‘A Year of Hard Work Wasted’: Students Rage as UGC-NET Exam Canceled Amid Allegations of Paper Leak

Musheera Ashraf, TwoCircles.net

Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh): Twenty-five-year-old Shaheen, determined to secure a Ph.D. seat, chose to remain in her hostel room in Hyderabad for her exams despite Eid festivities back home in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, where her family resides 1,600 kilometers away. They supported her journey with meager financial resources. Confident of her success in this year’s University Grants Commission–National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) examination, she expressed frustration, saying, “We don’t trust these exam-conducting agencies anymore; they are playing with the time, careers and lives of students.”

Support TwoCircles

Her father’s monthly stipend now feels futile.

At the core of India’s education system lies a mounting crisis that jeopardizes the dreams of countless aspiring researchers. Competitive examinations like the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and NET (National Eligibility Test), once hailed as gateways to prestigious careers, have transformed into arenas of cutthroat competition, mental strain and systemic disparities.

The UGC-NET plays a crucial role in determining the eligibility for assistant professorship and awarding junior research fellowship (JRF) in universities and colleges across the nation.

According to figures released by the National Testing Agency (NTA), which conducts the examination, 908,580 candidates appeared for the test on June 18. The Ministry of Education acknowledged in a statement that the National Cyber Crime Threat Analytics Unit of the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) alerted the UGC about potential compromises to the examination’s integrity one day after its completion.

In response, the ministry decided to cancel the UGC-NET June 2024 Examination to uphold the highest standards of transparency and preserve the integrity of the examination process. It announced that details for a new investigation will be provided separately.

Professor Khwaja Ziyauddin, head of the department of sociology and associate director at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, attributes the issue of the UGC-NET paper leaks to several factors. He highlighted deep-rooted corruption within the examination and education systems, emphasizing, “Inadequate oversight and accountability foster an environment where unethical practices thrive. The UGC-NET faces significant stakes that create a market for leaked papers, albeit smaller than that of NEET, which decides medical college admissions. Technological vulnerabilities and ineffective security measures exacerbate these risks and unauthorized access.”

“The desperation for shortcuts undermines the aspirations and dedication of Indian youth who strive to contribute to national progress. The allure of leaked papers reflects not just collusion among candidates, officials and stakeholders, but a symptom of deeper systemic issues in our education system,” he pointed out.

Farrah Jaffri, a resident of Poonch in Jammu, criticized what she perceives as negligence on the part of the NTA. Having traveled 280 kilometers from her village to sit for the examination, she expressed deep dismay over the NTA’s decision.

“I was shocked and deeply disturbed by the NTA decision. It has kept me awake at night and caused panic attacks,” shared the political science student. “I had hoped to qualify this time. After a long and challenging journey, I was eager to crack the examination and secure top marks. Now, this devastating situation has engulfed us.”

Adding to the ordeal, Shahzan, a student from Uttar Pradesh, expressed his frustration, saying, “I was shocked when I heard that the UGC-NET has been canceled.”

He traveled 75 kilometers under extreme heat waves to Bareilly just to appear for the examination. “A year of hard work is now worthless.”

The postgraduate in journalism and mass communication further lamented, “The cancellation of the NET exam is a significant failure of the NDA government and the NTA. Recently, the NEET exam was a fiasco and now the NET cancellation is proof that the NTA is failing day by day in conducting exams. This government, filled with illiterates, does not understand the importance of education. They want students to be unable to study so they cannot demand employment. Who will take responsibility for playing with the students’ futures? Will the education minister resign? If the exam is held again, will it be fair? These are the questions students want answers to.”

UGC Chairperson M. Jagadesh Kumar highlighted the impressive turnout for the NET examination, noting that approximately 81 percent of the over 1.12 million registered candidates had participated across 317 cities nationwide.

Professor Anisur Rahman, former director of the UGC HRDC at Jamia Millia Islamia, added, “It is indeed extremely sad that question papers are often leaked out. This demotivates the young minds and the nation. This must be stopped immediately.”

Dr Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, assistant professor and assistant director of the UGC-HRDC at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, expressed concern for the students. “I feel for those who genuinely prepared for the examination. It is a disheartening move. Their efforts have gone to waste. Months of preparation, all for nothing. Yet, on the other hand, if there were serious lapses in the conduct of the examination, then canceling it is the right decision.”

As the crisis deepens, voices like those of Shaheen, Farah and Shahzan resonate with countless students across India, their dreams and futures hanging in the balance.