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A face-off between the Maharashtra government and the Yuva Sena, on one side, and the University Grants Commission, on the other, appears imminent.

Notwithstanding a UGC press release on Saturday, asking universities to chart out a plan for the completion of terminal semester/final-year examinations by the end of September, the Maharashtra Government is firm on its decision on cancellation of these exams because of the Covid-19 crisis. At the same time, the Aaditya Thackeray-led Yuva Sena is stepping up a signature campaign against the UGC's revised guidelines to conduct these exams and simultaneously preparing for a legal battle. The timing of the UGC release coincided with Aaditya moving the Supreme Court on Saturday, challenging the former's stubborn stand. The UGC, however, has reiterated that it would expect all universities to hold final-year exams despite the coronavirus pandemic by September as these are an integral part of the education system. It said that of the 755 universities, 560 had either conducted examinations or were planning to do so. So far, 194 have held examinations (online/offline) and 366 are planning to follow suit in August/September. In addition, the first batch in the 27 private universities established in 2019-20 to till date, is yet to become eligible for final examination, according to the UGC.Yuva Sena Secretary Varun Sardesai said the UGC was being adamant on compulsory examinations, despite the Sena youth wing having written to them multiple times. ''The Maharashtra Government has already taken a decision to cancel final-year exams. Covid cases are on the rise in almost all states and hence the Yuva Sena has requested the UGC to cancel exams throughout the country in these extraordinary times. As the UGC is adamant, the Yuva Sena has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court,'' he noted.

The Yuva Sena has already received more than two lakh signatures supporting the cancellation of exams because of the pandemic. It is also backed by the youth wings of the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress.Meanwhile, students and members of apolitical student unions have opposed the decision of the UGC, terming it as forceful and erratic. Final-year science student, Ishita Devrajan, said, "We are not against exams, neither do we fear exams. We have appeared for almost five semesters, it is no big deal to appear for another one. But, we do not want to risk our lives and imperil the safety of our family. We are being forced to walk towards danger and the Central government is least bothered about our safety."

Siddharth Ingle, founder president of Maharashtra Students' Union (MASU) said, "Maharashtra has over 3 lakh coronavirus cases. Why is the UGC being rigid and adamant about conducting final-year exams in such detrimental conditions? Its changing stripes in the last three months have made it clear that the UGC is under political pressure. The Central and state government are at loggerheads. But exams and education should not be politicised."

However, the UGC has argued that the performance in examinations contributes to merit, lifelong credibility, wider global acceptability for admissions, scholarships, awards, placements and better future prospects. To substantiate its argument, the UGC further said, most renowned universities in the world, including those in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, have conducted or are conducting examinations by offering online/offline/blended or other alternatives.Further, the UGC said, its guidelines mentioned that in case a student in their terminal semester/final year was unable to take the examination for whatever reasons, they should be given an opportunity to appear for special examinations in these courses/papers which may be conducted by the university as and when feasible, so that the student was not put to any inconvenience/disadvantage.

(With inputs from Ronald Rodrigues)

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