Final-Yr Exams Compulsory, But Can Push Deadline: SG Mehta to SC

All counsels have been asked to submit a note on their submissions/arguments before the SC within three days.

4 min read
The petitioners have asked for final-year university exams to be replaced by internal assessment. 

The Centre on Tuesday, 18 August, told the Supreme Court that universities across the country may seek more time for conducting final-year examinations but cannot offer degrees without conducting them in the first place.

The apex court has reserved its order and closed hearing in the matter, while asking all counsels to submit notes on their arguments within three days.

Appearing for the Centre and the University Grants Commission (UGC) , Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told a three-judge bench that “Universities can seek for the deadline to be pushed, however, they cannot take the decision to confer degrees without holding exams.”

The bench, headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, was hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the UGC guidelines issued on 6 July, that mandate conduct of final-year exams by the end of September 2020.

What did SG Mehta say?

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that a state-level committee constituted by Maharashtra in May 2020 had recommended the conduct of final-year exams and the same was accepted by the state. However, later, there was a “political somersault by the Maharashtra government in this matter,” SG Mehta said.

Maintaining that many universities had already conducted exams online, offline or in a hybrid mode, SG Mehta asserted that performance in exams bring scholarship, recognition and job opportunities.

“The students are 21-22-year-olds. Can you really believe that they will not be going out ?”
Tushar Mehta, Solicitor General

Pointing out that that 2003 UGC regulations mandate minimum standard for giving the first degree, Mehta added that the central government has the supremacy to override the decision of a university to not conduct exams due to several factors.

What were the arguments put forward by Maharashtra?

Appearing for the state of Maharashtra, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar told a three-judge bench that “the State is the worst affected”. Referring to a 2016 judgment, Datar argued that the UGC can “lay down standards, but it can’t compel exams to be held”.

When Datar tried to raise the point of the welfare of students, Justice Bhushan replied saying that “Only the authorities can decide what is in their welfare. Students are not competent enough to decide”.

During the hearing, Justice B Subhash Reddy asked if not holding exams would lead to dilution of standards, after which Datar asked if IITs could pass students without exams, why could the UGC not follow suit?

“IIT itself is going to issue degrees without conducting the final exams...If a central institute of international repute can do this, why can’t we?”
Arvind Datar, Senior Advocate

Justice Bhushan then pointed out that the court is not concerned with IITs in this particular matter.

What is the solution sought by Maharashtra?

Claiming that not conducting final-year exams would not lead to dilution of standards, Datar said that a three-year degree course comprises six semesters and that he is merely suggesting that a student who has finished five semesters be passed without exams as they would have passed majority of the papers.

Stating that the UGC cannot dictate universities to complete examinations by 30 September, Datar said that guidelines issued by the UGC on 6 July should be struck down.

He further questioned how exams could be conducted in states like Maharashtra, which has been the worst-hit by COVID-19. He said that forcing exams on states would violate Article 14 as it would attempt to treat the unequal equally.

Datar also pointed out that no university in Maharashtra was consulted by the UGC before it made conduct of exams mandatory by September.

What did Odisha say?

The AG of Odisha said that holding conventional exams will not possible as the coronavirus situation in the state is at its peak.

He also said that it would be a ‘herculean task’ for hostels to accommodate students as their owners are not willing to allow students in. He also said that the state government has been writing to the Centre, trying to explain the dire situation in Odisha.

What did other petitioners say?

Representing an association of teachers, Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta said that the question of holding exams in West Bengal does not arise as different centres have to be booked and students would have to travel for writing final-year papers.

‘Metro is not working, local trains are not working. Question of holding exams does not arise. Cannot be done!’ he said.

He further said that the UGC has failed to comply with section 12 of its own act, adding that only three persons cannot be consulted for arriving at a decision that affects all universities across the country.

What do the UGC guidelines say?

  • According to revised UGC guideline, final-year university examinations may be conducted by the end of September, either online, offline or through a combination of both.
  • The guidelines also say that in case a student is unable to write final-year exams, they can appear for a special examination at a later period, as and when feasible.
  • For students of the first and second semester, there have been no change in guidelines. This means that universities can evaluate students on the basis of internal assessment and marks scored in previous semesters, if they are unable to conduct exams due to the prevailing situation.

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