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ET Explains: Why CA students are up in arms

Over the last few days, thousands of students of the Chartered Accountants (CA) course have been up in arms against the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAI). Protests have been raging at ICAI branches across India.

At the heart of these protests lies a demand for reform — of how the institute evaluates exam papers. Students are alleging that all their efforts and years of preparation have come to naught because of the faulty system.

Even some certified CAs have taken up the cudgels. How did matters come to this pass? Let us break it down for you.

The reason behind the agitation
The demand for a reform — being raised since December 2018 — gained fresh momentum last week after the ICAI released ‘Suggested Answers’ to the May 2019 exam. When these answers were compared by some students with their answer sheets, obtained under the Right to Information Act, many discrepancies in evaluation came to light.

They found that some of the correct answers were not awarded any marks, and in some cases the total marks in answer sheets differed to those on mark sheets.

Outrage spread on social media after Neeraj Arora, a CA and an educator, released a video on YouTube asking the ICAI to reform the marking system so that deserving students get their due.

“Students found that many of their correct answers had been marked as wrong and this way, many students flunked the papers. In some cases, even 12 marks have been deducted,” Arora told PTI.

What the protesters want
Protesting students have sought an amendment to Regulation 39(4)of the Chartered Accountants Act, 1949. The regulation only allows for verification of “whether the candidate’s answers in any particular paper or papers have been examined and marked, and not for the re-examination of the answers.”

That means students can only ask ICAI to re-total their marks — leaving no scope for re-examining/revaluating of apparently wrongly marked papers.

The charter of demands

  • Provide the option of Re-Correction of the answer sheet
  • Penalise the exam evaluators if mistakes are found in their work
  • Give Question Booklet of MCQs and Disclose correct Answers
  • Centralised Evaluation
  • Allow students to mark the circles on OMR sheets in exams with pens

Reforms, finally…
On September 21, after the matter took social media by storm, ICAI announced a series of reforms, including:

1. Digital evaluation: All papers of Intermediate and Foundation level exams in November 2019/May 2020 will be put through the digital evaluation mode to avoid physical handling of answer books, avoiding variations in marks awarded by examiners, eliminating scope of any totaling errors.

2. Central evaluation: Further the Central Evaluation is being carried out in several papers of CA exams, w.e.f November 2018 wherein examiners evaluate answer books under the supervision of Head Examiner/Associate Head Examiners.

3. Machine-based evaluation: Effective May 2019 exams, objective type questions for 30 marks have been introduced in select papers of Intermediate and Final Exams. Further, the Institute has decided to introduce OMR based evaluation for MCQ’s of Elective Papers 6A to 6F of final New course with effect from November 2019 which are machine processed thus avoiding subjectivity.

4. Stepwise marking: Provision regarding stepwise marking is being enforced whereby in case the stepwise marks are not awarded; it will be deemed as unevaluated answer and stepwise marks will be awarded during the course of re-verification of marks

5.Mandatory on-line test for empanelment of examiners: All applicants shortlisted for empanelment as examiners are required to qualify an on-line test in the subject of their choice before inclusion of their names in the Panel of Examiners. It has further been decided that all existing examiners would also be required to undergo an on-line test in their respective subjects, once in 3 years.

…but the protests didn’t stop
The agitating students, however, say these measures bring little or no respite — they give no relief to students who failed because of lapses in evaluation.

Mass protests against the ICAI started on September 23, with agitated students thronging ICAI branch offices across cities. Subsequently, the ICAI issued another announcement on September 24.

The new announcement said, “A section of the students led by agencies external to the Institute have been demonstrating outside the ICAI premises from 23rd September 2019. In order to empathize the genuine concern, if any, of the students, they were given an opportunity to meet the officers and council members on 24th September 2019 wherein more than ten representatives including ICAI members, non-members and students participated in the discussions. The representatives of agitators submitted that their only demand is to allow for provision of re-checking of answer books in the Chartered Accountancy examinations.”

A condescending ICAI? You decide
ICAI, in the same announcement, asked students to “concentrate on their studies and preparation for forthcoming examination” and “not to be carried away by such issues”.

“The Institute is seized of their problems and will be considered and taken up at the appropriate forum by following due process,” it added.

Last heard…
The pan-India protest has found backing from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi who on Wednesday tweeted, “Across India 12 Lakh CA students are fighting for their right to have their exam papers re-evaluated by ICAI. Given the widespread reports of errors in the evaluation of answer sheets, this demand is justified & should be supported by all political parties.”

Meanwhile, students, teachers and ex-students protesting outside ICAI office said they would continue the protest till their demand for rechecking/revaluation is met.