Committed to upholding the Standard Operating Procedures and guidelines shared by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), the universities countrywide are all set to start a phase-wise reopening procedure, resuming their operations as per the Government’s instructions on September 15.
This was stated by Chairman HEC while addressing the 32nd Vice Chancellors (VCs) Committee meeting. More than 150 VCs, Rectors, or Presidents of universities participated in the meeting to discuss in detail the reopening plans and procedures.
Addressing the university heads, Mr. Banuri said the HEC as well as the government have full confidence in the VCs, that they will be able to adopt all measures needed for protection of the campus community without compromising the quality and delivery of education. He said COVID-19 has rendered almost all the academic operations harder, so it required the dedicated personal leadership of the Vice Chancellors to inspire both faculty and students, and ensure that educational standards are maintained and anti-Covid SOPs are strictly enforced. “I call upon all of you to resist any attempts to lower the quality of education,” he emphasised.
The Chairman HEC affirmed that the universities will follow the HEC’s guidelines — available at HEC website — to contain the spread of COVID-19 and will firmly implement their respective reopening policies. These guidelines include the permission to open universities on 15 September, measures to screen out potentially infected individuals, and the minimum SOPs to be followed on campus. These measures are to wear face masks in public places, maintain social distance, and undertake strict monitoring to identify and isolate any incidence of the disease.
Within these guidelines, universities have to adopt suitable policies regarding rotation of courses or other measures to ensure proper social distancing and manage population density.
He strongly rebutted the news circulating in a section of press that HEC has directed all universities to adopt a ‘single policy for rotation of courses or managing social density. He said the universities should adopt the policies and measures that suit their respective circumstances, and in line with their local needs. “The most important responsibility of the Vice Chancellors is to announce clear and unambiguous policies, assign responsibilities to various key personnel (both faculty and staff members), establish proper lines of communication, refrain from arbitrary or ad hoc policy changes, and remain in personnel command of the evolving situation”. He said that they must maintain total vigilance to prevent and control any incidents of virus recurrence, including through active surveillance of health conditions, earmarking isolation facilities, and facilitating access to medical and isolation facilities.
He advised university leaders to keep in close touch with district administration officials, health departments, and medical universities in their vicinities to seek support in case of any need. He said that the government and health departments have assured of providing assistance all-possible assistance to universities, and that HEC was available to provide advice or ensure timely liaison with government entities.
The Convener of the VC Committee, Dr. Muhammad Ali, VC of Quaid e Azam University, assured the HEC Chairman that universities are committed to complying with the government instructions, following all possible precautions, and implementing the safety protocols prescribed by HEC, even though he would personally have preferred a single policy in order to reduce the decision making burden on VCs. He proposed that a follow-up meeting be held in the near future to review progress.
On the occasion, a number of universities provided details of the policies they had already announced and publicised. These include Punjab University, GIK Institute, Sukkur IBA; Women’s University of Swabi; Karakoram International University, GCWU Sialkot, and others. Some VCs shared the unique challenges they faced, and asked for support to resolve them. A handful of universities hadn’t yet announced their reopening plans or policies, but they promised to do so forthwith.
Chairman HEC appreciated all the universities that had demonstrated due diligence in adopting and publicising their reopening plans, and stressed upon the few remaining universities to do so immediately.