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NEW DELHI : Academics and institutions have pushed back against the demand to defer the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) scheduled in September, over fears that 2020-21 could become a ‘zero academic year’.

Learning cannot wait indefinitely as the coronavirus pandemic may be around for a while, the academics and institutes said. Compromising the key entrance examinations and diluting the admission process will have a deeper impact on the quality of teaching-learning environment and undermine the quality of top medical and engineering institutions, they said.

“The pandemic has already disrupted the academic plans of many students and institutions and we don’t see the it going away any time soon. We should not let this be a zero academic year as it might have consequences on the bright future of several students," said Ajit Chaturvedi, director of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee.

The plan to conduct the two-tier JEE comprising JEE (Mains) and JEE (Advanced), and the NEET in September have met with opposition from the Congress and other Opposition-ruled states such as Punjab, West Bengal, Delhi, Odisha, and Maharashtra, who cite the risk of holding the examinations even as coronavirus continues to spread rapidly in the country.

The current academic year has already got delayed because of severe restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the virus. Existing engineering and medical batches have started new semesters online, but the absence of fresh admissions may push the new academic year to 2021. Academics and institutes say that even if examinations are conducted in September, it will be hard to use the remaining four to five months of the academic year to catch up on an entire year’s practical-oriented courses such as medical and engineering and this will thus create a backlog of learning.

A group of more than 120 academics, including the vice-chancellors of some universities, recently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to ensure that both examinations are conducted.

The academics also hinted at people trying to play with the future of students “to propel their political agenda and oppose the government".

“Covid can stay, careers can’t wait," said IIT Delhi director V. Ramgopal Rao. “As the JEE Advanced organizing institute, I assure every one that IITs will do their best and put their best foot forward in organizing the JEE Advanced examination. We will also closely monitor the situation and take steps as necessary," Rao said.

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