COVID-19| Final Year Exams: Maharashtra Students Union files IA; says Degree is conferred on collective assessment of all years & not just Final year

Maharashtra Students’ Union, a non-profit organization working for welfare of students, more particularly students pursuing higher education, has filed an Intervention Application in the plea challenging UGC’s revised guidelines dated 06.07.2020 regarding conduct of final year exams amidst COVID-19 crisis.

The Union, in it’s application, states that the guidelines dated 29.04.2020 or the revised guidelines dated 06.07.2020 issued by the University Grants Commission are neither mandatory nor binding on the State Authority set up under Section 14 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

“In case of a conflict between laws made either by the Parliament and/or State Legislature and the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the latter shall prevail in accordance with the provisions of Section 72 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”

Union has submitted that while UGC is concerned with the standards of education, the decision of the State Government regarding non-conduct of final exams in a situation of a national health crisis like the present COVID-19 pandemic cannot in the remotest manner be considered as an impediment on the powers of UGC to maintain standards of education.

It further states that a Bachelor’s degree is conferred on the basis of a collective assessment of all 3 years of a Bachelor’s course and not of the final semester alone. The affidavit states that

“the last examination or the final examination of students of Higher and Technical Education does not carry any special weightage or decisive value which a final year examination used to carry in the erstwhile education system, as the evaluation is done on a cumulative assessment of all semesters in a degree course.”

The Union further highlights that as per the provisions of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016 makes it clear that the power to take decisions regarding the conduct of examinations and conferring degrees rests upon the respective State Universities and not upon the UGC.

As per the Disaster Management Act, 2005, not only the State Government, but even the State Disaster Management Authority constituted under section 14 and/or the State Executive Committee constituted under Section 20 of the Act of 2005 are legally competent to take a decision in this behalf.

The Union further submits that the power to take decisions regarding conduct of examinations and conferring of degrees rests with the respective State Universities, and as such the UGC does not have the authority to grant/withold degrees of students, when the State Governments and Vice Chancellors of Universities have after considering all the exigencies of the current situation made a unanimous decision to confer degrees without holding the final year examinations.

The 3-judge bench of Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, JJ, had on August 10, 2020, sought a reply on whether the Disaster Management Act can override the UGC’s guidelines and posted the matter for further hearing on August 14, 2020.

Maharashtra, in it’s affidavit, has mentioned that after deliberating on the issue at length, the State Disaster Management Authority constituted under the  Disaster Management Act, 2005 took the decision of not holding the last year final semester examinations for both professional and non-professional courses.

NCT of Delhi has submitted that the Deputy Chief Minister/Higher and Technical Education Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi has all Delhi State Universities to cancel all written online/offline semester examinations including final year examinationsUniversities have also been advised to devise alternative assessment measures to promote students of intermediary semesters and grant degrees to students of final semesters.

Regarding the decisions of certain State Governments to cancel the Final Year exams, UGC has, in it’s affidavit, 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.

UGC has also 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.”

Final Year Student Yash Dubey, who has also challenged the Revised Guidelines, along with 31 other students,  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),…”

When the Court heard the matter on July 31, 2020, Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Yash Dubey, told the Court that Heavens will not fall if exams are not conducted.


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