UGC-NET Cancelled: A Day of Disrupted Dreams, Financial Strain, and Mental Health Concerns

UGC-NET Cancelled: A Day of Disrupted Dreams, Financial Strain, and Mental Health Concerns

The cancellation of the UGC-NET exam reveals critical flaws in our education system. It underscores the urgent need for a resilient and responsive framework that safeguards students' interests and ensures transparency, security, and effective contingency plans in exams. Our students' well-being demands immediate and comprehensive attention.

The UGC-NET exam is a critical milestone for students across the country. It determines eligibility for research fellowships, assistant professor roles, and PhD admissions in Indian universities and colleges. The first phase of the exam for this year was held on June 18, 2024, across the country for all subjects.

In a shocking turn of events, the Ministry of Education announced the cancellation of the University Grants Commission National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) exam, citing concerns over its integrity. This decision, influenced by inputs from the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C), has left a record 9 lakh students in disarray and uncertainty.

The Ministry of Education said that the National Testing Agency (NTA) conducted the UGC-NET June 2024 Examination in OMR (pen and paper) mode on June 18, 2024, in two shifts across different cities of the country, post which the National Cyber Crime Threat Analytics Unit of I4C prima-facie indicated that the integrity of the aforesaid examination may have been compromised.

Two days after the exam was conducted, the sudden cancellation disrupted these students' academic journey, particularly those planning to enrol in PhD programs. Mohammad Haris (24) is one of many who intended to pursue a PhD and enroll this year. However, this has been delayed because of the recent news. He is just one amongst many who are disheartened and in woe.

The Woes: Financial & Mental

The financial implications of this decision are significant. Many students had travelled from remote corners of the country to appear for the exam, incurring substantial expenses for transportation, accommodation, and other logistics. The nullification of the exam means that these expenditures have been in vain, adding to the financial stress of the students and their families.

Ammar Ahmad (22), a Patna, Bihar resident, is pursuing an M.A. in English from Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. Sharing his ordeal, he said, “My centre was 45 km away from my home, and my father drove me there and back.” More than the finances, the trouble associated with a “no-exam” was the bummer for Ammar. He shared that he won’t get back the month he spent studying, and that’s worse than financial loss.

The same was true for Fatima Siddiqui (22), an HRM student in Delhi. She shared, “The centre allotted was around 11 km from my place; although close, I spent around 500 bucks travelling. This expense will only increase if the students cannot change their centre preferences when the exam is to be held again. Many of my friends returned to their homes for summer break and appeared for the exam there. Within a matter of days, we will be back in Delhi. It wouldn't make sense for them to not allow us to change the centre.”

Millions of students prepare for NET for months, some even enrol themselves in coaching. Haris, a PhD aspirant, was taking online classes by subscribing to an edu tech platform for his NET exam. He shared, “It is frustrating and, at the same time, disheartening as I wasn’t able to celebrate Eid with my family because of the exam. And now the paper stands void,”

On asking if financial compensation is enough to help students, Ammar reprimanded, “You can surely financially compensate us, but what of the months of labour and the emotional toll incurred by thousands? Can you undo that?”

Flawed Management and Preparation

In the aftermath of the cancellation, several students were affected and filled with disappointment and frustration. They expressed their anguish over the lack of transparency and accountability in the conduct of these exams.

“Education is one of the most important factors for development. This is a very serious issue that the government is playing with the future of this country and compromising it to scams and frauds. This raises questions on the accountability and credibility of NTA and Ministry of Education,” expressed Haris. He also added that NTA had given a flimsy excuse for the integrity of the exam being compromised. “How?” Haris asked. “The government claims it has access to the latest technologies, such as 5G. How can they then falter and say that the integrity has been compromised? It's a very clever move and statement to hide the authorities' incompetence.”

Many students also highlighted the miserable state of the examination centres and the flawed management by the officials. Aaron* (22) (name changed on request), a first-year M.A. Political Science student studying in Delhi, shared that all the invigilators were young and inexperienced and needed to supervise the exam at his examination centre in Lucknow. “There was no official in charge from NTA,” he added.

The question paper and original admit cards must be submitted to the invigilator in most government exams, including NTA's UGC NET. However, there was a lapse this time, as Aaron shared: " The Guidelines on the question paper mentioned that we have to submit our original admit card along with the OMR sheet, but the invigilators refused to do so even when I asked them twice.”

Aaron travelled 130 kilometers from Amethi to his exam center, SDSN Degree College, Gomti Nagar Extension in Lucknow. However, he shared that the invigilators at his centre were unprofessional. He added, “There was no proper frisking, and applicants were allowed to roam around freely.”

Prolonged Waiting for Rescheduling

The cancellation has also cast a long shadow over the mental health of the aspirants. The uncertainty and anxiety about their future, coupled with the financial strain and the sense of betrayal, are taking a toll on their mental well-being. Many students are seeking professional help to cope with the stress, highlighting the urgent need for mental health support in such situations.

This incident comes close on the heels of the controversy surrounding the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) exam. The parallels between the two incidents are hard to ignore, raising serious questions about the credibility and reliability of these high-stakes exams.

Like many other students, Ammar voiced his concerns about the incident's mental and emotional toll. He expressed that it would be good if the retest happened soon, as it would cut down on unnecessary expenses and double up expenses. “But if not, then it will be more draining and burdensome as I will have to travel back and forth,” Ammar concluded.

Dire Need of a Structured System

The students also highlighted the need for a robust mechanism to prevent such incidents in the future. They called for greater transparency in the conduct of the exams, timely communication of any changes, and a contingency plan to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Some students also suggested introducing a compensation system to mitigate the financial impact of such incidents.

Reminiscing facts, Ammar shared that days before the exam, it was speculated that the first paper might have leaked, and the fact that it was a possibility was enough to tarnish both the NTA (also because NEET) and the exam of such stature. He continued, “The education system has proved its failure repeatedly. One sets an example for future possible offences of the same nature, so penalties should be imposed on the defaulters. A strict and higher authority should monitor any shortage of security and surveillance.” Ammar also commented that the authorities must acknowledge this situation and its shortcomings, which they are not doing now. “This is the least they could do,” he said.

Haris demanded that the matter be thoroughly investigated, the people involved punished, and the ministers resign and accept their incompetence. He continued, “A high-security system should be established for exams in a way that would involve fewer people in the administrative part. An unbiased approach should be adopted, and intellectuals should be hired.”

Cancelling the UGC-NET exam has exposed the vulnerabilities in our education system. It has underscored the need for a more resilient and responsive system that can adapt to unexpected challenges without compromising the students' interests. As the dust settles on this incident, it is imperative to learn from this experience and take proactive measures to safeguard the future of our students.

Our students' mental, financial, and academic well-being is at stake, and it is high time we catered to these issues with the urgency they deserve.

Next Story