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Explained: Maharashtra cancelling higher education exams could face a legal hurdle, spell trouble for students

Unless the Centre brings out uniform guidelines to cancel final year exams and issue degrees, uncertainty continues for students in Maharashtra.

June 29, 2020 / 02:59 PM IST
Students and parents from across the country are demanding postponement of the JEE-NEET exams due to COVID-19 pandemic

Students and parents from across the country are demanding postponement of the JEE-NEET exams due to COVID-19 pandemic

The Maharashtra government on Monday decided to cancel the final-year examinations of professional and non-professional courses. Chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said that the decision was taken by the State Disaster Management Authority in the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

However, industry experts and regulatory officials told Moneycontrol that there will be legal hurdles as the state government cannot take such a decision without the Centre’s nod.

Maharashtra is the only state to cancel these exams. Here is a look at why the power to cancel higher education examinations for final-year students does not lie with the Maharashtra government alone.

Professional and non-professional courses

Since education is on the Concurrent List of the Constitution of India, the central as well as state governments have the right to pass regulations. However, there is a distinction between professional and non-professional courses.

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Higher educational courses in a state, like Maharashtra, include general education courses like undergraduate/post-graduate programmes in science, commerce and humanities.

Individual universities offering these courses fall under the purview of the state government as well as the University Grants Commission (UGC). The UGC regulates all universities in the country, be it public or private.

When it comes to professional courses, statutory bodies like the All India Council for Technical Education, Council of Architecture, Medical Council of India, Pharmacy Council of India, Bar Council of India, National Council for Teachers Education as well as National Council for Hotel Management & Catering Technology come into the picture.

Also read: Maharashtra governor disagrees with CM Thackeray on exam cancellation

Only when all these bodies endorse the decision will there be a wider acceptance of the Thackeray-led government’s decision. Thackeray has also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting his intervention in the matter.

Awarding degrees

Even though the final-year examinations will be cancelled in Maharashtra, Thackeray said on Monday that the state government has decided to award degrees based on the formula decided by the universities. Such a formula hasn’t been decided yet.

Regulatory officials, however, said that for both professional and non-professional courses, approval by the UGC and the respective bodies (like AICTE, Bar Council, Medical Council) would be required.

So, even if a state government decides to cancel examinations and award degrees, it would be acceptable only if the central government endorses the decision. The UGC Act 1956 gives it the sole right to decide on conducting examinations across universities in India and awarding degrees after assessments. As per law, the decision of the central government on awarding degrees would be final and binding on all parties.

Uniform formula for evaluation of students

Considering the COVID-19 situation in Maharashtra, with 1,64,626 positive cases, it would be tough to conduct physical examinations at colleges/universities. Online examinations would not be feasible since not all students have access to laptops, computers and a stable internet connection.

UGC guidelines had called for final-year examinations in July 2020 and Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had said on multiple occasions in May and June that examinations for final-year students cannot be cancelled.

Against this backdrop, if Maharashtra decides to go ahead and award degrees, these qualifications may not be recognised by other states and the central government. Thackeray had, in a June 16 video conference with PM Modi, requested him to direct the officials to issue uniform guidelines for college/university examination cancellations. But no such direction yet been issued by the MHRD and the Centre.

What’s next?

Even though the state government has announced the cancellation of examinations citing the disaster management protocol, uncertainty for higher education students in Maharashtra continues.

Giving an option to students to appear for examinations at a later date only increases confusion since there is no idea about when COVID-19 will abate and universities will be able to conduct multiple assessments and examinations.

Unless the central government cancels all these examinations and detailed guidelines on assessment of students are issued, the decision to cancel exams by just one state will hamper the academic future and career prospects of the students.
M Saraswathy
first published: Jun 29, 2020 02:25 pm

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