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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

No financial help from UGC during Covid, varsities underline lack of digital infrastructure

The UGC has released more than half a dozen guidelines and advisories on COVID-appropriate behaviour that educational institutes need to adhere to, but has not released any additional funds for covid management or digital infrastructure.

Written by Sheetal Banchariya | New Delhi |
Updated: June 1, 2021 11:02:29 am
The UGC has released more than half a dozen guidelines and advisories related to COVID-19. EXPRESS PHOTO BY PRAVEEN KHANNA 05 02 2018.

All educational institutes across the country were shut when the first nationwide lockdown was imposed on March 22 last year to contain the spread of the coronavirus. As an alternative, all schools, colleges and universities had to take a sudden shift towards online learning. However, not all universities were equipped with the required digital infrastructure.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has released more than half a dozen guidelines and advisories on COVID-appropriate behaviour that educational institutes need to adhere to, but they have not been provided with any financial aid.

“Moving to online mode of learning is not limited to lectures on video calling apps. It is to ensure that the faculty has the required digital infrastructure to deliver lectures through the internet including virtual reality (VR), gamification and engaging content. In most webinars or lectures, teachers face connectivity issues due to a lack of sufficient bandwidth. Some teachers did not even have dedicated laptops. The universities have not received any funds to meet such demands in the past one year,” MK Surappa, vice chancellor, Anna University, told indianexpress.com.

Rajnish Jain, secretary, UGC, agrees that no funds have been released by the commission for COVID-19 management or online learning. “We receive funds directly from the Education Ministry and then disseminate them to the educational institutes. To the best of my knowledge, no additional funds have been allocated during the Covid period and there is no such plan in the pipeline. If and when there will be an availability of funds, they will be redirected to the universities,” Jain said.

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The UGC did not come up with anything more than advisories, said Rajib Ray, president, Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA). “Professors were working from colleges till May 4, and 20 teachers had already lost the battle to COVID. No help from the government came up. Central university teachers recruited after the new pension scheme (NPS) of 2004 will not even receive death gratuity. Government should have provided some monetary support in such unprecedented times,” Ray said.

The varsity is providing 5 lakh compensation to the families of the deceased through the Teacher Welfare Fund, which was established in 1975 and is run by financial contributions of DU teachers. “Teachers require better laptops to conduct classes and at the same time, they had to buy separate laptops for kids’ online classes. Amid a pandemic, a university professor would not have been able to afford it very comfortably,” Ray added.

While private universities are not dependent on the UGC for funds and have the cushion of corporate funding, they too are struggling with the increased expenses amid COVID.

“Private universities are not generating any funds of their own amid Covid, but the functional costs have remained unchanged. No revenue is inflowing as the hostels are empty, the mess facility is not being used. Corporate funding is also hampered as most industries are facing financial setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic. A one-time provision of additional financial support could have helped private universities deal with the changing medium of education,” Surendra Malhotra, member, Board of Management of JK Lakshmipat University.

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Several state governments have announced special schemes to fund the school education of students who have lost either one or both parents to COVID. The central government recently announced a special “PM-CARES for Children” scheme for all those orphaned due to COVID-19. It will include a corpus of Rs 10 Lakh till a child reaches the age of 18. When a child turns 18, he or she will draw a monthly stipend from the corpus of Rs 10 lakh to meet expenses for personal needs and higher education. As per the official statement, the child will get the entire Rs 10 lakh on reaching 23 years of age.

Universities are also setting up their covid-relief funds to help such students with the course fee without any financial support from the government.

Atul Chauhan, Chancellor, Amity University, said, “Over the last few months, we have had many tragic instances where our students have lost one or both of their parents, making it difficult for the students to pay their fee and continue their education. We have instituted a relief fund through which we aim to sponsor the entire academic fee of such students.”

He added, “The university has received over 250 applications from students looking out for financial assistance from undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, against the opening window for 100 students initially. A committee has been formed to evaluate the requests and a financial corpus of over Rs 40-50 crore have been mulled over for the same.”

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