Universities across the country have been closed since mid-March, even before the coronavirus lockdown was imposed. On Thursday, the University Grants Commission issued guidelines for their reopening. We explain how and when students will go back to colleges and universities:
When are universities and colleges reopening?
The Union government had permitted reopening of schools and higher education institutions in phases after October 15, depending on the local situation. The actual timing and manner of reopening had to be decided by each state individually.
In most states, the phased reopening started with schools. However, over the last few days, announcements have been trickling in on getting university and college students back.
The Punjab and Haryana governments, for instance, have allowed universities and colleges to hold in-person classes after Diwali, from November 16.
West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee has asked higher education institutions in the state to plan for classes in December. In case of universities run by the Union government, it is up to the head of each institution to take a decision on reopening, based on “the feasibility of the opening of physical classes”. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
Who goes back first to the university?
While the Union government’s guidelines on school reopening had left a lot to the discretion of the states, the UGC is more specific in its instructions.
The higher education regulator wants universities and colleges to call back research scholars, post-graduate students in science and technology programmes and final-year undergraduate students (for placement purposes). However, the number of students attending classes on campus, at a given time, should not be more than half the total student strength, the guidelines state.
The remaining students will be encouraged to continue online learning, but they may visit their departments in smaller groups, with prior appointment, to consult faculty members.
What is the Centre’s stand on attendance?
While the Education Ministry had taken a clear stand on not making attendance compulsory for school students, there are no clear-cut directions in the UGC guidelines. It only states, “Some students may opt not to attend classes and prefer to study online while staying at home. Institutions may provide online study material and access to e-resources to such students for teaching-learning.”
“Institutions should have a plan ready for such international students who could not join the programme due to international travel restrictions or visa-related issues. Online teaching-learning arrangements should also be made for them,” the guidelines further state.
What would university and college life look like amidst the pandemic?
Aside from standard precautions such as regular disinfection of institution premises and temperature screening of teachers and students on campus, higher education institutions will end up remaining open for longer hours for six days a week to accommodate students in batches and ensure social distancing.
Wearing a mask is mandatory for all teachers and staff on campus. A class will be broken up into multiple sections, with each section attending in-person lessons on rotation basis. “The visitors should either not be allowed at all or their entry should be drastically restricted,” the guidelines states.
Cultural activities and meetings will be avoided. However, extra-curricular and sports activities may be allowed where physical distancing is possible.
The UGC guidelines discourage reopening of hostels. If it has to be done, then sharing of rooms will not be allowed, which effectively means all hostellers will not be allowed back on campus. The institutions will have to prioritise return of a few based on some criteria and 14-day quarantine for returning students will be mandatory. Students with COVID19 symptoms cannot stay in the hostels. “Resident students and staff should avoid or limit visiting the markets. As far as possible, essential items may be made available within the campus,” UGC said in its guidelines.
In case a student or faculty member living on campus tests positive for COVID19, UGC has advised the institutions to immediately isolate the patient. “Universities and colleges should have a ready plan to provide healthcare support to those resident students and staff who test positive and are isolated.”
“The guidelines restricting social and physical contacts and mobility in such parts of residential places in the campus, where positive cases have been found, should be strictly enforced. Measures like holding no class, not leaving the rooms for hostellers, if applicable, no take away arrangement of food from mess etc. may be enforced, depending upon the severity of the situation,” the guidelines state.
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