‘Cancel Ninth Semester Exams’: CU’s Final-Year Law Students Stuck in Limbo

University and college students, especially those in their final semester, have been left lurching on a trail of uncertainty in the wake of this pandemic. Their careers, studies and futures have effectively been put on hold with major businesses shutting down and a rapidly shrinking job market.

As for me and my fellow final-year law students at the Faculty of Law, Calcutta University (CU) – we have a yet another problem to deal with.

While most final-year law students are in their terminal semester of study, we at CU, are still stuck in our penultimate semester of study. In March, the college had indefinitely postponed the ninth semester exam (second-last semester) in lieu of the lockdowns. As a result of which, we couldn’t write their exams – and have yet to do so.

The tribulations of the pandemic, therefore, have pushed us into a sordid situation. We are in our final years, but haven’t even given our exams for the previous semester.

Our exam schedule had been irregular even before the pandemic. In contrast with the national standard of conducting odd semester exams between December and May, even semester exams in between May and June, our university delays our exam schedule by two-three months each time. Hence, we always write our odd semester exams after April/May and consequently, the even semester in August/September.

The lone extenuating factor in this arrangement had been the substitution of written exams in the final tenth semester with projects and viva voce to speed up the conclusion of the course and allow students to graduate by August, which is still a couple of months after most other universities graduate their final-year students. COVID-19 along with CU’s inability to take necessary and timely decisions has, however, robbed the law students of a timely graduation. Sadly, their careers, employability and plans for higher studies all stand adversely affected. With September edging closer, there has been no notice from CU offering a roadmap out of the present situation.

The guidelines issued by various government regulators such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Bar Council of India (BCI) regarding examinations in the times of COVID-19 have merely added to the confusion. It should be noted at the outset that all the guidelines in regard to final-year students are issued under the presumption that all final-year students are in the terminal semester of their course. None of them envisage a situation where students are in their final-year, yet not in their terminal semester – our case, for instance.

The guidelines are also contradictory to one another. While the BCI required intermediate semester students (those not in the final-year) to sit for exams once their colleges reopened post lockdown, the UGC on its part has held that the intermediate semester students would be evaluated by means of past semester and internal evaluation marks. In addition, the ongoing proceeding before the Supreme Court challenging the UGC’s dictum to all universities for conducting the final examinations by September 30 has done more harm than help.

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Despite numerous deputations, letter petitions and personal entreats, the administration has turned a deaf ear our concerns. It should be noted that the Supreme Court’s decision in the matter would still not resolve the current situation of the final year law students at CU, since the decision will pertain, again, to terminal semester exams, and not penultimate semester exams. Despite five months having passed since the advent of the pandemic, CU has failed to take a single decision with respect to the plight of the more than 1,000 final year students of the law faculty. Given the uniqueness of our situation, failure to act, even with respect to the ninth semester exams, is a grave failure on the administration’s part.

If the status quo persists, and the ninth semester remains in limbo, the graduation of these law students may be delayed unto the next year, eerily converting their five-year law course into a six year one. They stand the risk of missing the cut off dates for entrance exams for master’s programmes which will further derail their career prospects. One such student who is currently holding an offer from a premier law institution shared his experience on the same:

I had applied at a number of reputed institution to pursue my LLM and subsequently took admission at a reputed university in Delhi. My classes are set to begin from the month of September through online platform. I have been asked to furnish my final marksheets within the month of November, failing which my admission stands cancelled.

If our university decides to go forward with our remaining semesters then the possibility of receiving my final marksheets within November would be bleak and that would lead to great hardship in my academic career and would result in pecuniary losses.

Neither will they be allowed to enrol in the State Bar and be able appear in court, nor shall they be able to apply to job positions in legal firms. Many students have laboured for months undertaking back-breaking internship programmes with corporates and advocates with the hope of forging a fruitful career in the law.

“I got the call back in March that on submission of my final semester projects (tentatively July-August, before all this), I would have an offer to join their team subject to an interview. After quite a bit of delay and follow up (even by them), they just hired someone for the same team,” said a disgruntled final year student, who missed out on an opportunity to join the corporate firm where he was interning.

An untimely graduation would ensure that many like him miss their joining dates and stand to forfeit their chances in the process. Without a graduation in sight, all such offers are all but worthless. Even without such offers, every person graduating from a law course has a basic right to enrol with a State Bar and practice as an advocate, a right to earn a livelihood from the legal profession. With every month’s delay in graduation, such a pecuniary right, vested in each and every student, is being adversely affected.

This inexorable delay in graduation would place these students at a stark disadvantage to the law students of other equivalent universities and colleges as most students from such institutions have already graduated in April/May 2020. It would directly and adversely affect the students’ right to earn a livelihood and engage in professional activities ultimately leading to their impoverishment.

It would be fateful for them, and irreparably hamper their professional lives unless CU decides to expeditiously cancel the ninth semester, conclude the tenth semester and award the students their degrees at the earliest. Unless the university devices a way to quickly resolve the present stalemate, the final year law students would be pushed into a grim, bleak future where the odds would stand insurmountably skewed against them.

Featured image credit: Calcutta University/Facebook