While the recent University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines on new academic sessions this year may have been suggestive in nature, universities are willing to go ahead with the same since they assume some improvement in the current lockdown situation.
In its latest guidelines for beginning new academic sessions and examinations, UGC had stated that the session for 2020-21 could commence from August 1 for old or continuing students and from September 1 for fresh students.
"The academic calendar is suggestive in nature. The universities may adopt or adapt it after making a comprehensive assessment of their level of preparedness, residential status of the students, status of Covid-19 pandemic spread in their city, region or state and other factors. The academic session 2020-21 may commence from August 1, 2020 for old students and
from September 1, 2020 for fresh students," UGC had stated.
Despite being suggestive in nature, most varsities are open to following the same.
"For Amity, students' safety and their academic progress are of equal importance. As a strategy to ensure safety we observe and fully uphold the central and state governments' guidelines and the university will also ensure that academic prospects of students are not jeopardized," Amity University Chancellor Dr Atul Chauhan told Business Standard.
The varsity is going to devise staggered classroom session plans, ensure social distancing, introduce e-learning wherever feasible without compromising quality and standards, and emphasize the mentoring role of teachers. "With this broad strategy, we should be able to follow and observe UGC guidelines," Chauhan added.
Similarly, Shiv Nadar University Vice Chancellor Dr Rupamanjari Ghosh said that while UGC's suggestions were tentative, they assumed a "good level of improvement in the situation".
"Therefore, we shall also use the summer to prepare for high quality online delivery of our courses in case students are unable to reside on campus right away," said Ghosh. However, according to Manipal Academy of Higher Education sources, the registrar and concerned authorities were yet to take a call on the same. An emailed query to the registrar, however, went unanswered.
As such, some of the varsities, especially private ones, have been ahead of their peers in responding to the Covid-19 crisis by moving their courses online to ensure minimal impact on students' academics as well as the calendar.
For instance, during the first lockdown, Amity University started with online classes and almost 118,000 classes were held online within a month. "Students had already finished with internal examination before the lock down and now we will resume it by proactive scheduling of the exams. Amity has a full house strength of faculty and robust IT support, both committed to stand with students and administration for ensuring timely evaluation of answer sheets and tabulation of results. Hence we expect
that the impact on 2019-20 session can be minimized," said Chauhan.
Private varsities had also gone a step ahead in getting the infrastructure right for conducting classes amidst the lockdown. "Shiv Nadar University had realized the gravity of the situation early and moved all courses to online mode on March 16, even for students who were still on campus. We made emergency purchases of required equipment and software licenses. Our faculty members have been able to carry out all teaching online except for certain aspects like labs and fieldwork," said Ghosh.
Now, having finished the bulk of the planned teaching for the semester, Shiv Nadar University will complete all its online teaching by May 15 and barring a few courses, grading would be completed by end of May. While almost all graduating students are likely to complete their work by May end, a few who may need extensions due to the disruption, will finish by June end.
According to Chauhan, Amity is also mobilizing the technological assets for online delivery of courses, online tutorials, discussion groups, webinars etc. "All advanced methods of contact less teaching will be employed till the time normal classroom and campus activities can be resumed," he said.
These, as a result, would pave way for the new academic session according to the UGC guidelines for the varsities.