Delhi University is working on framing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the phased return of final-year undergraduate and postgraduate students with officials also hinting that the next semester may be taught offline.
DU’s official spokesperson Balaram Pani, principal of Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences, said college principals and university officials are working on SOPs, which are expected to be issued in a couple of weeks. “We are discussing the modalities. Outstation students are a concern as they may require hostels, and we are currently figuring out how that can be facilitated. We are also planning to arrange for some sort of testing facilities for incoming students to ensure the health and safety of our stakeholders is not at risk. If the [Covid-19] situation is better by April-May, we can begin the next semester in physical mode.”
Colleges and universities in the national capital have been closed since March 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and classes had moved completely online. After research and final-year postgraduate students of Science courses were allowed to return to laboratories in small numbers in November, final-year UG students had been demanding a phased re-entry of Science students because they were losing their credit points due to no practical lessons.
On Thursday, DU announced that after consultation with college and department representatives, the varsity “will slowly and carefully start allowing only final year students” to return to campus for “lab work and practical classes” in small groups.
The announcement stands to affect Humanities, Commerce students also, as both require a certain degree of lab work. DU dean of students (DSW) Rajeev Gupta said the university will initiate the phased entry from February. Generally, final-year exams for DU students are held in April-May.
Principals across colleges said ensuring physical distancing among UG students will be a major challenge. Manoj Khanna, principal of Ramjas College, said, “It will be challenging to ensure social distancing among students who will be getting together after a difficult year. The seating capacity in our labs will have to be reduced to one-sixth of the original, if we were to follow six-feet physical distancing. This means students may attend only one or two physical classes in the stipulated time period. The students who won’t be able to visit campuses may feel that they are being left behind giving rise to the possibility of a learning divide.”
Bijayalaxmi Nanda, principal of Miranda House, said they are waiting for the university to release an advisory on the matter. “In addition to university protocols, our college is also preparing four technologically blended classrooms with 360-degree cameras so that teachers carrying out experiments in the lab with the small group of students can record and stream it for students who could not attend the in-person tutorials,” she said. The college will only be looking at local students or those outstation students who can arrange for their own accommodation as college hostels will remain closed during this period.
Nanda also said that the college had already installed contactless sanitiser dispensers on the campus along with stocking masks and face shields. “Our classrooms were being cleaned and sanitised as per protocols. Now, these facilities will be extended to the students returning to campus in small groups,” she said.
Manoj Sinha, general secretary of Delhi University Principals’ Association, said, “There is concern among principals but reopening during Covid-19 times is a challenge for every institution, including DU. However, we are mentally prepared. The conversation around vaccination also gives us confidence for quicker immunization fast-tracking the entry of students. Along with university SOPs, we will be asking students to install the Aarogya Setu app and are also setting up cameras in our classrooms to video stream the classes for those students who will attend the lab work or practicals in online mode.”