Online classes: HEC issues new guidelines for varsities
By Tanveer Abbas
Islamabad (TP) November 26, 2020: The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has announced new policy guidance for universities for online classes after the government announced to shut educational institutions across the country.
“As per the government directions, all academic institutions shall be closed from November 26 until December 24. However, they shall continue to deliver education through online or hybrid means or through assigning homework (especially if there are problems of connectivity). The winter holidays shall be scheduled from December 25, 2020, to January 10, 2021, and all academic institutions shall remain closed during this period,” said a statement issued by the regulatory body.
The HEC said that academic institutions are scheduled to open on January 11, 2021. However, a review meeting will be held during the first week of January 2021 to assess the situation before authorizing the opening of academic institutions.
“In the light of the government directions, the vice-chancellors have been authorised to allow small groups of “essential” individuals on campuses, subject to the implementation of scrutiny mechanisms or safeguards. Only certain categories of students may be allowed on campuses. These categories may comprise low-income students who may have connectivity problems at home because of lack of access to the internet or the un-availability of proper devices, foreign students, those pursuing PhD or MPhil (or final year students) who need to use laboratories to complete their thesis work, or third year or higher medical students who need to obtain clinical training,” the HEC said.
It said that the total number of students permitted to show up in universities should not exceed 30 per cent of the total enrollment or a lower number, if dictated by the campus conditions. Similarly, it said, the vice-chancellors may require the faculty members to come to campus for delivering or preparing their online lectures.
“All large examinations planned for December 2020 have been postponed, with the exception of assessment examinations, such as MDCAT, other entrance exams, recruitment exams, or prescheduled small examinations (eg, less than 30 students). These may be conducted, if absolutely necessary, with strict observance of all health and safety protocols,” the HEC statement said.
As for hostels, the HEC new policy guidance says that the vice-chancellors have the authority to allow limited occupancy of hostels, subject to the instructed restrictions. Only the students in the “essential” categories will be allowed. The total number of students shall not exceed 30 per cent of the capacity of the hotels (or a small number if so dictated by health considerations).
“All standard operating procedures shall be implemented strictly and diligently. The universities will put in place appropriate measures including isolating hostel residents (treating the hostels as a safe bubble) to protect them from external infection,” it said.
The HEC has also released Rs10 million each to all public sector universities to help them establish any supportive arrangements needed to improve the quality of the online education process. Besides, the HEC said, universities may recruit senior, tech-savvy students to assist faculty members in technology-related problems involving online education.
“The HEC has also constituted a COVID Response Oversight Committee to collaborate with the vice-chancellors in their respective regions, clarify questions or concerns, share best practices, and oversee the implementation of the Covid-19 protocols. The committee will also interact with the respective provincial governments to ensure synchronized and cooperative action,” it said.