The University of Mumbai, the largest and oldest in Maharashtra, faces an unprecedented crisis — final year results are delayed like never before, and the future of close to 4.2 lakh students — 90% of the over 4.7 lakh who wrote the exams in April-May — is on the line.
What is going on? Why are the results delayed?
The 160-year-old university has traditionally declared final year results by mid-June. This year, results of only 200-odd of the 477 examinations have been declared so far. A delay of another week is expected.
This delay of almost two months has been attributed to the university’s decision to hastily introduce a process of “on-screen assessment”. Students and politicians are now holding Vice Chancellor Sanjay Deshmukh responsible for putting the future of students in jeopardy — the VC has been accused of unilaterally deciding to overhaul the entire system, despite calls from all quarters to introduce the change in a phased manner. Student organisations and opposition parties want the VC to resign as punishment for his “short-sightedness”; the issue has also figured prominently in the monsoon session of the Legislative Assembly.
But what is this “on-screen assessment”? Why did the University of Mumbai have to embrace it?
On-screen marking or OSM is a way to evaluate answersheets using technology. Answersheets are scanned on to computers, and the evaluation and marking is done digitally. The Central Board of Secondary Education, Manipal University, Rajasthan Administrative Services and Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences in Bengaluru are some of the institutes that use this method of assessment, apart from Mumbai University. By itself, the method is considered scientific.
The OSM switch was triggered by a cheating scandal. In May 2016, the Bhandup police busted a racket in which answersheets were extracted from the university campus, tampered with, and replaced. Following the bust, the VC announced in January this year that all final year answersheets would be evaluated digitally.
So, what went wrong?
There are a host of reasons for the delay, but the key factor was the university’s failure to appoint an agency to help with implementing the new system in time. Bids for hiring the agency were invited ahead of time, but the response from private parties was lukewarm. The deadline to close the online tendering process was extended four times. To attract contractors, the university also eased the technical criteria. Finally, at the fifth attempt, an agency was appointed on April 27 — which meant that the process of assessment, which usually begins three days after the exams, was delayed by more than a month.
The university also did not have the infrastructure to handle the transition, and the teachers were unacquainted with the new system. After a hastily arranged training process, when teachers began assessments, technical glitches surfaced, slowing things down.
How does the delay affect students?
Over 4.2 lakh final year students stare at the prospect of losing a year. Students who have secured admission to universities abroad or within the country are in a helpless situation. The deadline to submit documents is usually in the first week of August. The admission and visa application processes are stuck in the absence of results. Those looking for jobs, too, are in a difficult situation — students have complained that prospective employers are unwilling to wait indefinitely for the university to declare results.
An overwhelming concern is that glitches in the system might lead to discrepancies in marking and inaccurate assessments.
What are the government and the university doing about the crisis?
Following uproar in the media, Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao, who is also Chancellor of the University of Mumbai, set a deadline of July 31 for the declaration of results. The government appointed an expert as Officer on Special Duty to help with the assessment and to monitor its progress. The university decided to delegate some of the assessment work to teachers in other state universities such as Nagpur, Pune and Aurangabad. But this has not made a significant difference.
After outrage in the House, the government has now launched a probe into the delay in the declaration of results.