‘Rejig colleges before reopening’

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‘Rejig colleges before reopening’

Wednesday, 21 October 2020 | SHAHEEM RAHIMAN

After academic institutes open, quality education will not be the only mandate. Creating a COVID-safe environment for students, faculty, and staff will be a priority, says SHAHEEM RAHIMAN, CEO at Atria University

In a post lockdown era, the preparedness for reopening of academic institutes will call for a substantial rejig on multiple levels. And, quality education will no longer be the only mandate. Creating a COVID-safe environment for students, faculty, and staff will be one of the many priorities across academic establishments.

In India, overflowing classrooms is a common sight. With the pandemic showing no sign of slowing down, creating a safe educational experience will first require efficient strategizing and planning.

Staggered occupancy with spaced out seating needs to be accounted for. Although, scheduling parallel batches and mapping them to the availability of faculty members will be a formidable task. In addition to social distancing norms, universities will also have to implement regular sanitation, on-campus testing, and decontamination procedures on priority.

Moreover, outstation students, staff, faculty, and visitors traveling to and from COVID-19 affected areas present a major area of concern. The potential for rapid transmission in a congregate setting within campus environments is extremely high. While current predictions maintain that it's unlikely that all students, faculty members, and staff will return to campus simultaneously, quarantine protocols and safe commute options will have to be established for all. The scale of planning, managing, and implementing this in itself will be a mammoth undertaking.

Travel restrictions and staggered semesters present a plethora of questions for university administrators. How will international students bypass travel restrictions? And, should students prefer to continue with remote learning, how are universities expected to optimize the overhead costs of a semi-functional campus?

Seemingly viable alternatives are swiftly catapulting into challenging situations for senior leadership. However, switching to virtual, off-campus modes of teaching has created a multitude of speculations regarding the necessity of charging full fees for services students cannot use on campus. Demands around refunds for residential fees are also on the rise. Forcing many universities to deliberate on revised fee structures that are more aligned to the new education model.

The sudden onset of a worldwide lockdown has left students, particularly those aspiring to begin higher education, in an unapprehend situation. Most companies have canceled their internship-programmes. Universities will need to come up with viable, online, or offline alternatives to reduce the risk of students losing out on real-world learning, hands-on training, and field projects.

With recruiters rescinding offers and deferring joining dates owing to the crisis, universities will struggle with final-year student placements. Due to the rapid decline in the global economy, organisations will be functioning at a cost-saving mode for the next couple of years, which means fewer jobs. Therefore, most academic institutes will have to level up to remain agile and flexible in the face of unforeseen hurdles. Universities, faculty, and students will have to work in tandem to successfully ride over this crisis.

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