Mumbai University should learn from result fiasco, restore crumbling system and students' faith

Year after year, thousands of students studying in Mumbai University-affiliated colleges bear the brunt of delayed results, faulty evaluations, and inefficient administrative systems. While the grievance cell and helpline numbers are largely inaccessible, a look at unofficial complaint portals online unearth the cracks in the system: students are particularly troubled by severely delayed results, errors in evaluation and unavailability of marksheets even after result declaration.

Mumbai University. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Mumbai University. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

An RTI filed by activist Vihar Durve revealed that nearly 73,000 students or 30 percent of the 2.19 lakh applicants for re-evaluation of papers between 2014 and April 2016 were erroneously failed. The results of the re-evaluated papers are often declared after repeat examinations have already been conducted.

Mumbai University has nearly 750 colleges within its ambit. This year, about 19 lakh answer scripts were produced by 5 lakh undergraduate and postgraduate students studying in affiliated colleges. Although not all examinations are evaluated centrally, the university is nevertheless under-resourced both in terms of infrastructure and manpower to be able to efficiently operate a system of this magnitude.

It is not only a severe dearth of educators in these colleges – top administrative positions, indispensable for structure, direction, regulation and oversight, remain conspicuously vacant. The position of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, responsible for overseeing examinations and the grievance cell among other things, has been lying vacant since May 2015 when the last official resigned, and nearly 60 percent of unaided colleges under the university function without a permanent principal.

This cycle of examinations has witnessed unprecedented delays and blunders in the process of evaluation. Apart from the entrenched issues that plague the university, this chaos is primarily the result of the much-critiqued switch to an online system of evaluation, where answer scripts were scanned and uploaded, and assessed by teachers on computers.

Amid a barrage of criticism and protest, Vice Chancellor Sanjay Deshmukh, who introduced the online system, has been asked to step down until further notice, and projected scores and provisional certificates are being provided to students who approach the university for help. These are simply damage control measures for a situation that shouldn’t have arisen in the first place and do nothing to engage with the underlying facilitators of a crumbling system.

As one of us has been a minister in the government and has pushed for credible and efficient e-governance mechanisms, we support the idea of digitising clunky, outdated administrative processes. If implemented responsibly, the switch to an online system could prove to be a safeguard against paper tampering, and introduce transparency into the evaluation process. The operationalisation of Passport Seva Kendras under the Passport Seva Project, as well as the online filing of income tax returns, where the assessee has the flexibility of choosing between online and offline options, are good examples of responsible reform.

However, progressive reform without practical considerations and adequate infrastructure is meaningless and may cause much more harm than good, as is evident in the case of Mumbai University. An analysis of the online process reveals that the infrastructure required for such a massive upheaval of the system was woefully inadequate; that examiners were not equipped with sufficient training and information; and the abysmal coordination between various agencies responsible for different tasks paralysed the whole process. Moreover, the fact that a lot of colleges in semi-urban areas where Internet connection may have been patchy or sparse was clearly not taken into consideration.

The exercise should have been to gradually move towards an online system, rather than an imposition in this coercive manner, and in that context, it should have been introduced as a voluntary process. Reform is essential, particularly in light of the university’s unbridled inefficiencies, but not at the cost of such disruption. The university must seriously look at restructuring and streamlining its processes, establishing some credibility and accountability, and restoring its students’ faith in the system.

Updated Date: Aug 11, 2017 21:39 PM

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