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Court says rights of students violated

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Delivering the judgment in the Z-score case Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake said a mere statement that the decision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to treat the students who sat the 2011 Advanced Level Examination (A/L) under the new and old syllabi belong to one category, would not be sufficient.

The 38-page judgment with Justice Nimal Gamini Amaratunga and Justice K. Sripavan agreeing, held that the UGC violated the rights of the group of students who sat the 2011 A/L Examination since it failed to calculate separately the Z-scores of the students who sat the examination under the new and old syllabi.

The court directed the UGC to calculate Z-scores of candidates who sat the Advanced Level Examination, 2011 under the new and old syllabi according to accepted statistical principles, treating the candidates who sat the exam under the old syllabus and new syllabus as two distinct groups. The court also directed the UGC to take necessary steps according to law to re-issue the Z-Scores to all the candidates who sat the 2011 A/L Examination, after correcting the errors and shortcomings, without any unnecessary delay.
 The court pointed out that the UGC is the only authority in Sri Lanka, which is empowered to determine the course studies at the universities and select students for admission to higher educational institutions in the country.

“It is indeed an onerous duty, which is cast upon on a single authority such as the UGC. When such type of authority is entrusted to a responsible institution such as the UGC, the Commission has a duty to act reasonably, objectively as well as without any bias. Furthermore in dealing with the selection of students for university admission, which has for many years become extremely competitive, the UGC should adopt a scheme which is transparent and it should be in a position to produce the relevant material on which the decisions were made.”

The court observed that it was necessary to present such material to prove its position. Citing a decision in a Supreme Court case, Justice Bandaranayake pointed out that the rule of no evidence has been accepted by Sri Lankan courts.
 She noted that when the respondents’ position was contradictory and inconsistent with the evidence before the court, the court could hold in favour of the petitioners.

The court observed that the both respondents and the petitioners clearly stated that two sets of students sat for the 2011 A/L Examination. One set of students sat for the question papers set under the old syllabus while the other set of students sat for the papers set under the new syllabus.

However, the UGC had argued that those who sat for the exam under the old and new syllabus could not be grouped into two separate sets, but form one group which sat the A/L Examination.

Senior State Counsel appearing for the first respondent, Commissioner General of Examinations, also contended that there was only one A/L Examination, not two, although two sets of students sat under the old and new syllabi for the examination.
 The court noted that respondents’ counsel contended that to select the best students to the universities the then Commissioner General of Examinations took every effort to ensure the same standards for both examinations under the two syllabi.
 Accordingly the respondents contended that the students who sat the A/L examination in 2011 formed a single class or population for calculating their z-scores.

The court pointed out that the respondents based their argument on the judgment in the rights petition Rienzie Perera vs UGC. The court noted that in that case petitioner Rienzie Perera complained of her rights violation since the UGC applied the ratio basis i.e. UGC would first distribute the places available in each course of study between the successful candidates at the two Examinations under the new and old syllabi held in 1979 in the ratio of the number of students who obtained the minimum requirement for admission at each examination to the total number who sat the Examination.

The UGC had adopted the ratio basis to limit the number of students admitted to the universities.
 The petitioner complained that the application of ratio basis was in violation of her rights and she claimed that the only basis for the selection should be on merit.

The Chief Justice said the court decided that selection on ratio basis resulted in discrimination between equals and should be struck down and added that when the selected students were put together there could not be another class of students ‘within the class’.
 She observed that the Senior State Counsel for the Examinations Commissioner, basing his argument on this judgment, contended that the Examinations Commissioner had maintained the same standards and difficulty in respect of the both examinations under the new and old syllabi and therefore the two sets of students could be considered as a single group as in the Rienzie Perera case.
 Senior State Counsel also argued that candidates who sat for the A/L Exam under the old syllabus could not be treated as forming a distinct and separate class or population from among those who sat the same Examination under the new syllabus.

Accordingly, President’s Counsel for the UGC contended that the question papers for both old and new syllabi candidates were prepared by the same set of examiners who had maintained a similar level of difficulty in both the new and old syllabi question papers. It was therefore contended that as both sets of question papers were of the same standard, both groups of candidates were similarly affected and therefore both groups should be treated similarly.

The Chief Justice pointed out although submissions were made in this regard, except for the affidavit filed by the UGC, there is no evidence to show the same level of difficulty had been maintained by the examiners in all the subjects.
 She pointed out evidence that the candidates who sat the Chemistry I Examination Paper (MCQ) under the old syllabus had less time to answer 33 identical questions (2 minutes per question) and was awarded less marks for each correct answer (1.6marks) than the candidates who sat the Chemistry I paper (MCQ) under the new syllabus who had 2.4 minutes to answer each of the 33 identical questions for which two marks for each correct answer was awarded.

The CJ noted that it clearly shows that the candidates who sat the Chemistry I paper under the old syllabus had less time to answer and scored less marks and the candidates who sat for the Chemistry I Examination Paper (MCQ) under the new syllabus had more time to answer and scored more marks for 33 identical questions.

On this basis, there was no evidence produced by counsel for the respondents to show that the same standards were maintained in all the subjects that were offered at the 2011 A/L Exam under the old and new syllabi

By Wasantha Ramanayake
ST

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