Online university exams a ‘remote possibility’ as UGC officials highlight host of concerns
UGC committee is studying the issue of online exams, but it has received ‘serious concerns’ on India’s ability to conduct them for all university students.

Online examinations across universities in India seem to be a remote possibility amid the Covid-19 lockdown, as the University Grants Commission (UGC) thinks India doesn’t have the required wherewithal to conduct them, ThePrint has learnt.

Most central universities have had to postpone their final exams, which usually take place in March and April, due to the restrictions brought in to curb the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

The UGC last week had constituted a seven-member committee, headed by Haryana University vice-chancellor R.C. Kuhad, to look into higher education matters such as examinations and continuing the academic session. This committee also seems to be against the idea of conducting online exams, as it feels India does not have the required infrastructure for it.

The committee, which is supposed to submit its report to the government by today, 13 April, is yet ready to do so. But sources aware of the developments said the committee is not in favour of online examinations, a thought echoed by officials in the UGC as well. Instead, discussions are on to postpone exams until whenever colleges and universities can re-open.

Committee chief Kuhad told ThePrint: “We have received some serious concerns and various suggestions regarding holding exams, and we are working towards finding a solution.”

UGC officials sum up concerns

A senior UGC official, who did not wish to be named, explained the problem in conducting online exams in India.

“Online examinations in universities look like a remote possibility, because we do not have a mechanism of conducting exams through online mode. Also, there are many students who are in rural areas, or areas that do not have proper access to facilities. How will they be able to write exams?” the official said.

“These are the questions that the committee is dealing with, and is tilting against the idea of having online exams. What they are looking at, instead, is suggesting that the universities conduct exams after June, once the schools and colleges are open. We also agree with the idea that universities are not capable of holding online examinations,” the official added.

A second UGC official concurred. “There are lakhs of students across various universities in India. Holding online examinations for such a huge number of students across will be difficult because of the lack of infrastructure,” this official said.

“How will the universities make sure students are not cheating sitting at home? How will they ensure this facility is not misused? There are a lot of concerns that the stakeholders will have to look at.”

UGC secretary Rajnish Jain told ThePrint that as soon as the committee submits its report to the government and receives an OK from the human resource development ministry, “a formal announcement will be made for all universities to follow”.

Teachers also oppose online exams

Teachers’ organisations have also asked the government not to conduct exams online.

The Delhi University Teachers’ Association expressed its apprehensions in a statement released Sunday, saying: “Online education model cannot be a substitute to regular classroom teaching. It does not work in a country where internet connectivity and smartphones are limited to a class of students only.”

The Akhil Bharatiya Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh (ABRSM), an RSS-affiliated teachers’ body, also gave several suggestions to the UGC about exams and academic sessions, but did not talk about online examinations.

“First preference should be given to the completion of examinations for final semester/year of graduation and post-graduation after opening of HEIs (higher education institutions). The decision regarding method of conducting the examinations other than final examination should be left to universities, but mass promotion should be avoided,” the body said in a letter to the UGC.

“The exams may be conducted by administering question papers through multiple choice questions in OMR sheets to facilitate early results,” it added.

DU preparing for online exams

Universities have some autonomy when it comes to decisions on holding exams, but most of them are waiting for the UGC directive in an unprecedented situation like this.

The Delhi University, for example, has already begun preparations for conducting online exams, despite the uncertainty about the academic calendar and opposition from its teachers’ union. But it too is waiting for a UGC nod.

“There are more than nine lakh students in Delhi University who are waiting to write their exams. Keeping their future in mind, we have begun preparations for conducting online exams. But we are still awaiting directions from UGC to go ahead with the plan,” Vinay Gupta, dean of examinations at DU, said.