The COVID-19 crisis has been dubbed as “the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two”. As various countries around the world are grappling with ways to deal with the predicament, various measures have been taken to break the chain and flatten the curve. One such measure was the shutting down of educational institutions indefinitely. On the 17th of March 2020, the Dean of Students had sent an email to the students to leave the campus as soon as possible. They were asked to hand over their room keys to their respective hostels. Getting through 5 lockdowns and the uncertainty of the future looming large, T5E reached out to the elected representatives to get an idea of the contingencies planned for the future.
ACADEMIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY
(Chinmay Agrawal 2019-20) & Aman Kumar (Acting AAS 2020-21) with inputs from Ashish Bijlani – IPR Core
Chinmay Agarwal, the Academic Affairs Secretary, attended the Board of Students meeting on the 28th of May 2020.
What should the students expect for the next semester (Aug-Dec 2020)?
There was a plan in early June where the Dean of Students suggested that the August-December semester might be held in 2 batches, i.e. pre-final years and final years as the first batch and first and second years as the second batch or the other way round. This step will ensure that social distancing and other preventive measures can be enforced in all places including hostels and messes.
However, with the present situation that plan is not very likely to materialize. IIT Bombay has already declared that they will be holding their next semester online. With regard to IIT Madras, we will have to wait for our Director to send a mail clarifying the way forward in this regard.
When will the next batch of first years be admitted?
The MHRD has scheduled the JEE- Mains Examination between 1st- 6th September, and the JEE-Advanced on the 27th of September. There is no concrete plan for when the first years will be admitted. The freshies (the batch which was supposed to come in the August of 2020) cannot have their first semester online. These semesters will be online only from second year onwards(the batch of 2019 onwards).
We cannot expect the freshies to come in anytime soon, since counselling and seat allocation procedures have to take place.
What is the case with respect to Scholarships for students?
Scholarships are taken care of by a scholarship committee which comes under the purview of the Academic Section. There has been no formal communication yet regarding the scholarships. However, I’m sure that if revisions have been made, they would have been communicated with the students concerned.
In light of other IITs cancelling end semester examinations, what is the stance of the IITM’s administration with respect to end sems?
In order that the final year students can graduate on time, the professors have already made changes to the evaluation patterns, based on the students’ responses.
With respect to the non-final years, there has been no major change from the mail the Director had sent to the students. The administration has considered the internship period till the 15th of July. Professors are contacting the students enrolled in their courses directly to decide upon a mode of evaluation.
What is the plan of action for internships for the pre-final years?
Internship drive for the pre-final years usually starts (Day 1.0) around the second week of August. However, this year the Day 1 of internships can be expected to happen two weeks post the start of the on-ground semester, which has been indefinitely postponed due to the rising number of cases.The number of companies who turn up might also take a hit, given the current situation.
[Internship Season being held online is also a possibility, dependent on the final decision taken by the AIPC. ]
Most importantly, what steps have been taken with respect to placements, for the class of 2020 and the class of 2021?
For the class of 2020, barring very few companies, no firm has rescinded their job offers. A good number of companies have turned up for recruitment for the phase II of placements for the current graduating batch, which is happening remotely.
For the class of 2021, there are multiple uncertainties with respect to placements. Placements is a pan-IIT event and the final decision is one of the same level. The AIPC would ensure uniformity across all IITs by keeping a consistent timeline. We still are in the ideation phase since a lot more factors need to be considered before taking the call.
A mail has been circulated amongst the students who will be sitting for placements the coming year to assess the needs of the students and to keep them informed.
HOSTEL AFFAIRS SECRETARY
What are the logistical aspects to be considered while considering opening up the institute?
Considering the basic necessity that every student be given a single room, insti can accommodate only 6000 people. However, the deciding factor is the number of students using a particular bathroom /toilet. There have been no norms or protocols issued by the government for the preparation of hostels in educational institutions. It is keeping in mind the guidelines released for offices and other institutions that a guesstimate of 6000 students has been arrived at.
A committee called the Campus Coordination Committee has been set up to look into various quarantining measures to be put in place before the students start coming in. This committee is chaired by Prof. V.R. Muralidharan. In addition to members from the administration, the committee includes the Hostel Affairs Secretary and the Research Affairs Secretary as the student representatives.
If the maximum number of students that can be accommodated is 6000, who will be called in first, and why?
The research scholars will be prioritised while calling students back to the campus. This is because their work has been hit the hardest, especially the scholars whose research involves working in labs. They are also receiving stipends from MHRD. There is only a certain period for which the government will also be able to extend their deadlines.
Assuming that students start coming in the near future, what are the various protocols in place to ensure the safety of the students. Also how are you planning on ensuring that various measures like social distancing, quarantine, are being done properly?
Assuming this condition continues, the administration will call students in a phased manner. Say, for example, we call 800 people in the first phase. They will be quarantined for 14 days since their arrival and then put into different hostels. Similarly this process would continue, until the maximum capacity is reached. The rooms will be completely sanitised according to the guidelines provided by the Government.
During the quarantine period, another important thing to factor in is food. There are 2 options we are exploring at the moment. One is where we open the messes and ensure that proper hygiene and social distancing are being followed. The other option is where packed food is delivered to the students. It comes with its own set of challenges, the major one being the need for manpower to deliver these food packets, and the second one being waste disposal. The packets will be considered biological waste and not food waste. We are still not sure if insti can handle the amount of waste that will have to be treated. As of now, the Greater Chennai Corporation is taking care of the waste management inside the institute. We are awaiting further instructions from the government with respect to how messes and hostels should function.
How will the messes function henceforth?
On an average, every mess has around 30-40 tables. Until now, it has been accommodating 300-350 students at any point of time. With social distancing measures in place, the messes will only be able to accommodate 100 people. With every meal being divided into 3 slots with each slot lasting around 40-50 minutes, every hall can accommodate 300 people for each meal. However, we can extend it to 4 slots by cutting the duration from each slot by 10 minutes. This would increase the holding capacity to 360 students per meal. There are a total of 10 dining halls. So with this approximate calculation in place, the institute can handle 3600-4000 people inside insti.
All the messes have enough cutlery and manpower to ensure that it is properly washed and sanitised before using it for the next meal.
The tender for caterers assures that there will be around 500-700 students every meal. If only this condition is ensured, will we be able charge the students Rs. 107 per meal. Under these circumstances, we will definitely not be able to assure them 700 students per meal. The plan right now is that every caterer will be given 2 dining halls, thereby giving them the assured numbers. However the manpower will have to be increased for cleaning and supervising purposes.
Will there be any change in our hostel fee structure given the circumstances?
Since manpower will have to be increased in the messes as well as hostels for sanitising and supervising purposes, it might cost a little more. It will be decided based on the cost incurred divided by the number of students who will be on campus. These are according to my calculations. There aren’t any official figures agreed upon yet. But there will definitely be a shortage of funds, for which we will be approaching the Institute for funding the deficit.
An official clarification regarding the fees will be sent by the administration through smail.
What is the state of the eateries under CMGFS like the Himalaya Food Court, Anjappar etc?
These eateries will follow the protocols laid out by the government for restaurant facilities. It has been observed that with the eateries under CMGFS also functioning the absenteeism in mess is around 30% for every meal. If CMGFS facilities also start functioning, we can increase the accommodating capacity by another 15%. We might have to tailor the protocols according to our needs. This will be done with the help of the CMO and other experts.
With the current situation, final years coming back to collect their belongings is not possible. What are the measures being taken by the administration in this regard?
A plan that is being seriously considered is to mail the belongings of the final years through courier services. We are figuring out a way to send across their belongings ensuring that care is taken to separate the valuables from the non-valuables. The charges incurred will be deducted from the ikollege portal of the student. However, the logistics for the same are yet to be figured out. It will be done when the situation in Chennai becomes a bit better to allow the hostel managers and other concerned officials to enter the campus. It hasn’t been finalised yet.
How do the final years get their ledger account balance refunded?
Due to lockdown, no hostel manager is allowed to enter the hostels. They will have to look at the expenses and the amount remaining to be able to calculate the ledger account balance of the students. A definite time cannot be given under these uncertain circumstances. Mess rebates for all the students is already underway.
What is the status of the students currently staying in insti?
There are around 300 students who are staying on campus right now. A significant proportion of which are research scholars.
During the first lockdown, students had to satisfy either of the criteria to be eligible to stay in insti: (i) A definite need to stay back because of the nature of the work they were engaged in (ii) A genuine reason for being unable to go back home. There was a study being done in the background about everyone who had requested to be allowed to stay in insti. Only in the due course of time did we realise that the institute does not have enough manpower to handle the extensive protocols put in place as a result of the pandemic. With cases increasing inside the campus, the officials who were available also became overwhelmed. People had to start considering the safety of themselves and their families as well. When these considerations were taken into account, and when the lockdown restrictions were relaxed, the students were given an option to leave insti, given that they wanted to and if they could. The position of these students were once again reviewed to keep only those students who absolutely were in need of accommodation.
RESEARCH AFFAIRS SECRETARY
With regard to the contingency plans, what measures have been taken by the administration for the research scholars to carry on with their work?
The research activity on the campus has slowed down and all experimental research is stopped. Only the scholars who got permission to stay back are continuing with their lab work. Many of them have completed their thesis as well. Students who have gone back have had their research affected as well. They can only continue once the campus opens. Alternatively, as per directors mail, they might be asked to do more computational work instead of lab research. Issues with research are being taken on a case to case basis and solutions are discussed for them by the admin and the guide.
Are viva and compre exams still being held?
Viva and seminars are continuing to be held online. No decision has been taken on compre as yet.
Are there any changes with regard to the stipend given to the research scholars?
There are no changes to the stipend. It is continued to be given as per the government norms.
What is the decision with respect to taking in the next batch of research scholars?
As far as admissions are concerned, it is handled at the department level. The HoDs along with the faculty of the respective departments will take a decision regarding this.
INTERNATIONAL AND ALUMNI RELATIONS
(Jayat Joshi & Divya Negi – Heads, Institute Branding Cell, IAR Student Council)
What are the initiatives taken by the I&AR cell to ensure that they stay relevant under these circumstances?
In furtherance to the initiative undertaken by the Alumni Relation Cell, we had contacted the Batch of 2008 and 2009 who had gone through a recession phase soon after their placements, but got laid over. The alumni offered their advice on how to get through this tough phase through around 6-10 letters. We have also shifted to online as a mode of communication outreach through Social media, Podcasts etc.
The entire council has worked towards launching a podcast ‘From Insti and Beyond’ in July in collaboration with ‘the Other Side’ where alumni who are in top managerial positions discuss managing career, professional life and such. We have tried to keep the interests of the final years and the recent batches who have graduated.
The Institute Branding Cell has initiated a Mental Health Campaign in collaboration with Saathi, and the Corporate Relation Cell is looking at potential events for the next semester to upscale the interaction between the industry and academia.
Wilkommen and Alumnight, the flagship on-ground events of I&AR have been cancelled as a consequence of the pandemic. Is your team working on something for the final years?
Yes. Wilkommen and Alumnight being cancelled is a huge disappointment for our team as well as the final years. We are currently working on a graduation video and song produced by IITMTV complimented by a compilation of videos by graduating students discussing their Insti life- an attempt to celebrate their time in IIT Madras.
Chennai 36, the alumni blog is reaching out to alumni who have chosen an unorthodox career path like Film making, Starting an NGO and the like.
We are trying to involve the international Alumni Community by shifting online to keep them connected.
Besides Wilkommen and Alumnite getting cancelled, what other setbacks did you face due to the Institute shutting down this early?
All major events that happen on ground were and will be scrapped.
Our flagship event which happens in association with the IITMAA – ‘Sangam’ will most probably not happen. This used to be an important platform for us to maintain fruitful relations with alumni and industry stakeholders and get a lot of material for the council to work with.
Reunions that happen around October and November may also get affected considering that mobility is low. We are trying to figure out if they can get to connect online.
‘A Day at IIT Madras’ used to be organised for aspiring candidates to make an informed choice about the Institute. We are looking to shift that counselling session online. However the orientation session with freshies might not happen. Students will not get the exposure to connect to the I&AR Community and all that they have to offer.
Given that branding is also a part of your portfolio, IIT Madras has been ranked first in the NIRF ranking yet again. Are there any initiatives regarding this aspect?
The Institute Branding Cell which was constituted around 3 years ago, launched a series titled “Inside NIRF”. This was a comprehensive report on the activities, initiatives, and efforts that goes into making the Institute No.1 in the NIRF Ranking.
An analysis of NIRF and the parameters used in the ranking, showed how the Institute had fared and been consistent in its efforts to maintain the top position for 5 consecutive years.
We are also building a campaign for Mental Health in collaboration with Saathi, a topic we feel is very relevant to today’s scenario.
Branding Cell along with Chennai 36 is documenting a lot of research that has happened in Insti in the past years through interviews. The interview series titled ‘Research Corner’ will feature people who have come up with solutions for industry problems through research. We recently conducted an interview with a professor who invented a standing Wheelchair.
Are there any new initiatives taken this year?
Starting this year, there is a new body called the Global Engagement team. There will be a dedicated Dean for the upcoming body in addition to the existing Dean of Alumni and Corporate Relations.
Will the Alumni funding take a hit or can we expect a boost now that events are shifted online?
Funding from alumni as such will not be affected. General partnerships and associations with brands are also largely unaffected: The Corporate Relations Cell has an ‘Affinity Program’ with brands, to enable our student and alum communities to get special offers/discounts on the brands we partner with. Previously, Croma, EasyDiner, Flipkart, Wall Street Journal, etc. have been part of this. This pandemic has brought the community closer in various ways. The IIT Alumni association is conducting webinars to add value to the institute community. The only major hits have been received by the on-ground alum networking events- Sangam, reunions, etc. which have been cancelled for now.
Disclaimer: Information in the article is as accurate and per policies confirmed up till the date of publishing [4/7/2020]. In such a highly fluctuating scenario, these policies are liable to change depending on changes in the situation.
Designed by Abhiram Pavithran
Edited by Amrita Mahesh and Anna Dominic