The Supreme Court (SC) has begun hearing the plea filed by a bunch of students against University Grants Commission’s July 7 decision to make UGC final year exams mandatory across colleges and universities. It is likely that the hearing will conclude on August 18.
A Supreme Court Bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan is hearing the matter. During the hearing, Justice Bhushan questioned whether the final semester examinations can be skipped by students.
“If there is a direction of UGC, the university cannot dilute it. If one university dilutes it, every other university will act in the same manner,” said Justice Bhushan.
In his submissions on behalf of Maharashtra government, senior advocate Arvind Datar said that there are practical difficulties in conducting the exams in the state, especially since it is the worst-affected by COVID-19.
He added that UGC can lay standards for conducting exams but cannot force examinations to be held. He also cited the April UGC guidelines where states were given the right to decide on the exams depending on the situation.
Responding to this, Justice MR Shah said that UGC is not conducting exams and that it upto the universities.
Also, Justice Bhushan added that only the authorities will be able to decide students’ welfare and that students are not ‘competent’ enough to decide.
Datar explained that not holding the exams would not be a dilution. He added that when it comes to the non-professional courses, students have already completed five semesters out of six and that there is the Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) system.
However, Justice Bhushan responded saying that not all universities in India follow the semester system.
Students had sought cancellation of the examinations citing health concerns due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
On August 13, UGC in its reply to the affidavits filed by the Delhi and Maharashtra governments said the cancellation of final year exams is not in students’ interests and that this would ‘irreparably’ damage the future of these students.
Further, the ministry of home affairs also said in its affidavit that exams were permitted for final year students taking into account the academic interests of these candidates.
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In another reply to the government of Odisha , UGC has said that any decision to cancel exams by a state government would violate UGC guidelines and also impact the standards of higher education.
The governments of Delhi and Maharashtra had filed an affidavit in the apex court that they will not be conducting examinations due to the coronavirus outbreak.
On July 7, UGC said the end-term examination for all final-year students would have to be mandatorily held by the end of September 2020 in offline (pen & paper), online or blended mode. This was opposed by several state governments like that of Maharashtra, West Bengal as also by final-year university students.
SG Tushar Mehta said in the July 27 hearing that out of 818 universities in India, 209 have already completed the examinations while 394 are in the process of completing the examinations. He added that 35 universities have not reached final year exams.
On July 30, UGC had informed the SC that if students are unable to appear for the examinations by September 30, he/she will be given an opportunity to appear at a specially conducted exam at a later date.
However, the 31 lead petitioners in the SC case refused to accept this reply and said that the UGC’s response does not take into consideration the hassles faced by students if exams keep getting postponed. The petitioners had also said job prospects and future admission opportunities for students will be hampered.
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