As States cancel final year university examinations in defiance of University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines, both the Centre and the regulatory agency reiterated that the guidelines were legally binding on the States and must be followed. The University Grants Commission has said that states are not permissible to do so, and commission does have the power to take action against them.
“As per the UGC Act, State governments cannot take this decision. Unlike school education, which is on the State list, higher education is on the concurrent list. UGC and AICTE [All India Council for Technical Education] directives have to be implemented. It is there in the Act,” said the Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare, “It is not permissible for States to do like this. UGC does have the power to take action. First, we will try to take States on board”, he added. UGC reaction has come when Delhi announced the decision to cancel all state-level university examinations on July 11.
Till date states including Punjab, Maharashtra, Odisha, West Bengal have already canceled exams, written to the Centre that they do not wish to conduct the exams. The latest to join the states in canceling university examination in Delhi. However, UGC earlier directed states to conduct final year examinations by September end in online or offline mode. The regulatory body also asked states to follow revised guidelines on conducting examinations, citing the fear of COVID-19 cases spreading. On July 13, the UGC had directed that by September-end final year examinations must be conducted in online or offline mode. The Commission also said that the States which had already canceled examinations should comply with the fresh directions given by the Commission. “As per our guidelines, they are binding in nature. The original guidelines [on exams, issued in April] had flexibility, but guidelines are usually binding in nature,” said UGC general secretary Rajnish Jain. He mentioned that so far, UGC has only received a representation from Punjab, and has replied asking them to reconsider as the guidelines must be compulsorily adopted by States. “For us, all universities are similar in terms of implementation of guidelines, wherever they are,” added Prof. Jain. “We have given them different options on when and how to conduct the exams, based on their COVID situation. They are free to choose within those options.” On April 27, the UGC directed all the universities to conduct exams. Final-year examinations in universities will have to be conducted by September-end, the HRD Ministry reiterated Monday i.e, July 6, deferring the schedule from July in view of a spike in COVID-19 cases. However, students unable to appear in final-year exams in September will get another chance and universities will conduct special exams "as and when feasible", according to revised guidelines issued by UGC. The decision by the HRD Ministry came following a nod from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to conduct the exams as per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) approved by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The Delhi University Teachers' Association (DUTA) Monday expressed its disappointment over the UGC guidelines on exams, saying that they show "complete disregard for students". DUTA, in a statement, said it "is appalled at the manner in which the government has cleared the way for forcing a sham of an exam on students. An exam that has no sanctity and is discriminatory towards a large section of students is clearly being pushed with no other motive than to promote big business in the education." "The UGC and HRD Ministry have shown a complete disregard for students with the revised guidelines," it added. NSUI in-charge Ruchi Gupta said the UGC had failed to follow legal norms by not holding consultations with States before announcing its guidelines. “Under the UGC Act, UGC must hold consultations before taking such decisions. No such consultations were held, at least not with State universities in non-BJP ruled states,” she said. She also raised questions regarding the panel headed by UGC member R.C. Kuhad, which was asked to make recommendations on the issue. “What was actually in the Kuhad Committee report? Why was that not made public?” she asked. HRD Secretary Khare indicated that the Centre is also closely watching the proceedings in the ongoing Delhi High Court case on Delhi University exams. The next hearing is on July 14. “Consider the future if those degrees are granted without any assessments. Even if the final term [degrees] are granted now without exams, what will happen to the next term? If COVID continues for a year, will we start granting degrees without exams for years together?” asked Mr. Khare. “Or if there is some other exigency somewhere else, then this practice may actually affect the entire education system. Next, somebody in Bihar will say there were floods this year so now you give degree [without exams] …This populist action versus long term goals of the education system needs to be considered together,” he added.