Dr Sanjay Deshmukh
University of Mumbai
The University of Mumbai is an institution with a lot of potential. There is no dearth of talent or resources. But, there are pressing issues which have plagued us, and have affected the students and the entire system tremendously. As a student who has studied here for a long period, it is my duty to point out the shortcomings and strive for the betterment of the institution as a whole. While certain issues have been dealt with during the course of time, another set of grievances have arisen in the last few months. So, it has left me with no option, but to write to you again.
It is about the future of lakhs of third year and master’s students being affected by the online assessment system called On-Screen Marking (OSM) for evaluation of papers. It has been a subject of contention for months now. There are several objections to this initiative. Firstly, the enormity of this exercise which includes a tedious scanning process, training professors, the security of the system and the data requirements in terms of details of professors involved, clearly implies that a lot of planning is necessary. If the intention was to implement this from the April semester itself, why was the process of tenders not commenced before April? Then, the agency and the university could have had adequate time to put in place the system.
When one of the main reasons behind the entire exercise was the timely declaration of results, starting so late was clearly off the mark. Also, it is a fact that professors were supposed to be on vacation in May. Why was proper scheduling for evaluation not communicated to them in the first place? There have been media reports about total confusion in this process. Even their training has not sufficiently taken place. So, the entire narrative has conveniently been changed from timely declaration of results to ‘priority’ given to students of certain streams over others. The worst part is that a lot of university officials speaking to the press, have been so casual about the delay. What kind of justice is this?
Another problematic aspect of this initiative has been the directions given to the faculty to submit the model answer keys of all subjects, including humanities! It is plain logic that there cannot be standard answers when it comes to subjects like political science, history, sociology, literature, etc. This can diminish the individual creativity and thought process of students and gives tremendous powers in the hands of professors. The most important thing to note is, that we were not even aware of being judged by an answer key when we gave our exams in April nor has there been any official communiqué from the university in this regard. How is it justifiable to implement this retrospectively? Won’t the answers written in an unconventional manner suffer the most?
The fact that the evaluation of papers has not even begun or has barely started in some cases is a matter of great distress for students. There is no idea about the date of declaration of results. This brings us to the larger question about the university. In one of your communications, you had once espoused- “Education should be imparted with a view to the type of society that we wish to build. We are working for a modern democracy built on the values of human dignity and equality. These are only ideals: we should make them living forces. Our vision of the future includes these great principles.” In my humble opinion, we need to introspect on this seriously.
Why is it that students are not considered worthy enough to be stakeholders in the system? How can things be simply imposed upon them without seeking their opinion or suggestion of any sort? For the last two years, some of us have had to run from pillar to post for basic necessities like the need for a robust grievance redressal mechanism and regular student feedback. The critical challenge for any institution is to develop a very strong sense of transparency and accountability. One can understand that the specific bodies can approve an initiative. But, why isn’t there an attempt to give the students an honest appraisal of the initiative? And, when things don’t work according to the plan and risk the lives of so many students, who will be held accountable for it?
Now that the process is in progress and the deadline has almost expired, it is time that the university acts on this grievance and takes the following measures:
1. Immediately create a FAQ on the university website regarding this initiative which should clearly state the purpose – minutes of the meetings of the bodies that passed this, daily time frame, queries about the effectiveness of the scanning process, a dedicated helpline and email ID for queries and so forth.
2. Majority of the students are not even aware that the evaluation through such a process is taking place. Either you or some senior university official should address the students in the form of a video which should make things absolutely clear.
3. While the model answer key might suit the undergraduate students in terms of standardisation, it should not be applied to the postgraduate students, especially those from the humanities. Serious rethinking on this aspect is essential.
4. In case any student loses out on a further year of education in India or abroad, or a job prospect just because of late declaration of results, the university should issue official letters bearing your seal, signature and stamp, apologising for the delay and taking personal responsibility of the student till the result is declared. The university cannot wash its hands off the matter anymore.
5. A committee should be instituted to indict people responsible for this colossal failure, and that report should be made public.
6. All efforts need to be taken to conduct the student elections immediately, in order to push for a culture of accountability and for upholding the rights of students.
If the university is of the students, for the students and by the students, then these measures should be implemented. Otherwise, it will set a very wrong precedent and cause a big dent to every student.