The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has sought proposals from universities, institutes, and individual researchers on ideas to address the Novel Coronavirus crisis. This was decided on Tuesday in a special video meeting of HEC’s senior management.
The bulk of HEC staff has been directed to work from home, following the directives of the Health Ministry, so all the work of the Commission is conducted electronically. Applications are received online or through courier, meetings are conducted by video link, and all papers and files are handles electronically. These arrangements have been out in place in order to ensure that all major services of the Commission continue to be provided without interruption during the current emergency.
The research initiative launched today, with the support of the World Bank, is entitled the RAPID Research and Innovation Fund (RRIF) program. It aims to mobilize the research capacities of universities in support of national efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Under the initiative, a rapid assessment and review mechanism has been established to analyze research and innovation proposals urgently. Each applicant seeking funding through the RAPID Research and Innovation Fund can propose an idea based on one of the priority themes. The proposals are due by April 3, and funding decisions will be made within the month of April. Funding will be provided to selected research-intensive institutions for analysis of data, testing of specimens, access to facilities or equipment, or development of essential products or services.
Besides the research initiative, HEC has also been working with universities to minimize the impact of the lockdown of universities on academic activities. To this end, three specialized committees have been established to help arrange IT facilities, software, tech support, and curate substantive online content. The objective is to enable faculty members to (virtually) continue teaching their courses from where they left off at the time of closure of universities.
Individual faculty members will share their course outline/s and required reading materials with their students through online learning management systems. Universities will develop repositories of online courses. HEC will facilitate access to an extensive digital library of lectures and courses.
HEC’s COVID-19 Technology Support Committee has prepared a working paper to assist the senior leadership of Universities in easing the transition to virtual instruction. The paper provides the minimum technology requirements and recommendations on the choice of digital platforms for the University.
For collaboration and video conferencing, all public sector Universities have been provided free access to Microsoft Teams software. HEC and Microsoft have been working together to ensure smooth introduction of this platform.
Chairman HEC, Tariq Banuri reiterated that all stakeholders should be sensitized to keep abreast of the latest information about the coronavirus and share it with other people in their communities. Necessary guidelines and safety instructions have already been circulated among universities and are available at the HEC website.
HEC management is continuously monitoring the developing situation arising out of Covid-19 and is in contact with the university leadership for further planning so that all possible support is extended to minimize academic disruption and safeguard faculty and students’ academic and research interests to maximum possible extent in the prevailing situation.