Supreme Court: In the Counter Affidavit filed by the University Grants Commission in the plea challenging the conduct of final year exams amidst COVID-19 crisis, the UGC has defended it’s Revised guidelines dated 06.07.2020 and has emphasised on the need to conduct the examinations as it is the crucial step in the academic career of a student.

“… it would be irrational to exempt students from final year/terminal semester examinations and to graduate them based on their past performance.”

The 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R. Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ had, on 27.07.2020, sought response from University Grants Commission (UGC) on a batch of petitions seeking challenging its circular and seeking cancellation of final term examination in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic and had placed the matter for further hearing on July 31, 2020.

As many as 31 students from different universities across India approached the Supreme Court to quash the UGC circular dated July 6 which has asked the universities/institutions across India to conduct terminal semester(s)/final year examinations by the end of September, 2020 in offline/online/blended mode.

The students, in their petition, urged that the exams should be canceled and the results of such students should be calculated on the basis of their internal assessment or past performance. The petition filed by students from 13 states and one union territory requested that the students’ marksheets should be issued before July 31.

Another petition on the issue, filed in the Supreme Court by final year law student Yash Dubey, also sought cancellation of UGC mandated final year exams. Shiv  Sena leader Aditya Thackeray has also moved the Supreme court on behalf of Yuva Sena, the youth wing of Shiv Sena, against the mandated final year exams in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases.

UGC’s response to the Petition

UGC has, in it’s affidavit, stated that it’s Guidelines dated 06.07.2020, have been issued to protect the academic future of the students across the country which will be irreparably damaged if their final year/terminal semester examinations are not held. It says that it had done so while keeping the health and safety of the students in mind.

Regarding the decisions of certain State Governments to cancel the Final Year exams, UGS has stated that the said decision is contrary to UGC Guidelines and encroaches on Parliament’s power under Entry 66 of List I of Schedule VII to coordinate and determine the standards of higher education.

The affidavit also states that UGC has, in it’s Guidelines dated 06.07.2020, taken account of the evolving situation of COVID-19 by not only providing adequate time for the conduct of examinations but also by giving flexibility on mode of conduct of exam i.e. offline/online/blended mode.

It further states that the Guidelines are based on the recommendations of experts and have been made after due deliberation by taking into account and balancing all factors. The affidavit states that it is wrong to say that students will be “forced” to appear for the examinations at the cost of their health as the Guidelines provides for examination through special chance i.e. in case a student of terminal semester/ final year is unable to appear in the examination conducted by the university for whatsoever the reasons may be, he/she may be given opportunity to appear in special examinations for such courses/ papers, which may be conducted by the university as and when feasible, so that the student is not put to any inconvenience.

On CBSE and ICSE’s decision to cancel Board examinations, UGC, in it’s affidavit states that the nature of those examinations is very different from Final Year/Terminal semester examinations which will have a lasting and indelible effect on the academic credibility, career opportunities and future of the students. It also highlighted the fact that ICSE has made clear that students are not exempt from the examinations will have to appear in November, 2020 examinations.

Rejoinder by Students

Final Year Student Yash Dubey, who has also sought challenged the Revised Guidelines, in his rejoinder, submitted that

“it is baffling to note that just one semester of examination will be determinative of the integrity and value of a degree for which students worked hard for six (for three years course) and to ten semesters (for five year course),…”

He further submits that the Revised UGC Guidelines are in complete deviation from the 29.04.2020 UGC Guideline, wherein it was clearly stated that it is advisory in nature and that each University may chart out its own plan of action taking into consideration the issues pertaining to COVID-19 pandemic. The Rejoinder states,

“…while passing the Revised Guidelines, the UGC has itself failed to consider the 29.04.2020 Guidelines, which provided flexibility to the Universities to implement the Guidelines in the best interest of students.”

On the conduct of online examinations, the Student states that in view of the current difficulties that our country is facing, it is quite unrealistic to justify the reasoning of conduction of virtual examination by relying on examples of the premier institutions of the world. While relying on the examples of the premier institutes as a basis for conduction of examination in our country, the Respondent fails to take into consideration that these institutes/colleges/universities (as cities) are largely accommodative of student’s concern and therefore this cannot be the basis to justify the decision regarding the compulsory conduct of examination.

It further states that the revised UGC Guidelines are taking the students backward rather than forward. Looking at the rising curve of COVID-19 cases, in the country, it is quite unrealistic to set a deadline for compulsory conduct of examination.

“It fails to take into consideration the loss that is being caused to thousands of students who have received a preplacement offer or who have secured post graduate admission in certain prestigious universities of the world. It can work as a factor which might lead to loss of jobs, loss of secured admission and in some cases loss of an academic year.”

The rejoinder also stresses on the point that the UGC has failed to consider that most of the educational institutions/Universities/colleges  have been converted into quarantine centre and the conduction of the examination, in this testing time, is a threat to the life and health of thousands of students.

Read the details of UGC’s revised guidelines on conduct of final year exams here

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