By Simran Nandrajog:
While issues like political activism and curfew timings in Indian universities have been in the news for long, one thing that has become a topic for debate only recently is that of attendance.
Most institutes in India require a minimum attendance percentage to pass. Many universities have very high minimum attendance required to be eligible for examinations. Christ University and Indian Institute of Technology Madras have a minimum attendance requirement of 85 percent. These have not gone down well with most students and some faculty members, who argue that it is rigid, and doesn’t allow students to explore much beyond academics. It has also led to protests at universities like Christ. At Amity Law School, a student committed suicide recently because he was barred from appearing for his semester exams due to low attendance and alleged mental harassment by teachers regarding the same.
At Ashoka University located in the state of Haryana, the attendance policy of every subject varies according to the professor teaching it. While some courses like BSc Economics do not have any attendance requirements, foundation subjects, which are compulsory for all irrespective of the major subjects one chooses, allow between two to five free absences per semester. In the words of Manjari Sahay, member of the student government and Minister of Academic Affairs, there are three types of absences at Ashoka University- ‘authorised’- which is granted if one is representing the institute for various events, ‘unexcused’- which doesn’t require any justification, and ‘approved’- that is, absences granted due to an illness or emergency. When asked whether different courses should have different attendance rules, she answered, “Yes, since the university has granted autonomy to the professors to design the course material, therefore, they should have the freedom to make their own attendance rules as well.”
However, Manjari also adds that in the absence of any attendance policy, students might slack off, especially if a course isn’t engaging enough. Her colleague Manisha Sah echoes the same sentiment. According to her, some kind of rule needs to be in place or else most students will end up bunking. And while such students are satisfied with mandatory attendance policies, they want the system to be foolproof, such that no one can manipulate it. Shivangi Kejrewal, a second-year student, believes that while attendance prevents students from behaving irresponsibly, it should be such that no one can misuse it, which often happens with manual attendance, where students sign in for each other.
However, there are many who aren’t in favour of attendance policies. Krathika Parchani, a third-year economics student at Ashoka University says, “I don’t think an attendance policy is needed. If the lectures are good enough, students will turn up.” Maatangi Krishna, a student pursuing a major in psychology also supports the ‘no attendance’ argument. In her opinion, “In college, we are adults and are capable of making our decisions on whether we want to attend class or not. If students feel they know a course content enough and are capable of doing the assignments themselves, they can do something more productive in that time, say, auditing another course.” Another third-year student, Akbar Surani, argues that imposing attendance requirements on students, most of whom are adults, isn’t the right way to make them attend classes as it would be forcing them to do something they aren’t willing to. But, if at all attendance requirements are there, students should be given provision to make up for classes missed, such as marking a student present if he or she attends a guest lecture related to the course.
But does turning up for classes necessarily translate into good grades? Ritika TL, another undergraduate student at Ashoka, doesn’t feel so. According to her, “It is disrespectful to both professors and students to have someone who is not interested but is forced to sit in a class just because of attendance. Also, there are many students, who don’t turn up for classes, but get fantastic grades.” However, Anuradha Saha, professor of economics at the university, feels that classrooms are more than just for studying. She says, “Even in present times, in-person learning is more effective than online or textbook learning. Learning from teachers is not the sole reason why students should attend classes. Class attendance gets you in the habit of being punctual, the opportunity to interact with peers, picking skills of sitting and listening, note taking and at times even doodling.”
Most students feel there shouldn’t be any attendance policies in place so that it is up to them whether they want to go for lectures or not. As long as the lectures are engaging, people are going to attend, irrespective of the limit on absences one can take. They feel that being mature adults, it is their responsibility, and not the institute’s, to ensure they attend classes in the long run.