Design: Hardhik Pinjala
The Coronavirus pandemic has led the world to a standstill forcing a shutdown of companies, schools and universities. In this article, we will be looking at how different universities in different parts of the world are dealing with this crisis, how they are managing to wrap up the semester and when they plan to reopen.
The Situation Abroad:
Let’s first head overseas and look at how universities outside India are managing amidst the crisis. University of Winchester, UK has moved all face-to-face teaching and assignments online for the rest of the academic year. They have also postponed or cancelled all the public events that were to be hosted in the university and put a ‘No Detriment Policy’ for all students. All exams have been converted into assessments that can be conducted virtually, so exams will not be conducted in the normal May assessment period.
Oxford University has introduced a recruitment freeze and redeploy staff, as part of dealing with financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic. So all the recruitment processes, which were ongoing, are paused at the moment.
This is a means to ensure that where recruitment takes place, existing staff coming to the end of the fixed term/contract or whose post is at risk of redundancy are given first priority.
Universities across the UK are calling for emergency funding of at least 2 billion pounds, warning some institutions will go bust without it. With the coronavirus pandemic threatening to sharply cut the overseas student numbers, the universities are in financial danger. They are asked for control on student numbers, keeping fee income at similar levels to last year.
As for schools in England, they are expected to reopen in a “phased manner”, says Gavin Williamson, Secretary of Education, England. 6, 10 and 12 years might go back first by 1st June. The education secretary said he did not expect this term to be extended into the summer holidays – although some schools were already planning to open over the summer to help pupils catch up.
In the US, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Columbia have adopted a pass/fail policy instead of giving out letter grades, whereas other universities like Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania, will offer pass/fail grading as a choice. Under this system, students will be able to opt in to make any of their classes pass/fail.
Different Perspectives on New policies:
This pass/fail policy has mixed views among students. One of the popular opinions is that enforcing pass/fail policy for everyone would negatively impact the applications for graduate school and further studies as well as the general motivation to learn.
Yet others argue that for students whose circumstances make them less able to focus on coursework, a mandatory pass/fail system is the only truly equitable option. They believe that this new policy destigmatizes taking a class as P/F and curbs a lot of the stress brought on because of the pandemic.
James Valentini, the Dean of the University of Columbia says that it is unfair to evaluate a student’s work using the same standard as before, with the varying personal circumstances of students and the need to adjust to online teaching for faculty. “While some students and faculty may feel that the usual awarding of letter grades would be desirable for individual reasons, the imperative in this time of global crisis is to do what is best for the entire academic community so that the playing field is levelled for all,” he wrote.
Some professors are also pointing out the duress faced by both, the teaching staff as well as the students. Students can be supported along the way, but college teachers, despite their excellent skills and credentials, are highly under-compensated for the work they do. The faculty are devastated with the immense workload of converting their lectures online which weren’t meant to be taught that way. Then there poses a challenge for conducting classes which require the physical presence of students as well as the teachers like science labs. And if a teacher calls in sick, finding a substitute for that course is troublesome.
Back in India:
Institutes of eminence such as Delhi University are mulling over the idea of online exams while they figure out the logistics of making that feasible. Internet connectivity issues for all students is a major concern as well as the fact that different question sets need to be prepared for each student which requires a large question bank. The University Grant Commission (UGC) on the other hand, initially believed that Indian universities lack the mechanism and infrastructure to hold online exams. The fact that the usage of unfair means cannot be prevented has also been a deciding factor. Hence online exams have been considered a remote possibility.
However, with the lockdown being extended, the UGC issued new guidelines for universities and colleges for conduction of exams post lockdown. These guidelines are a broad advisory, and institutions do have the freedom to decide the finer details. Institutions can decide whether or not they want non-graduating students to face final exams or be promoted on the basis of internal assessment.
Furthermore, institutions can choose to conduct these exams online or offline depending on their available infrastructure and the on-ground situation in their respective areas. The UGC also suggests that colleges resume classes in August or September. It is also proposed to have a six-day week to make up for lost time and holidays be reduced going forward.
Contingency Plan for Various IITs:
As for the other IITs, IIT Bombay has declared the institute closed for the summer. In the meantime, faculty will be conducting a special, online summer semester for any graduating junta with backlogs.
Keeping in mind Mumbai as a COVID-19 hotspot, a proposal by the Senate is being floated, which calls for closing the current semester, without requiring students to travel back to the campus. Final grading would be done on the basis of scaled-up grades up until and including the mid-semester examinations.
There are also talks of reducing the courses’ weightages, and making them pass/fail. However, his proposal has not been adopted yet.
IIT Kharagpur has declared summer vacation and hopes to conduct the exams for the spring semester in the second week of July.
IIT Hyderabad hopes to complete the coursework of final year students in May while postponing all other examinations to a later date in July if possible. It still hopes to conduct its convocation on 25th July.
Professors of IIT Kanpur, as well, have time till the mid of May to complete coursework and plans on conducting end semester exams in June.
IIT Delhi has announced summer vacation and plans on a phased re-entry of students to campus.
Newer IITs like IIT Jodhpur also plan on following a similar contingency plan by sharing online coursework and having vacations till the last week of June.
As per the Government advisory, all research scholars will be allowed to return and resume their works in the labs, once it is safe. The entire admission process is deferred until further notice. For undergraduate admission, the Union HRD minister announced JEE mains would be held from 18th-23rd July, and JEE advanced would be held in the month of August.
Moving on to internships, a few of the recruiters have cancelled the interns while others are trying to look for measures so that one can work from home. Research interns abroad like DAAD and MITACS have been cancelled with the whole country being in lockdown.
With no clear indication about when the international air travel and visa issuances will be resumed, it is to be assumed that virtually all research interns are cancelled. As suggested by the administration, pre-final year students are attempting to pursue a work-from-home internship and placement cells across the board are requesting companies to accommodate these requests. Remote internships under a professor from the institute itself has become an option for students wherever possible.
As far as placements are concerned, a few companies have revoked their offers but the respective placement teams are already looking into other options for the affected students.
The All IITs Placement Committee (AIPC) has written letters to recruiters requesting them not to rescind any offers that have been made for placements as well as for internships.
As we watch the situation worsening from the sidelines, and wait for the worst to be over, grades and coursework may be far from a priority. The uncertainty of it all still looms above us. Universities are hard at work trying to figure out the best way to make this transition as normal as possible. But many questions still linger. What will come of our exams? Will we still be able to figure out a way to complete our internships and work at the companies we’ve been placed in? And most importantly, when will we be able to return back to our lives in the insti?
Disclaimer: Information in the article is as accurate and per policies confirmed up till the date of publishing [9/5/2020]. In such a highly fluctuating scenario, these policies are liable to change depending on changes in the situation.