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Tamil Nadu: Deepening rot

EducationWorld July 12 | Education News EducationWorld

A major examination scam has rocked the University of Madras (UoM, estb. 1857), exposing the deep rot which has seeped into and festers within this hallowed institution of higher education. An internal investigation conducted last December has unearthed a major tampering of marks racket and procedural lapses in the BE/B.Tech  (arrears) exam last year. Tampering (inflation) of marks in answer scripts has also been detected in exams conducted by Madras University’s Institution of Distance Education (IDE).

Following the investigation, 30 UoM staff members were chargesheeted under s.17(a) and 17(b) of the Tamil Nadu Civil Services (Disputes and Appeal) Rules and 21 employees including controller of examinations T. Leo Alexander have charges slapped upon them for alleged malpractices in last year’s exam. Alexander who was also holding additional charge as registrar of UoM resigned from this post last month (June) but continues to retain the position of controller of exams. Curiously, UoM hasn’t yet taken any action against the chargesheeted officials, permitting them prolonged time to provide “explanations”.

Ironically, the alleged malpractices and rigging of mark sheets in the BE/B. Tech (arrears) exam were first brought to the notice of vice chancellor G. Thiruvasagam in June, 2011 by the indicted controller of exams, Leo Alexander who found that an engineering student who hadn’t passed his  arrear papers in ten years, cleared 36 papers in a single sitting. The university’s syndicate constituted a four-member committee headed by Prof. S. Karunanidhi which probed the allegations and submitted its report in December, 2011 recommending charge-sheets against 30 university officials including seven exam superintendents.

Yet it’s a measure of the varsity’s reluctance to take swift action against its staff, that another four-member committee — chaired by syndicate member K. Subburaj and comprising  retired deputy general of police C.L. Ramakrishnan and two state government officials — was appointed to further investigate the charges. Submitting its report in May, the Subburaj Committee indicted 21 more officials including Leo Alexander for fraudulent practices.

The malpractices include awarding marks for unanswered questions, inflating marks, scheduling 130 exams on dates different from the days fixed by the university to suit candidates, allowing candidates who had not paid exam fees to write exams and forging answer scripts for absentee students. The committee which scrutinised 500 answer scripts of students who had taken the IDE (May, 2011) examinations found 275 of them were tampered with whiteners and razor blades.

The extent and brazenness of the frauds has shocked and angered syndicate members, professors and faculty who are demanding stringent action against the 51 officials charged. The Professors’ Forum of Madras University (PFMU) has strongly criticised the vice chancellor for failing to take action against the offenders, and appealed to the state government to intervene in the matter even as a petition has been submitted to the higher education minister seeking a CBI-CID probe into the scandal. “Although instances of malpractice were brought to the notice of the university authorities in June last year, the vice chancellor has not taken any action to date except for forming three separate committees whose proceedings have been prolonged for 11 months. This clearly indicates purposeful delay of investigations,” says Prof. S.S Sundaram, general secretary of PFMU.

Informed academics in Chennai are unsurprised by the university’s attempts to brush the issue under the carpet. “Caste-based politics is at the root of malpractices recurring in the university. Caste groups across departments conspire and collude to tamper with answer scripts. If culprits are caught, they use political influence to get away scot free. The vice chancellor is in a tight corner and finds it difficult to take action against offenders,” says a former professor of Madras University, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Confronted with a rising chorus of demands for action, the UoM management is planning to introduce a 13-digit security code to ensure mark sheets are tamper proof and minimise manual procedures. But such technical tinkering is unlikely to change the situation unless supplemented with a strong movement of students, alumni and citizen activists to fight recurrent fraudulent practices which have gravely compromised the reputation of this vintage seat of learning.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)

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