Revise UGC Guidelines regarding exams for final year students

Revise UGC Guidelines regarding exams for final year students

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To whomsoever it may concern,

I am writing this letter to express my concerns with the recent decision made by the University Grants Commission to hold exams for final year undergraduates across the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic grows worse by the day, with India now ranking as the country with the third greatest number of confirmed cases. We now have over 8 lakh cases, and the daily increase in confirmed cases still seems to be trending upwards. In the midst of this situation, the decision to hold exams for final year college students seems ill-advised.

The UGC has proposed that examinations be held offline, online, or in some blended variation of each. While the UGC’s intentions are understandable, their decision presents several problems:

  1. Regarding offline examinations:
    a. Despite our best efforts, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country is rising daily. Many hospitals have already been overwhelmed, and over 20,000 people are already dead. Imagine, in this scenario, asking students and teachers to gather in a confined place for 3-4 hours. It doesn’t matter how well sanitized the premises, how rigorous the temperature checks are; it is impossible to control the risk of infection in such an environment. Masks will be
    temporarily taken off; papers will be passed between students and teachers. The SSLC exams were held with such rigorous safety guards in place; despite this, over 30 people tested positive afterwards. It will only take one infected individual for the virus to further spread and infect many more.
    b. We must also consider the plight of students out-of-state who will have to travel back to sit for the exams. Not only will they be risking infection while traveling, they will also have to deal with institutional and at-home quarantines upon arrival. Many such students stay in hostels and PGs, less than ideal quarantine environments.
    c. As of my writing this letter, public gatherings with more than 50 people are still banned by the government. How then, can we expect hundreds of students to attend physical examinations?
  2. Regarding online exams:
    a. Connectivity issues plague many students across the country. In several areas, internet connectivity is unreliable at best, and non-existent at worst. Add to this the not-small possibility of random power cuts and poor availability of electricity, and it is clear that a significant number of students would be at a distinct disadvantage if exams were conducted online.
    b. Several students do not have access to a laptop or computer, especially in rural areas. These students would be forced to write their exams on mobile phones, which are ill-suited to the purpose.
    It is possible to postpone the examinations, and carry them out only when the pandemic situation improves. However, several final year under-graduates have already secured jobs, most of which intend to start remotely by the end of July or early August. By delaying the
    exams indefinitely, the job offers of these students are put at risk, and introduces several problems for both employers and potential employees.

What then can be done? Some form of evaluation must take place before students are awarded their degrees, that much is certain. One possible solution is for universities to grade students on the basis of their performance in previous semesters, as well as internal assignments and tests which have already been conducted in the final semester. This method of evaluation has already been decided upon for students of intermediate semesters, and minimizes the risks for all involved parties.

Online exams discriminate against many students in rural and poor-connectivity areas. Offline exams carry with them too many risks, and should only be considered as a final resort. Would it not be best, then, to evaluate students on the basis of their previous academic performance, as several other universities across the world have done?

I would like to make one final point. Many people have suggested that students are simply looking for a way out of writing their exams, and are coming up with whatever excuses they can. This is simply not true. We have written many exams; one more makes no difference to us. In fact, there are many students who would love to improve their current grades. What does concern us is the risk of infecting our friends and family. My father and sister are immuno-compromised; in the event that I get infected, how do I protect them? I am not alone in this concern.

Considering the current situation, I implore the UGC, on behalf of students across the country, to reconsider their decision. The safety of students, teachers and their respective families is of paramount importance. If even one individual is tested positive for the virus as a result of this decision, will we be able to live with ourselves? Knowing that we chose a path fraught with peril, when a safer one was available?

Keshav Mittal
Final Year Engineering Student