The Higher Education Commission (HEC) on Wednesday allowed universities across the country to hold online examinations after days-long protests by students in several cities, especially in Lahore where they turned violent earlier this week.
Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood announced the HEC's decision via Twitter, saying he was "happy to note that HEC has formally allowed the universities to conduct online exams with adequate safeguards".
Sharing a picture of the HEC notification, Mahmood said that the decision would "pave the way for [universities] to devise the right procedures to quickly" hold online exams, adding that "education standards must be kept up."
A day earlier, protests by students in Punjab against on-campus examinations took an ugly turn as several students were baton-charged and injured by the security guards of a private university in Lahore.
The students — two of them said to be critical — were hospitalised.
Hundreds of students of various educational institutes of the city under the slogans of "Justice for the Students" had been protesting for the last two weeks against the decision to conduct on-campus examinations.
On Monday, multiple injuries were reported after the Punjab Police allegedly baton-charged students protesting against on-campus exams in Lahore.
Following the incident on Monday, Mahmood had tweeted that "This is a decision for the universities to make, but I have asked HEC to consult VCs and see if it is possible (to hold online exams) given special circumstances this year."
In a statement issued today, the HEC said it had "taken note of the concerns raised by students of some universities that their examinations should be conducted online".
It said that their concerns were reviewed in consultation with the vice-chancellors of all the provinces and regions. The higher education body referred to its 'Guidance on Assessment and Examinations' and said that it had already "allowed universities to use their discretion to conduct exams, either on-campus or online as long as the chosen mode provides a fair assessment of students' performance".
Detailing its policy, HEC said that online exams could be held if the varsities administered 'Open Book Exams' or established an invigilation system in a supervised environment. If varsities choose the online mode, they would also have to use Turnitin — software that detects plagiarised material — to check the students' "similarity index with the web and their answers", according to the guidelines.
"Further, viva/oral exam may be integrated in the assessment where necessary."
However, the HEC clarified that on-campus exams could be held only under "strict compliance with all Covid-19 health and safety protocols".
Addressing another concern of the students, it said that universities "also have to organise make-up classes for two weeks in case students consider the course coverage to be deficient".
"Assessment of all courses requiring psychomotor skills, such as medicine, engineering, subjects involving lab/studio work must be held on campus.
"All students in a single course will be examined in the same mode i.e., either on-line or on-campus," the HEC statement added.