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Shyamal Majumdar: Failing the test

Delays in results and paper leaks cast a shadow on the Mumbai University

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would often say at least 90 per cent of are providing below par education. Most Indians would agree with that comment, though there is a high probability that they would leave out of the below par list. The reality, however, may be substantially different from that perception.

A student learnt it the hard way recently when his exam was delayed; results were even further delayed and the certificate he got after making endless trips to the university office misspelt his name and changed the subject in which he had done his Master’s degree. The corrections were made after an inordinate delay and the student now says he feels short-changed by what was once known as a premier centre of higher learning and research. He is applying for further studies, but predictably, Mumbai University doesn’t figure in that list.

Thousands of his batchmates would share his feelings, since it has become almost a routine for results of some exams to be declared only after two and a half months. Moreover, revaluation results often have a waiting period of six months. And then there are umpteen cases of leaked exam papers. The last such case (Bachelor of Management Studies) was in April (it was the sixth such leak this year) after the university miscalculated the number of students appearing for the exam and sent the exam papers for printing three times. No wonder, the question papers were even found on Facebook pages of many students hours before the exam.

There have been many such cases in recent times, the common reason being the unaccounted-for surplus papers that are printed by the university and left unattended, making it easy to nick papers once the bundles for various examination centres are packed. It’s a telling evidence of their incompetence that the university authorities do not have a system of proper accounting of question papers.

To prevent such paper leaks, the university announced a grand plan of preparing question papers just a couple of hours before the exam and going for encrypted CDs. But the implementation of the plan was shoddy. In May, the third-year electronics and telecommunications engineering paper was delayed by almost one and a half hours because the question papers that the students got were meant for some other exam. In another case, the exam started only after an hour owing to a delay in printing.

That was just one of the problems. Last March, on the day the B Com exam started, over 2,000 students had to leave their examination centres at the last minute since the university had printed incorrect exam-centre numbers on their hall tickets.

University officials explain the goofs by saying the number of students has almost doubled in 10 years and the number of colleges affiliated to it went up from 380 to almost 700 in the same period. But what has remained unchanged is its 400-strong workforce.

That may well be true, but students blame the university for this since it distributed affiliations liberally. Several colleges were given a free hand to introduce courses without any quality checks. Apart from questions over the poor quality of these courses, this also increased the sheer number of exams to be supervised by the university.

Such goofs, however, are not new for the Mumbai University. Old-timers recall several such cases: in 1983, it was found that the marks of the state chief minister’s daughter were altered to ensure she passed. It’s just that the frequency of these mistakes has increased in recent times.

If this is the state of affairs in an institute like the Mumbai University, is it a surprise that India’s top educational and research institutes have started lagging even Chinese universities? A ranking by the Guardian Higher Education network has no Indian university in its list of the top 50 Asian universities. As many as nine Chinese institutions figure in that list.

Two ambitious Bills are pending in Parliament — the Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012 and the Foreign Universities Bill. The former allows for the setting-up of new universities by the government or private bodies – domestic or foreign – and for the classification of some of the existing universities as research and innovation universities. The second Bill seeks to make it easier for foreign institutions to set up shop in India.

More than these Bills, what is required is a comprehensive plan to review the functioning of existing universities. After all, if the reputed Mumbai University is going to seed, one shudders to think about the state of affairs in other institutes. One of Mumbai University’s main problems has been increasing politicisation as is evident from the recent drama surrounding the Vice Chancellor’s appointment. Something needs to be done fast to stop the famous Rajabhai Tower of the university from bending more towards the adjoining building of the state Mantralaya.

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