For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser or Download our App.

'Our Future Is Uncertain': Students After UGC-NET Exam Cancelled, Minister Admits 'Paper Leak'

Union minister for education Dharmendra Pradhan said on Thursday that it was found that the UGC-NET question paper was leaked on the ‘darknet’. Students that The Wire spoke to who travelled as far as 300 kms, braved heat wave conditions to take the exam say that their future is uncertain.
Hundreds of students led by SFI Delhi protested outside Ministry of Education against discrepancies found in the UGC NET exam and its subsequent cancellation. Photo: X (Twitter)/@SfiDelhi

New Delhi: On June 17, Ravikant Verma, travelled 300 kms by train from Assam’s Dima Hasao to Guwahati to write the UGC-NET exam for political science. The next day, June 18, Verma along with over 9 lakh other students across the country wrote the exam. Later that evening Verma took the night train back to Dima Hasao, travelling another 300 kms.

“We travelled more than 600 kms both ways, paid for an overnight stay at Guwahati and returned on June 19. We had just returned and taken a small nap and by the time we woke up we found out that the exam had been cancelled,” he told The Wire. 

On Wednesday night (June 19), the Union education ministry announced that it had decided to cancel the UGC NET exam after receiving inputs from cybercrime officials that the exam’s integrity “may have been compromised”. The ministry stated that the exam will be conducted afresh and a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe will investigate.

While the CBSE was earlier entrusted with the conduct of the NET (National Eligibility Test), since December 2018, it has been conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA). The exam is held twice a year in June and December for the posts of ‘Assistant Professor’ as well as ‘Junior Research Fellowship and Assistant Professor’ posts in universities and colleges.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday evening, Union minister for education Dharmendra Pradhan said that the examination had to be cancelled after it was found that the question paper had been leaked on the darknet.

“We found that the question paper that was on the darknet was the same as the original question paper. We decided then and there that there should be a high-level CBI inquiry. This was on Telegram. But it is difficult to track Telegram. We understood that the exam had been compromised so we decided to cancel. And we will announce new dates for the exam soon,” he said.

For students like Verma, the cancellation of the exam not only implies uncertainty about their future but that the physical and mental toll that the exam had taken has also come to naught.

A protest against irregularities in NEET. Photo: X (Twitter)/@vishalINC

‘Fears confirmed’

Verma said that from June 17, a day before the exam was to be held, messages were circulating on Telegram groups with the question papers.

“We were concerned that the question papers may have been leaked because such messages were circulating on Telegram. I received screenshots on WhatsApp that showed that on Telegram groups which were offering the question paper for Rs 5,000. Whole question papers were also available on these Telegram groups,” he said.

The Wire has seen the screenshots referred to by Verma but cannot independently verify its authenticity.

“When the news came on June 19 night that the exam had been cancelled our fears were confirmed,” he said.

“They are playing with us and our future. There has been no compensation offered to us. We come from poor families, we travel as far as 300 kms just one way to go and give the exam, staying at hotels in Guwahati which do not cost less than Rs 1,000 and then returning,” said Verma who hails from Bihar where his parents are farmers in Gaya district.

“Who is going to compensate us? This is completely a failure of the NTA and the government. They have given the conduct of the exam to the NTA which is a private enterprise and which is just serving its own interests.”

Time and monetary loss

In Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district, a postgraduate student at the Central University of Himachal Pradesh who appeared for the test travelled about 160 kms both ways in a single day on June 18 along with a few other students from his university.

“There were only four centres in Himachal Pradesh and the centre nearest to me was in Hamirpur. But the exam centre was about 25 kms further from Hamirpur, so one way we travelled about 80 kms, for three hours and changed three buses just to get to the centre. After the exam ended due to some traffic snarls, we had difficulty getting transport and finally reached our rooms at midnight, while we had an end-semester exam the next day,” the student said.

The student said that the issue is not about reconducting the exam but about the credibility of the NTA.

“NTA is a joke and the joke is on us students, it’s as simple as that. First, we prepared during our end-semester exams and we had to go all the way there. It is not about reconducting the exam. That is not an issue. But if they had information about the issues in the exam then they could have cancelled it before. It would have saved our time and money,” he said.

In Delhi, students braved extreme heatwave conditions to go and take the exam only to find out a day later that the exam had been cancelled.

Ashwin K.P., a second-year postgraduate student of Delhi University in anthropology said that he had to change three metro trains to reach his exam centre in Rohini.

“It was 47 degrees on that day. We changed three metros to reach the centre. The room had only two fans and there were 30 people in the class. Students were fainting due to the heat,” he said.

Alma Ali, a postgraduate student in English from Delhi University, said that while she lives in Gurugram her centre was in Mangolpuri, about 40 kms away.

“The exam was at 3 pm but they asked us to arrive at 1 pm and made us stand in the heat for about 40-45 mins outside the gates. The classrooms were small and uncomfortable, people were falling sick due to the heat.  I myself was feeling sick. The fans were not working where I was sitting. It was like sitting in a sauna. After going through so much now, we have found out that the exam has been cancelled,” she said.

Ali said that while students are ready to give a re-test, the exam should be made online.

“If not online, then at least make it computer-based. OMR sheets are outdated.”

Since 2018, the UGC-NET exam has been conducted by the NTA in Computer Based Test (CBT) mode but on June 18, it was in a departure held in pen-and-paper format on OMR sheets.

Uncertainty about future

With the exam now being cancelled, students said that the credibility of the exam as well as the uncertainty of their future are both at stake.

Noel Benny, who holds a postgraduate degree in English from Delhi University, appeared for the UGC-NET for the second time on June 18 and is also looking to take PhD entrance exams.

“There have been concerns about one nation one exam but I was never concerned. But now the credibility of homogenising examinations is clear. Now this incident poses questions for the credibility of all exams that have been conducted because earlier also there have been concerns around paper leaks. Even if I appear for the retest, where is the guarantee that it will be credible?”

“They are saying that there will be an investigation but who is answerable for the hardships and mental trauma that we went through? If the exam is conducted within a week, again the credibility question comes if they delay it then PhD exams will be affected. I am feeling a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

‘Institutional failure’

Meanwhile, protests were held through Thursday by students affiliated to the Left-affiliated Students Federation of India (SFI), Congress-affiliated National Students Union of India (NSUI) in Delhi.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow University students protested demanding Pradhan’s resignation.

Later in the evening, Pradhan said during his press conference that the leak was an “institutional failure” by the NTA and that a high-level committee would be formed to affix responsibility.

“We have some proof and we had to make a decision. Sometimes decisions are very painful and hard. Yesterday our ministry and our senior colleagues took a painful unfortunate decision to protect the future of those who will be associate professors and those who will do PhDs. There must be transparency. This question leak is an institutional failure from NTA. That is why we are assuring you that there will be a reform committee and action will be taken and responsibility will be fixed,” he said.

Also on Thursday, opposition parties hit out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government and accused it of not being able to stop paper leaks.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said that he will take up the issue in the upcoming parliament session.

“It was being said Prime Minister Modi stopped the Ukraine-Russia War and Israel-Gaza war, but he is either not able to stop exam paper leaks or doesn’t want to,” he said.

The UGC-NET exam was cancelled amid alleged irregularities in the conduct of the NEET examination, which has led to nationwide protests. The matter is now in the Supreme Court.

‘Wilful destruction of students’ aspirations’

N. Sai Balaji, former JNUSU president, who now teaches at a private university said that the repeated paper leaks and the lack of accountability shows the government’s complicity.

“Since NTA has come into existence, every year there is some issue about exams, either the quality of question paper or integrity of the exam itself whether it is a paper leak or rating of students as in NEET. The reason this is happening is that you have removed a well-functioning system into a centralised system with zero accountability,” he said.

Balaji said that the system that has been created is failing students’ aspirations and not a single head has rolled.

“A system has been created which is failing the aspirations of the students. The most amazing thing is that zero heads have rolled till date. Who is responsible for malpractice? Why isn’t the NTA chief being removed? NEET and NET are big examinations where over 20 lakh students appear. CBSE (that conducted NET earlier) had the expertise of large examinations because they conduct board exams.

Before NEET every state had their own medical exams and central medical colleges would be conducted by AIIMS. If there was a leak, it could be traced. In the NTA scheme of things, who is going to be held accountable? It is beyond a scam, it is a wilful destruction of students’ aspirations and the government is complicit.”

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism
facebook twitter