Graduation fears as Indian Supreme Court insists on final exams

Degrees will not be granted without final-year assessments, even if they are delayed?

August 28, 2020
Source: iStock

The Supreme Court of India has ruled that university degrees cannot be granted without final exams being held, dismissing?petitions?that have called for greater flexibility for final-year students, and leaving them facing the prospect of being unable to graduate on time.

The ruling upholds earlier guidelines by the University Grants Commission, which had given institutions a 30 September deadline for holding exams. The court said that states could cancel?assessments or apply for extensions, but that exams would still be mandatory.

Students have been caught in the middle, as?online testing has been patchy, while in-person assessments have been hindered by the worst Covid-19?outbreak in Asia. On the day of the ruling, India had a record-high 77,266 new infections. Campuses have been closed since March.

Milind Sohoni, a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, co-authored?a column?in?The Indian Express?about efforts made in Maharashtra, where his institution is located. “Given the epidemic and concerns of safety, Maharashtra and some other states have cancelled the final-year exams for college students and wish to award grades and degrees based on in-semester performance,” he writes.

“Fresh graduates are losing job appointments simply because they cannot furnish a final degree certificate.”

He asked, rhetorically: “Can states really hold exams during a pandemic? Are they really that important? Can transport or access to computers be managed? Did the central [grants] committee consider all this?”

The Supreme Court also weighed in on a separate case related to college entrance exams, particularly the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medicine and the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for engineering, which are expected to be taken by about 2 million school leavers.

Six states have asked the court to review the holding of the in-person admissions exams,?NDTV reported. The NEET and JEE are now scheduled for the first half of September, after already being delayed twice.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to delay the exams, while students have launched online campaigns and staged hunger strikes. One issue is that the Covid-19 lockdown has shut transport and hostel options, which are?essential for exam-takers?who do not live near testing sites.?

However, some university leaders feel that exams need to go on. Mamidala Kumar, vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University,?writes?in?The Times of India?that “any further delay in conducting these exams will lead to loss of one complete academic year for the students. It can upset their future plans and employment opportunities.” Professor Kumar adds that 86 per cent of candidates have already downloaded the needed documents, which “clearly shows that they are inspired to sit the exam.”

The Supreme Court had responded by saying that “in our opinion, although there is a pandemic situation, ultimately life has to go on and the careers of the students cannot be put in peril for long, and [a] full academic year cannot be wasted”.

The debate over testing during Covid-19 has been raging around the world.

The UK is grappling with its?A-levels debacle, which saw more than 250,000 results being downgraded after in-person exams were cancelled.??

In the US, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has asked that?standardised testing be made optional?for next year’s high-school leavers. Many US universities have already?waived these requirements?this year.?

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com?

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