Frustration And Despair: Students Protest UGC NET Exam Cancellation

The cancellation of the UGC NET exam has sparked widespread frustration and protests among students, highlighting deep concerns over the integrity and management of national-level examinations in India

Photo via Vishal Singh
Vishal Singh leading the protest at Lucknow University Photo via Vishal Singh

“Sab kehte hain yeh desh yuvaon ka desh hai magar yeh toh bas yuvaon ka haunsla maar rahe hain,” said 21-year-old political science student Abhinav Bajpai after he learnt the UGC NET exam he had appeared for had been cancelled.

The Ministry of Education on Wednesday announced the cancellation of the National Eligibility Test (NET), citing concerns over the integrity of the examination, which had been conducted just the day before. This announcement comes amid the NEET controversy gripping the nation.

Abhinav Bajpai, one of the nine lakh students who appeared for the exam, says the cancellation has thrown him into a deep pit of despair and frustration. He is due to complete his post-graduation in the coming weeks and was hoping to apply for the PhD entrance at Lucknow University. However, with the exam now cancelled, he says he is unsure of his plans going forward.

“I have already qualified NET, this time I was trying for JRF and my exam went well, I was expecting I would surpass the JRF (Junior Research Fellowship) cutoff,” he told Outlook.

If a student attains a score beyond a certain threshold in the NET exam, they become eligible for the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). Under this fellowship, they receive financial assistance while engaged in research.

Abhinav says he was hoping to avoid asking his parents for money while pursuing his PhD, but now he isn't so sure. He believes it is his time to provide financial assistance to his parents, not the other way around.

“Getting a job is an emotion for the people of UP and Bihar, if one person gets a job, they can uplift an entire generation,” he added.

Another NET aspirant, Shubham Kharwar, who sat for the June 18 NET exam, says this isn't the first time a paper leak has affected him. He had also appeared for the RO/ARO exam, which was leaked last year.

“We put in time, effort and money. We fill the form, buy books, pay for transport to the exam centre and go 20-30 km to the centre under the scorching sun and then we are told the exam is cancelled,” Shubham Kharwar said.

On June 20, scores of students gathered outside the gates of Lucknow University to protest the cancellation of the UGC NET exam. Protests were organised jointly by All India Students Association (AISA), National Students' Union of India (NSUI), Samajwadi Chatra Sabha (SCS), Students Federation of India (SFI) and were also seen in other parts of the state and the country.

NSUI student leader Vishal Singh who was leading the protest, says they have put forth a few demands before the government. “Immediate call for Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan to resign from his post; dismantle NTA immediately, it is not capable of conducting any examination with transparency; launch an investigation into the workings of the NTA chief but he has been removed now; UGC NET exam should be conducted by ministry of education, not some agency.”

The cancellation, Vishal Singh says, will not affect the government or the administration but only the students and their families. “If after preparing for a year, spending money on coaching, on library fees, on registration fees, your aspirations and your parents’ aspirations are not getting fulfilled then it’s disappointing. The consistency breaks, there is hopelessness, students don't know what to do.”

The student leader had himself appeared for the NET exam and says, this time he was confident he was going to clear it. “This was my third attempt. I tallied answers with the answer key, and I was qualifying it according to that.”

Vishal Singh had hoped to apply for a PHd entrance at Lucknow University, for which NET is a criteria. “The cycle will break it will delay the other academic processes,” he says.

In a statement, AISA said, "The Ministry of Education has stated that the enquiry into this matter will be handed over to the CBI for thorough investigation. Unfortunately, the credibility of the CBI has been undermined over the past decade since the Modi government came to power, capturing these institutions to serve BJP-RSS's petty agenda of suppressing dissent and opposition. Therefore, we demand an independent judicial enquiry under the supervision of a retired senior judge, not only to investigate this specific case of the paper leak but also to address the overall inefficiency of the NTA."

The date for the re-examination is yet to be announced as investigations continue.