Final-year examinations in universities will have to be conducted by September-end, the HRD Ministry announced on Monday, deferring the schedule from July in view of a spike in COVID-19 cases.
However, students unable to appear in final-year exams in September will get another chance and universities will conduct special exams "as and when feasible", according to a revised guidelines issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC).
The decision by the HRD Ministry came following a nod from the Ministry of Home Affairs to conduct the exams as per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) approved by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The announcement has put to rest speculations that the exams for final-year students may be cancelled in view of the COVID-19 situation.
In view of the surge in COVID-19 infections, the UGC's panel of experts, headed by Haryana University vice-chancellor R C Kuhad, was on June 25 asked to review the final-year examination guidelines issued on April 29.
The examinations were scheduled to be held in July.
"The final year examinations will be conducted by the universities or institutions by the end of September in offline, online or blended mode. The students having backlog will compulsorily be evaluated by conducting examinations in offline (pen and paper) online blended (online and offline) mode as per feasibility and suitability," according to the UGC guidelines.
Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank tweeted, "The UGC has revisited its earlier guidelines related to university examinations."
The minister said it has been formulated "in view of the safety, career progression and placements of the students and their larger interests, after consulting" the home ministry and the health ministry.
"It is important to safeguard the principles of health, safety, fair and equal opportunity for students. At the same time, it is very crucial to ensure academic credibility, career opportunities and future progress of students globally.
"Academic evaluation of students is very important milestone in any education system. The performance in examinations gives confidence and satisfaction to the students and is a reflection of competence, performance and credibility that is necessary for global acceptability," the guidelines stated.
"In case a student of terminal semester or final year is unable to appear in the examination conducted by the university for whatsoever the reason(s) may be, he or she may be given opportunity to appear in special examinations...which may be conducted by the university as and when feasible, so that the student is not put to any inconvenience or disadvantage," it said.
The Ministry clarified that the guidelines regarding intermediate semester and year examination, announced will remain unchanged.
Universities and schools across the country have been closed since March 16 when the central government announced a countrywide classroom shutdown as one of the measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
A nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24, which came into effect the next day. While the government has eased several restrictions, schools and colleges continue to remain closed.
The UGC had in April formed two committees to deliberate on issues arising due to the lockdown to avoid academic loss and take appropriate measures for the future of students.
One of the committees, led by Haryana University Vice-Chancellor R C Kuhad, was tasked with looking into ways of conducting exams in universities amid the lockdown and work on an alternate academic calendar.
The second committee, formed to suggest measures to improve online education, was led by Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) Vice-Chancellor Nageshwar Rao.
Based on the recommendations of the two panels, the HRD Ministry had on April 29 announced the guidelines recommending the exams for final semester students be conducted in July.
The commission had said that the universities may decide whether to conduct exams online or offline keeping in view the support system available with them and ensuring a fair opportunity to all students.
The UGC had recommended that intermediate semester students may either be evaluated on the basis of internal assessment or in states where the COVID-19 situation has normalised, exams be conducted in July only.
The commission had also said the new academic session for freshers may begin in universities from September and for already enrolled students in August while the admission process may begin in universities from August 1.
However, due to a spike in coronavirus cases, various states recommended cancellation of final year exams. A few states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Odisha, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have already announced their plans in this regard.
There have been repetitive demands from students and a section of Delhi University teachers for cancellation of Open Book Examination (OBE) online for final year students citing digital divide.
Another big single-day jump of 24,248 COVID-19 cases took India's tally close to the seven-lakh mark on Monday, while the death toll due to the disease climbed to 19,693 with 425 new fatalities, according to the Union health ministry.