Over 1,000,000 final year students of universities across Maharashtra are exhibiting signs of panic about whether their final pre-graduation exams will be held at all this year. If cancelled, those opting to write their final year exams may have to take a forced gap year with all further higher education plans in India and abroad cancelled. The steady rise of Covid-19 positive cases in the state — 54,758 and 1,792 deaths (May 27), the highest nationwide and climbing — has raised questions about the advisability of holding the academic year 2019-20 final year exams scheduled for July.
While the three-party — the Shiv Sena-led Maha vikas Aghadi (MvA) — government has proposed cancellation of all exams, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is pressurising state governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, ex-officio chancellor of 23 public universities in the state, to hold them.
On May 8, in line with the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines to state governments, higher and technical education minister Uday Samant, announced acrossthe-board promotion for first and second-year university students to the final year. But final year college and university students were scheduled to write their graduation exams in July.
However, Samant changed tack after the Yuva Sena — the Shiv Sena’s youth wing headed by Aditya Thackeray, minister for tourism and environment and son of chief minister Uddhav Thackeray — supported the demand for cancellation of final year exams on the ground that students writing them would be exposed to the Covid-19 contagion. This prompted Samant to write to the UGC (May 17) proposing cancellation of final year exams stating that “the feasibility of conducting the exams of approximately 8-10 lakh students while maintaining safety protocols seems very challenging”.
Inevitably, the demand for cancellation of these exams is opposed by the state’s main opposition party the BJP and the Akhil Bharatiya vidyarthi Parishad (ABvP) — the youth wing of the right wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the BJP. Writing directly to the Maharashtra governor Koshyari (appointed by the BJP government at the Centre), ABvP requested him to direct the state government to hold university final exams asap.
Unsurprisingly, Koshyari, a former BJP and RSS apparatchik, was quick to upbraid Samant’s “unwarranted intervention” without consulting with the chancellor’s office. In a letter to the chief minister, Koshyari described the minister’s demand for cancellation of the crucial final year exams as “unethical and in violation of UGC guidelines and also certain provisions of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016”. He also warned that awarding degrees without exams would adversely affect the employment prospects of graduates and hurt the credibility of Maharashtra’s universities.
Politicisation of this critical issue has dismayed students representatives. Comments Sachin Bansode, president, Chhatra Bharti, an independent students union of 15,000 members across 16 districts in the state: “What was the need for the Yuva Sena to make a public statement through letters demanding cancellation of exams when they could have bilaterally discussed the issue with education minister Samant, a Shiv Sena member? Instead of wasting days writing unnecessary letters, Samant should have taken a quick survey of students and university managements statewide. It’s deplorable that political parties are making political football of this critically important issue.”
On May 31 following a meeting with governor Koshyari after the state government extended the lockdown in Maharashtra to June 30, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced a cabinet decision to cancel final year college and university exams. Degrees will be awarded to 8-10 lakh students in higher education after evaluating their performance in semester exams and through the academic year. However, these students have the option to write formal examinations in October-November.
Adding to the confusion regarding the actual status of final year exams is the fact that days after the state’s chief minister declared exams cancelled, universities across the state are still to officially notify students about the cancellation.
The fallout of this huge cohort of untested students entering the jobs market at a time when the economy is forecast to contract by 5 percent and graduate unemployment at 36 percent is at its highest in three decades, is best left to the imagination.
Dipta Joshi (Mumbai)