CHENNAI: The conduct of arrear exams for engineering students in Tamil Nadu is at the eye of a storm leaving many confused.
In major developments on the matter, the State government on Tuesday has defended its decision in the Madras High Court to cancel arrear exams for college students in the state. Meanwhile, AICTE Chairman Anil Sahasrabuddhe has asserted in an informal but strongly worded email to Anna University, on August 30, that the council may be constrained to withdraw the varsity's approval if the arrear exams were not conducted.
The Court was hearing two PILs moved by former Anna University vice-chancellor E Balaguruswamy and advocate Ramkumar Aditiyan challenging the government's order cancelling arrear exams in the state.
The arrear confusion
On July 23, the government announced the cancellation of April-May 2020 semester exams for all but final year students and on August 26, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami further ordered the Higher Education Department to issue detailed guidelines on the cancellation of all exams barring end semesters.
The government, in neither occasions, explicitly mentioned the word arrears in the orders that cancelled the various exams. However, on August 26 evening, commenting on the cancellation of arrear exams in a press conference, higher education minister KP Anbalgan said, "The government wanted to give a chance to all students who applied for the exam by passing them. If they had paid fees for the arrear exam, it means they were prepared to write the exam, but circumstances have prevented them."
The decision was welcomed by many in the State and students praised the government for being sensitive towards them during the pandemic. Many students had even taken to social media to say that the ruling government had even 'won their votes' by taking this decision. Since then, the issue has also gained political importance.
The legal battle
While cancelling the regular semester exams was not challenged, cancelling the arrears and graduating the students has caused concerns among educationalists.
Appearing of the state governmennt, advocate-general Vijay Narayanan argued in the high court on Tuesday, “The government order has been passed under the Disaster Management Act exercising the powers vested with the state disaster management authority under the legislation. Even the Apex Court has upheld such
rights and powers of the state authority under the Act if it does not conflict UGC guidelines."
Advocate E Vijay Anand, counsel for petitioner E Balaguruswamy, former VC of Anna University and a well-known educationalist, argued that only universities have such powers and the state government can not interfere in these matters. “Supreme Court has held that the UGC is the ultimate authority in such issues. UGC has advised the states only to promote the students keeping the backlogs. But the arrear exams itself cannot be cancelled,” he added.
Universities do not conduct exams and give results based on 'whims and fancies' of students and politicians. "Universities are highly autonomous bodies and their syndicates, senates and academic councils have all powers and authority and they can only decide about the conduct of exams and passing of results," said Balagurusamy, in a statement recently.
Vijay Anand argued further that if the decision of the Tamil Nadu government is not quashed, students across the country would claim cancellation of arrears as a right.
Recording the submissions, a division bench of Justice M M Sundresh and Justice R Hemalatha directed the state to file a detailed counter and adjourned the plea to September 30.
The AICTE stance
The AICTE is the national-level apex advisory body to conduct a survey on the facilities available for technical education and the council's approval is required by universities to run technical courses.
Sahasrabuddhe, in his email, remarked that he found it surprising that final year students, who had failed in various courses in the earlier semesters, are being passed without conducting examinations. "This is not acceptable to award marks without conducting any examination and graduating the students. Such students will not be recognised by industry or by other universities for higher education," he said in the mail.
Sahasrabuddhe further asserted that "AICTE will be constrained to withdraw the approval of Anna University."
While the state has defended its position in the Court on Tuesday, in a telephonic conversation with Express on Tuesday morning, Sahasrabuddhe claimed to be informed otherwise.
He said that he had discussed the issue with the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu. "He (Chief Secretary) also said that there is some misunderstanding...we are not waiving off exams for the failed students. It is somehow a wrong interpretation by people based on the circular which was issued which was very clear that (said) all AICTE UGC guidelines shall be followed," he elaborated adding, "which means the exams will be undertaken."
He further said that council will not be withdrawing the varsity's approval if arrear exams are held. "How can someone with backlogs be passed?" he wondered. Sahasrabuddhe further said that the remarks in the email will be meaningless if the state had not waived off the arrear exams.
Will the arrear exams be cancelled?
AICTE has not issued any official letter, it was an email, MK Surappa clarified to Express. When asked if Anna University issued any notification that waived off any arrear exam, Surappa said, "We have not issued any circular like that to students." He did not want to comment further on the issue.
Principal Secretary to the Higher Education Department S Apoorva was unavailable for comments through repeated calls.
"We will follow whatever direction the court gives," higher education minister KP Anbalagan told Express on a telephone call, responding to Express. Vice-Chancellors of some varsities too have expressed the same position on the matter.
(With inputs from SV Krishna Chaitanya)