Universities Ready to Reopen with SOPs

Islamabad: Universities nationwide are developing policies and procedures in expectation of a governmental decision to reopen campuses from September 15, 2020, and in the light of the guidance provided by the Higher Education Commission (HEC).

The 31st Vice-Chancellors Committee Meeting was held online and attended by over 150 Vice Chancellors and Rectors from across the country. The meeting considered various options on related issues, including staggering of courses, hybrid classes, class attendance, the opening of hostels, management of transport services, health monitoring on campus, and SOPs for student safety.

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Chairman HEC Tariq Banuri advised the university heads to announce their policy well in time, in a clear and unambiguous manner, and share it proactively with faculty members and students.

A number of Vice-Chancellors, including UVAS, KEMU, Sucker IBA, KFUEIT, KIU, FJWU, PIFD, SBBWU, informed the meeting about the actions they had already taken in accordance with the HEC guidelines. Others urged that VCs should be given flexibility in choosing the model that best suits the conditions on their campuses. Chairman HEC expressed appreciation for the actions already taken. He also assured the participants that the HEC policies are based on a recognition of the diversity of conditions, saying: “You are the captains of your ships, and we have full confidence in you. We hope that under your leadership, our universities will ensure both the safety of students and faculty and the effective delivery of educational content.” He said all universities must maintain total vigilance to prevent and control any incidents of virus recurrence, including through active surveillance of health conditions, earmarking isolation facilities, and facilitating access to medical and isolation facilities.

There was an active discussion about two major issues, opening up of hostels and organizing transportation with proper safety protocols. It was agreed that while a single policy might not work in all conditions, most universities would have to reduce the number of students to be accommodated in hostels. Depending on their situation, universities may have to restrict residencies to students with higher needs, e.g., final year students, students facing internet connectivity issues at home, students needing practical work, or first-year students. On the other hand, universities with entirely residential setups may need to limit the interaction of their resident students with outsiders.

Regarding transportation issues, universities may publicize appropriate SOPs, and organize training sessions for drivers and conductors to sensitize them to precautionary practices.

The Chairman informed the Vice Chancellors that HEC is in contact with the National Command Operation Centre, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Education to intimate them about the university strategies. The committee agreed to reconvene after a month to review progress and adapt the strategy to the evolving situation.

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