Colleges and universities would need to individually consult the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the state government to take a decision on reopening. Unlike past situations, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula will not be used to take a decision on reopening.
Sources told Moneycontrol that prior to reopening, the authorities will ascertain the number of COVID-19 cases in the vicinity of the institute, and check whether the college/university itself was part of a containment zone.
“A college may not be in the containment zone right now. However, it needs to be seen whether it was part of a containment zone within the past 40-60 days. Also, if the college was a COVID-19 care centre, details will be sought on what steps were taken to sanitise/fumigate the premises after that,” said a government official.
This means that even if a particular state government gives permission to colleges to reopen, it will be on a case-to-case basis. For institutes funded by the central government, the principals themselves can take a decision.
However, clarity is awaited on whether a college can itself decide to reopen if the state does not permit it. Education being on the concurrent list, both the central and state governments have equal right to make legislations on the matter.
Information of staff, student health status
Before an institute seeks permission to reopen, it will have to present a detailed plan on how many students will attend in the first phase, and whether there are adequate teachers to conduct physical lectures.
Sources said that the authorities will also ascertain the medical reports of the faculty, and may seek COVID-19 negative reports, if required.
Also Read: UGC says state governments must declare colleges safe before reopening
Final-year students who will have to prepare for their university examinations as also for placements will be given first preference in the first phase. However, it is likely that an odd-even system will be used to permit students inside classrooms.
Students who had contracted COVID-19 in the last 20-25 days, or has family members affected with COVID-19 in their households, may not be permitted to attend classes in the first phase.
UGC had earlier said that the first semester for undergraduate students will begin from November 1 onwards. This batch will have classes till February 2021-end. Post this, there will be a week’s break for exam preparation. In March 2021, the examination will be conducted for these students.
Smaller institutes that don’t have provisions to enforce social distancing may not be allowed to open up physical lectures in the first phase. UGC has said that there will have to be floor markings within the premises of an institute to maintain the six-feet distance between students, faculty and other staff at all times.
Canteens may not be permitted to operate initially since this could lead to crowding in the area. In case it is difficult to have fully online lectures, students would be required to take prior appointments from college administration to enter the premises.
It is also likely that additional manpower will need to be hired by institutes to ensure social distancing, usage of masks at all times and also to help the authorities in case of medical emergencies related to COVID-19.
Are there any concerns?
College authorities from across India told Moneycontrol that having different rules would cause a lot of confusion. For instance, the principal of a Mumbai-based commerce college told Moneycontrol that they wouldn’t be able to arrange for multiple lecture sessions online and offline.
“If the entire class chooses online, it is fine. But say, if 10-15 students chose to stay home and stay online, while the rest come for lectures, it will be tough to keep track of the student progress. Teaching faculty is also not available 24/7 and hence making separate arrangements in college and for home-based students are going to be a challenge,” she added.
Similarly, centrally-funded institutes are concerned about state governments not agreeing to reopen the campus. This is especially true for institutes that either don’t have any facility to hold live lectures online or their students don’t have the technology support to attend online classes.
The chancellor at a West Bengal-based institute told Moneycontrol that while their administration is ready to open up, the state government has prohibited colleges from reopening. The institute still stays shut due to fear of action by the state government.
“In the end, the students will suffer. Rules must be the same for all and be enforced uniformly across the country,” he added.