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Nalsar, NUJS cancel exams, scale prior marks • +50% students may not have ‘effective access’ to online exams • BCI (mostly) agrees

Pencil and paper exams may not be happening for a while
Pencil and paper exams may not be happening for a while

Nalsar Hyderabad and NUJS Kolkata have opted not to hold online exams this semester in light of potential difficulties faced by students, in contrast to NLSIU Bangalore, which has opted for students to sit their final exams entirely online in six- to eight-hour exams spread out over a longer time period.

According to The Telegraph, all NUJS students would be granted provisional promotions, giving 50% weightage to students’ previous examination performance with the remainder being awarded on other work completed this semester, though earlier online exams had been conducted in April.

Nalsar too has gone down a similar path, despite the academic council (AC) having initially approved online exams; however, some students had then raised concerns, according to Nalsar vice-chancellor (VC) Prof Faizan Mustafa.

The Bar Council of India (BCI), meanwhile, as first shared by an anonymous reader in on Legally India Topical, has told VCs in a circular dated 27 May 2020 that online exams would only be fine for final-year students, while intermediate year students should be be advanced on the basis of previous years’ performance (excerpt below).

BCI circular to VCs
BCI circular to VCs

Nalsar rationales

Mustafa explained that for the 16 May AC, “for the first time in Nalsar history I invited three student reps to attend AC meeting” and that finally the AC had decided to “scale up marks rather than have online exam”, because they “did not want students to have any mental stress of online exam” and “did not want elite to have an advantage over less privileged”, particularly over internet access issues.

Update 10 June 2020: It is understood from several sources, that Nalsar has implemented a so-called “no detriment” policy, which means that “for the end semester component of each subject, the higher of either the sum of midsem and project scores, or a score derived from the student’s CGPA, will be taken”.

Furthermore, Nalsar had removed the deadline on internal project submissions so that results would now be declared on a rolling basis, he said. “If scaling up adversely affects CGPA we will take CGPA of earlier semester so that students are not at a disadvantage.”

“Thus our session is on track,” added Mustafa. “Since no resit exams are there we are starting our new session on July 1.”

“We completed all our teaching as per time table and posted pen drives though no examination was going to be held,” he noted, adding that he “does not see examination as the ultimate goal of education” and that .

Prof Amita Dhanda, Nalsar’s dean academic affairs, explained that the decision was made based on a “combination of accessibility, stress and concerns from both students and teachers about holding unproctored exams which caused us to follow this method for mandatory and some elective courses” (though not to seminars and visiting courses).

She added: “We have been trying to worry about what are the dictates of fairness when faced with an act of God.”

“How to help our young students cope with uncertainty” and worrying about “how to make learning effective” during this crisis, had been the priorities during the crisis, she said. While agreeing that tough choices had to be made, she added: “We prefer tough choices which lean towards kindness.”

The numbers around access

We have asked Dhanda for some further statistics on how many students were potentially facing issues of access in the case of online exams.

“The answer to the question would depend upon how you define access,” she said. “The people who have no or very limited access is about 50% in the post-graduate students. In the undergraduate students with no access whatsoever may be 60 odd students.

“But the numbers climb hugely that is more than half when you speak about effective access. Here questions of stability of connections and cost of the service come into play. NALSAR has provided for reimbursement of upgraded connections and to that extent attempted to help.”

But access is not just about internet, according to the Nalsar academic council dean.

“I would also in the context of access want us to address questions of restricted physical spaces in many homes; questions of domestic discord and mental distress. And the emotional disconnect that online learning seems to bring,” she said.

“We are trying to address these at NALSAR in active conversations between students, faculty and administration for the coming semester. The evaluation process for this semester was devised in the same manner.

“For us flexibility and the need to listen to each other is key. It is important for us to continually acknowledge that the situation far from being perfect is quite horrible for many. It is important for us to remember this at all times so that our functioning promotes solidarity and kindness.

“Any university but especially a law school needs to think so that rules are not followed for their own sake but are tweaked where necessary to achieve the purpose for which they were made.”

Photo by Ryan McGilchrist

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