoted based on the average of past semesters and the internal assessment of the current semester. Hence, there is no reason that such an alternative cannot be adopted for final semester / year students. The mandatory requirement of examinations will delay the grant of degrees to students who have already those who are in urgent need of these for further studies or employment.

The spread of COVID-19 and the consequent health and economic crisis have brought increased stress for the youth of this country. The uncertainties it has brought in its wake have been harrowing for all students and their mental and physical well-being is of paramount concern. For this reason, we seek your immediate intervention for the withdrawal of the UGC Guidelines, the immediate cancellation of the mandatory requirement of examinations for final year students and for alternative forms to be adopted for grant of degrees.

Nandita Narain, Chairperson, JFME
Amiya Kumar Mohanty, Convener, JFME
Arun Kumar, General Secretary, AIFUCTO & Coordinator, JFME
Rajib Ray, President, DUTA & FEDCUTA  & Coordinator, JFME                

Constituents of JFME:
All India Federation of University and College Teachers' Organization 
Federation of Central University Teachers' Association
All India Federation of Retired University and College Teachers' Organization
All India University Employees Confederation
School Teachers' Federation of India
All India Secondary Teachers' Federation
All India Federation of Elementary Teachers 'Organization
Indian Public Service Employees Federation
All India Primary Teachers' Federation
All India Federation of Educational Association
All India Forum for Right to Education
All-India Save Education Committee
All India People's Science Network
Bharti Gyan Vigyan Samiti
Delhi University Teachers' Association