The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has informed the Supreme Court that it has permitted the limited opening of educational institutions across the country for conducting the final year examinations as ordered by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on July 6. As per the UGC directive, colleges/Universities were to conduct the examination before September 30, 2020 either through online, offline or blending both means.
In an affidavit filed before the top court, the MHA said the decision was taken after considering the academic interest of a large number of students. The issue of whether UGC should be permitted to hold the final year examinations is being debated in the top court with several petitions filed by students and parents to cancel the examinations in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The apex court is expected to take up the matter on Friday.
With the Disaster Management Act in place, the MHA received a request from the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) on July 4 for opening of colleges and educational institutions. This request was considered and responded to by the Union Home Secretary on July 6. The affidavit said, “Taking into consideration the academic interest of a large number of students, it was decided to grant exemption for the opening of educational institutions for the purposes of holding examinations/evaluation work for Final Term Examinations of the Universities / Institutions.”
The affidavit further stated, “While the said guidelines continue to require schools, colleges, educational and coaching institutions to remain closed till August 31, 2020, the universities/ institutions will be and are clearly intended to be exempted from the said restriction for the limited purpose of holding Final Term Examinations/evaluation work in terms of the UGC guidelines on examinations.”
Delhi and Maharashtra have opposed the UGC decision to hold examinations and have cancelled final year examinations in their particular state Universities. The UGC had informed the apex court early this week that the states cannot afford to cancel the examinations as they are bound the UGC order of July 6. However, states claimed that this decision was taken under the Disaster Management Act which is currently in place. Both Delhi and Maharashtra had prescribed an internal assessment system to evaluate students.
UGC had raised doubts over whether the degrees to be awarded in this manner without holding examinations could be valid. The apex court had asked UGC to submit its stand on affidavit. Accordingly, UGC too has filed an affidavit informing the apex court that all states had agreed to an expert Committee’s recommendation of May 6, 2020 to hold final year examinations.
The UGC affidavit said, “the State government had accepted the recommendation (dated May 6, 2020) of an expert committee regarding the conduct of final examinations in the State Universities. It transpires that the said expert committee had in fact recommended that final examinations can be conducted in the State from July 1 to July 31. However, this decision was later reversed by the State Authority and the State Govt. in contravention of the UGC’s Guidelines. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that it will not be possible to conduct the final examinations in terms of the UGC’s Guidelines.”
The UGC emphasized and justified the need for conducting final examinations, be it in the form of program-ending terminal semester examination or final annual examination, because it is a crucial step in the academic career of a student.
The affidavit further stated that the July 6 UGC Guidelines have taken into account the practical difficulties that could be faced by institutions and students and thus provided for the examinations to be conducted through online, offline or a mix of both modes. Further, it stated that the examination has to be held before September 30 and any student unable to give the examination for any reason will be provided a special chance later.