Editor’s note: A previous version of this piece had the title: How Mumbai’s Govt. Law College Is Making Money By Wrongly Failing Its Students. This title was incorrect and it has now been rectified to reflect the content of the post accurately.
“May the Lord protect you from the vagaries of Mumbai University” were the words of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court of India, while delivering a lecture in the halls of Government Law College, Mumbai. While he hit the nail on the coffin by pointing out the absurdity of the situation with his snappy wisecrack, the audience cheered aloud as each one in the room could adequately relate to his words. The crowd consisted of generations of law students who grinned at this jest, remembering how they were victimised by the arbitrariness of the same old Mumbai University.
A majority of law colleges in Mumbai are affiliated to Mumbai University, also known as MU, one of the first state universities of India and the oldest in Maharashtra. For students of the five-year law course, the first two years of examinations (referred to as pre-law exams) are conducted internally by the college, while the remaining three years i.e. Bachelors of Law (LLB) examinations are conducted by MU.
The prevailing trend is that students adept in academics do very well in pre-law exams, while the average and below average students also fare relatively proportionate to their aptitudes. The results are usually fair and acceptable to most students, leaving room for minimum complaints.
However, once the LLB examinations commence, erratic grade fluctuations start happening. There are several instances of students doing phenomenally well in most subjects but failing in one, resulting in a drop in average and an overall failed result. Students who had topped before end up scoring abysmally low marks, and the phenomena of marks being proportionate to the length of the paper than to the content and quality, and discrepancies in the allotment of marks in different centres are additional issues.
The immediate solution to rectifying poor grades is considered to be revaluation. Revaluation, a financially exploitative process where you’re charged ₹500 for each paper reassessed, usually resulting in a complete turn of grades with no refund to avail. While the examination fee for four subjects is ₹460, the fee for revaluation is an all-time rip-off (4.5 times) in comparison.
There is data in abundance to substantiate this uncanny turn of events. Reports show that about 73,000 students have been wrongly failed in examinations conducted by the University of Mumbai between 2014 and 2016. An RTI query filed by activist Vihar Durve revealed that during the first half of 2016, of 44,441 who applied for revaluation, 16,934 cleared the exam. Another well-known fact is that of the huge amounts of revenue generated by Mumbai University through the process of revaluation. The RTI query further revealed that MU made ₹7.52 crore in fees to re-evaluate answer sheets, and ₹41 lakh in making photocopies of answer sheets in the past three years.
To add to the ever-growing student woes, the process of revaluation is replete with arbitrariness, lack of transparency and uncertainty. There are multiple instances of lack of timeliness and inefficiency on the part of MU in this regard, as most times the revaluation results are declared post the ATKT exams (a supplementary exam which is required to be given by a student who fails in a particular subject/s).
A final year law student of Government Law College who had once been a top ranker in this very institution and suffered at the hands of the MU’s failing spree, remarks, “Somewhere deep down I was convinced that I couldn’t have written such a bad paper and that I would come through in the revaluation process. The fact that 20 of us in one single row had been failed in that subject made it even more suspicious. Nonetheless, I decided that I would send papers of all the subjects for revaluation. Another step that I took was to join the representation made by a batch junior to mine who had suffered a similar, but more harmful impact of the university’s marking system. We would go to the University office and try meeting the Vice Chancellor. When we did meet him, after few cancelled meetings and having waited for hours outside his office, he almost negated my credentials while hearing my individual case.
In fact, he went to the extent of saying that he, himself was a victim given he had failed his LLB exams and didn’t have the time to redress it. If he thought that was an anecdotal evidence to show the University’s ‘fairness’, it was just the most unfortunate form of justification. We requested that the process of revaluation be fast tracked to ensure they don’t come after the KT exams end. We said we didn’t wish to incur an expense for an exam which we know we don’t need to give if the result came out. Unsurprisingly, of the kids who made a representation, almost all were cleared in the papers in which they had been originally failed. However, the University, as always, took its own sweet time to release the revaluation results and naturally given how they cleared me in one and failed in the other three, indicated either their penchant for arbitrariness or sheer vindictiveness.”
Legal examinations conducted by MU are predominantly objective than subjective, which is another unfortunate travesty of the education system. Despite being objective, students in MU are helpless because there is no uniform marking criteria. There is no provision of a model answer paper being made available to students, no guidelines on what is expected of them or how an answer should be presented. Trends have usually been that those who manage to reproduce the textbook and immaculately quote sections tend to do well. But in several instances, adopting these age-old hacks and conforming to the ideal paper-writing norms have failed as well.
Aparna Menon, a third-year law student of Government Law College, said, “The criteria for marking should ideally be the correctness and quality of answers. However, MU has seemingly marked papers on vague parameters such as a student’s handwriting or their ability to fill maximum number of pages. Sadly, even after adhering to these shallow parameters, you fail. As a student who has been scoring consistently well since secondary school, such scores can be highly demotivating and makes you seriously reconsider your abilities. This is especially problematic because a lot of students are unable to return from this self-introspection cycle resulting in a total loss of self-confidence.”
Keeping aside the financial fleecing and intellectual disintegration of students’ part, there are wider repercussions which prevail. MU tends to overlook the fact that they are severely jeopardising careers. As much as we’d like to believe in the higher intellectual ideals of “marks don’t matter”, the reality is that they matter more than we’d like them to. Your marks determine your job prospects, your chances of securing admission into a good master’s program and are often a reflection of your intellectual abilities to outsiders. Speaking out of personal experience, in my recent law examinations, I did well enough in most subjects but secured a very poor grade in Contract Law (which is still awaiting redemption at the mercy of MU’s revaluation racket). While I was surprised at the outcome, and I personally know that I’m well-versed with the subject, an outsider’s impression of me would be that of a law student who doesn’t know the most fundamental subject of legal studies.
Opponents may argue that students rant for nothing and must take accountability for their failures. But, in this case, I (and a majority of the MU student body) can affirmatively vouch for the fact that the problem is not personal incompetence but a lackadaisical system. Despite best efforts and long hours of studying, there never seems to be any quid pro quo. The state of the students of MU is a cry for help. A stroke of luck is what dictates the upshot of these examinations. The way forward would be a completely transparent process, formally laying down an objective criterion for marking, and maybe even showing some concern and empathy.