The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Authorities in the University of Calcutta are learning new words. Transparency is the latest addition to their vocabulary. The university has decided that from now on, scripts bearing very low marks will be open to scrutiny by students, heads of colleges and guardians. This apparently radical move comes in the wake of a number of revelations about scripts being grossly undermarked after strong strictures from courts. What has been left unsaid is what will be done if mistakes are discovered. Will the examiner be held accountable' Will the scripts go for re-examination' What happens to the student during the period between the declaration of results and the results of the re-examination' The discrepancy between the two may affect a candidate’s prospects of admission into another institution. The decision is thus only apparently radical: its implications are ambiguous. Also, if transparency is, indeed, the aim and not a mere gesture to populism, why restrict it only to those who have received very low marks' A candidate a mark or two below a first class could also have been undermarked. Underlying the decision is the assumption that errors occur only at the level of tabulation. Sometimes errors occur because of the crass incompetence of examiners and more often because of the enormous load that examiners have to bear which leads to callousness. It should also be remembered that examiners are paid a pittance by the university.

The university authorities, not untypically and therefore predictably, have addressed the problem from the wrong end. The problem of injustice in examinations is embedded in numbers: the number of students and the number of examinations conducted by the university. If both are not reduced, errors and injustice will continue despite the threat of post facto scrutiny by students, guardians and so on. Reduction is not as impossible as it sounds if the university authorities think in terms of decentralization. Why cannot some of the leading colleges be permitted to hold their own undergraduate examinations' This will immediately reduce the number of candidates and administrative hassles. Such an idea has been mooted by the University Grants Commission regarding Presidency College but has never actually materialized. One version says that the crucial factor in the perpetual shelving of the idea is the hostility of the University of Calcutta. Short of decentralization, any measure, given the scale of the problems faced by Calcutta University, will always be only cosmetic. It is easy to appear to be a reformer, it is much more difficult to be a real reformer.

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