Mumbai University: Blame game galore in online assessment mess; hapless students suffer silently

Mumbai: The credibility of Mumbai University (MU), which is the oldest university in the state, is at stake yet again because of the faux pas over online assessment that has delayed declaration of results. The mess is a result of lack of vision by boisterous decision-makers, shortcomings in the system, staff crunch and political nonchalance.

 Mumbai University: Blame game galore in online assessment mess; hapless students suffer silently

Mumbai University. Image courtesy Simon Alexander Jacob

MU is racing against time to deliver the results of over 400 examinations held in March and April this year.

The deadline set by Chancellor C Vidyasagar Rao is 31 July and for the MU it is an uphill task. In all probabilities, the deadline is likely to be missed, given the situation prevailing in the university.

The delay in declaration of results within the stipulated period has affected students seeking admissions to higher education, especially those aspiring to study in foreign universities. The MU is now struggling to issue provisional certificates for such students based on performance in earlier semesters as an ad hoc measure, which will tarnish its image in the international arena.

The root cause of the delay is the digital assessment of answer sheets that included on-screen marking of answer papers already scanned and uploaded on a common digital platform. The assessed ones were to be rated and results uploaded by examiners. The intention was to enhance transparency to curb malpractices and deliver prompt results.

However, the decision-makers did not take into consideration the possible practical hitches. For instance, tenders for appointing an agency to set up the online system were floated in February, for examinations to be conducted in March and April. Evoking no response as desired by the MU, the tenders were re-invited in the middle of March, and for the third time in April. The agency was finalised in the last week of April and assessment began in the first week of May.

One of the major errors by the boisterous vice-chancellor and his staff was the poor assessment of grass root realities. Answer sheets had to be transported to examination centre that took a couple of days, the answer sheets had to be scanned and uploaded requiring time and then the actual online assessment had to begin. The MU officials did not take into consideration the staff crunch. Over the years, since 1985 the number of colleges affiliated to MU has gone up to 748 and the staff, even the non-teaching staff is not adequate to handle the increasing workload. There was ad-hocism even in key positions like the registrar and the controller of examinations.

Besides, examiners were a demoralised lot, still waiting for their remuneration for assessing papers last year. There were intermittent glitches like the server of the online assessment setup crashing, thereby denying access to examiners. Against this backdrop, the Chancellor of the University and Governor of Maharashtra Vidyasagar Rao rapped the vice-chancellor and issued a diktat that the MU must stick to its deadline of 31 July, rejecting a plea to extend it by a week. The jittery officials declared that colleges would observe noninstructional days for four days to facilitate the online assessment process in order to meet the deadline. The MU has been under a cloud for years for malpractices in examinations and appointment of its top officials. The ongoing crisis will further tarnish its credibility.

It is not just the officials who are responsible for the mess, but political interests, too, play a crucial role. The appointment of the vice-chancellor, for instance, has not been without controversies involving politicians. For instance, the tenure of former vice-chancellor Rajan Velukar had been mired in controversy and litigation over his eligibility for the post.

Ironically, it is not just politicians who are interested in interfering in high academic appointments, but even academic elites, before and after being appointed in high positions, like to hobnob with politicians. Whether it was Velukar meeting the then Congress minister Narayan Rane, or the incumbent vice-chancellor Sanjay Deshmukh rushing to meet Maharashtra Navnirman chief Raj Thackeray at the latter’s residence soon after his appointment, the mutual affection transcends political hues and the spectrum of faculties.

In the current mess, the heir apparent of Shiv Sena, Aditya Thackeray has demanded the removal of the vice-chancellor and also the education minister, Vinod Tawde of the BJP. Aditya, incidentally, had succeeded in pressurising the MU in removing Rohington Mistry’s book Such a Long Journey from the curriculum seven years ago as it had some alleged critical reference to Sena chief Bal Thackeray.

Reacting to Aditya’s demand, Tawde has snapped that the minister of state for higher and technical education is Shiv Sena’s Ravindra Waikar, and that probably Aditya was referring to Waikar. The hostility between the Sena and the BJP on various issues of governance is getting surreal, as they continue to remain united in the alliance ruling the state and the country as partners of Hindutva brigade. Neither the Sena walks out of power, nor the BJP sacks them from the alliance.

The detractors of the vice-chancellor are now demanding his head, while his supporters are shifting the blame to the lack of infrastructure and the staff for the mess. In the process, students are the worst hit. The situation may reach a flash point if students’ organisations decide to hit the streets on the issue.

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Updated Date: Jul 28, 2017 22:03:08 IST