“Students must not think that examinations will be postponed because of the SC hearing”: UGC

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Students appearing for final-year exams in colleges and higher education institutions, left pending since March because of the coronavirus lockdown, must not think the exams will be postponed again because of the ongoing Supreme Court hearing, the UGC said Friday.

“Students should continue to prepare for the examinations. Students should not be under the impression that examinations will be stayed because of the Supreme Court hearing,” the UGC (University Grants Commission), which is charged with coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education, said in court.

Declining to pass any final order on a clutch of petitions challenging the UGC’s decision to hold final-year exams in September, the top court today adjourned its hearing till August 10.

Appearing for one of the petitioners, Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued today that the UGC’s guidelines to hold the exams, which include the option to hold them online, were arbitrary. Mr Singhvi pointed out that some of the universities lacked basic IT infrastructure and it was therefore not feasible to uniformly conduct online examinations.

“Optional exam is problematic. If someone cannot appear and is given a later option it will create chaos,” he said, to which the court said: “But it is for the benefit of students”.

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Mr Singhvi argued “heavens will not fall if exams are cancelled” and referred to sections of the Disaster Management Act that allows state governments to take decisions in this regard.

The court then asked the Maharashtra government, which has cancelled final-year exams for state-run colleges, to place on record the decision taken by the state’s disaster management committee.

Among the petitions heard today was one by Maharashtra cabinet minister Aaditya Thackeray via the youth wing of the Shiv Sena. The petition claimed the UGC was “ignoring the physical and mental health… and safety of students” by insisting the exams be held.

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The court also asked the Home Ministry to make its stand clear; earlier this month the ministry said final-year exams could take place. The centre said it would reply by Monday (August 3) but stressed that all students should continue to prepare for their exams.

“By Monday we will (but) nobody should be under the impression that they cannot prepare. Students should prepare for the exam,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said.

Another of the petitioners also argued that the floods in Bihar made conduct of exams difficult and an interim order should be passed, which the court refused to do.

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The UGC, which has been criticised for holding final-year exams despite a worrying surge in coronavirus cases across the country, said yesterday that its decision “was not arbitrary… (and) call by some states for cancellation will impact standards”.

A special chance will be given to those unable to appear for the exams, the UGC added.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, consisting of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy and MR Shah, heard the case today via video conference.

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What UGC told court on Thursday 

  • UGC filed a 50-page affidavit on a batch of petitions, including the one filed by Shiv Sena’s youth wing ‘Yuva Sena’, which have challenged its guidelines issued on July 6 for holding the exams in September amidst the persisting coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
  • UGC said it requested the expert committee to revisit the April 29 guidelines, by which it had asked the Universities and Institutions to hold final year examinations in July 2020.
  • UGC said the expert committee recommended terminal semester/final year examinations should be conducted by universities/ institutions by the end of September, 2020 in offline (pen & paper)/ online/ blended (online + offline) mode. 
  • Based on the committee report, UGC said it immediately issued revised guidelines that all universities/ institutions are obligated to conduct terminal semester/final year exams by the end of September, 2020.
  • UGC said it has issued such guidelines to ‘protect the academic future of students across the country which will be irreparably damaged if their final year/terminal semester examinations are not held, while also keeping in mind their health and safety’.

What students demand 

  • The petitioners demand cancellation of exams and award of degrees and marksheets on the basis of internal marks and past assessment.
  • In a rebuttal to the UGC’s reply, the lead petitioner in the case (31 students from all over India) have stated that UGC’s reply ignores hassles of students and would make them face losses in employment options and admission. 

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