Woes of a 2020 graduate

The “Kabhi haan, Kabhi naa” mindset of the authorities has plagued several students into pits of doubt and despair for the last six months.

When I made my 2020 planner on the first day of this year, I marked important academic and professional dates for the next six months.

The first of these was my university graduation due in the month of March. We are now in September and the aforementioned graduation still seems a far mile away. To be fair, nothing about this year has been normal. With the coronavirus setting in from early March and a nationwide lockdown being declared from the end of that month, we’ve lived a life that is completely different from anything we might have experienced before. As a citizen, I understand and abide by the clauses and rules set forth by the institutions that govern us. But, as a student, I have a few grievances.

I am a Final Year Economics student in Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College. Our final exams were a day away when Mumbai University issued an announcement to postpone the exams, in line with the safety concerns of having students assemble in large numbers. Though there was the momentary relief of not having to study, it was coupled with the uncertainty of not knowing when and how these exams will take place. Or if they’d take place at all.

With a national lockdown in place in April and May, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Mumbai University (MU) had envisaged conducting exams after the first lockdown that was to end somewhere around mid-April.

Here’s a broad timeline of how the events panned out in Maharashtra.

  • The first significant announcement was made on May 8 when Mumbai University exempted all students, except final year students, from appearing for written exams. They were to be marked on an average of their past semesters’ performances and internal examinations. The written exams for the final year students were tentatively set between July 1-July 30.
  • This move met with widespread opposition from the student community who insisted on exam cancellation. Online petitions were circulated, Twitter and Instagram campaigns were conducted, letters were written to college principals, student union heads and the State Education Ministry. With the momentum against exams growing with every passing day, the state authorities conducted a meeting to review the situation where the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray favoured the decision for cancellation of exams.
  • The uncertainty would have ended there but for State Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s rejection of the exam cancellation decision. He called it a violation of the Public Universities Act and granted his permission for conducting all under-graduate and post-graduate exams in Maharashtra.
  • Post this, the situation took a legal turn with as many as 31 students from different universities across India approaching the Supreme Court to quash the UGC circular dated July 6 in which all universities in the country have been asked to wrap up final term examinations by September 30. A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan heard the pleas from July 27 onwards.
  • The final verdict of the highest court was pronounced on August 28, 2020 where the Court declared that students cannot be promoted without writing final-year exams; thereby upholding the decision of the UGC. The mode, form and structure of the examination is to be reviewed, discussed, deliberated upon by the Vice Chancellors and Education Minister and decided in the first week of September.

This timeline of events has been laced with problems from the very beginning. Apart from the perpetual uncertainty surrounding their graduation, students are also unsure of their future plans.

Uncertain futures

A few of my friends have had confirmed job offers retracted, partly due to the COVID-19 induced financial crunch and partly due to the clause by which companies cannot employ someone who is not a University graduate yet. Some others are facing trouble with their international University applications as they require the Graduating Certificate, transcripts and marksheets of all the six semesters.

The decision to hold exams in late September-early October is also troublesome for students who are aiming to crack entrance examinations for professional courses. October to December is the peak entrance exam season for most premier MBA institutes in the country- IIMs, NMIMS, JBIMS, Symbiosis- and several others. Being an aspirant myself, I can vouch for the fact that the inevitable clash between University exams and Entrance exams is a cause for academic distress. It is going to be tough to shift from one mode of studying to the other within a matter of days.

Another major shortcoming is the logistical feasibility of examinations. Uday Samant, Minister of Higher Education and Technical Education, Maharashtra, has ruled out the possibility of physical examinations. Maharashtra has been the worst-affected state in India with 15,000-odd new Covid positive cases every day. This, coupled with the fact that several students come from other cities to study in Mumbai, makes it illogical to conduct physical exams. Online assessments, open book examinations or online Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs) are the most viable options being discussed at the moment. However, it is not right to assume that the lakhs of students appearing for this exam will have uniform access to a PC/laptop and a stable internet connection enabling them to write an online exam. To take all these factors into consideration and present a holistic solution will be a task for the State and country likewise.

I understand that armchair criticism is easier than on-ground implementation of solutions. The Government, Universities and other Educational Institutions have been striving to resolve this dispute for some time now and their efforts have to be lauded. While I don’t mean to put down any of the above establishments, we would just like a faster, clearer and conclusive picture of this matter. The “Kabhi haan, Kabhi naa” mindset has plagued several students into pits of doubt and despair for the last six months. In what will probably be the most formative year of their career, students would like a little support on this end. These exams are important but the goals and aspirations of the students are equally, if not more important. At the moment, we can just hope that a decision is made quickly, the evaluation is done and we are handed our (long-overdue!) degrees so we can put them to actual use and move on with our lives.

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