UCC Meeting to Review Progress on Alternative Mode of Teaching and Learning

A virtual meeting of the University Coordination Committee (UCC), comprised of University Vice-chancellors, was held on 16th August 2020 in the special presence of Mr. Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, Honorable Minister of Education, Science, and Technology. The meeting was chaired by Prof. Dr. Bhim Prasad Subedi, Chairperson of UGC Nepal. Ten out of eleven university Vice-Chancellors participated in the meeting. The following is a brief description of topics discussed in the meeting:

1. Impacts of Covid-19 on higher education, current situation and the achievements made so far

Covid-19 has directly affected teaching, learning, and research in higher education since the 2nd week of Chaitra 2076. For several weeks, all the teaching, learning, and research activities across higher education institutions have come to a standstill. With the nation-wide lockdown imposed from 24th March, the scheduled annual and semester examinations, despite repeated endeavors, could not be carried out. This was mainly because of several reasons, including the termination of long-distance transportation, transformation of college campuses into quarantine facilities, inability to trace the whereabouts of students, and lack of mental readiness of students and teachers to prepare for and sit in the examinations. Similarly, Covid-19 patients are being treated in many medical colleges, and doctors, nurses, and administrative staffs working in the hospitals are also getting infected with the virus. In these circumstances, the treatment of infected patients became a foremost priority than carrying on academic activities.

Approximately, 250,000 students out of about 350000 enrolled at Tribhuvan University, nation’s largest university, have been traced and remain in touch with the university administration; whereas, smaller universities (in terms of student enrollment) are able to establish contact with almost all the students. As per the Guidelines on Alternative System of Learning in Higher Education Guidelines, 2077, issued b University Grants Commission, the universities have identified and categorized students into various groups and facilitated accordingly:

• Students who have computers and have an access to online (classes),

• Students with computing equipment and who have an access to offline (classes), radio and television,

• Students without equipment such as computers, tablets, and smart phones, and

• Students without an access to the Internet.

Despite sincere efforts, Tribhuvan University, with almost 80% share of students in the country, has been unable to trace the whereabouts of its approximately 90,000 students while corresponding number of students in other universities was small. Having provided training to their teachers and administrative staff, all universities, except Pokhara have been conducting online classes of few subjects in Bachelor’s, Master’s, and M. Phil. level. After the resumption of online classes, however, some students have also been opposing alternative learning system citing unavailability of internet connection, electricity, and resources as well as some other reasons.

2. Implementation and effectiveness of Alternative Learning Guidelines in higher education, 2077

In view of the health and security concerns created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the government of Nepal has imposed a nation-wide lockdown to contain the spread of virus through social distancing. This has led to a total closure of teaching, learning, and research activities in universities and affiliated higher education institutions. In such an adverse situation, some universities and higher education institutions took the initiative of offering online classes by the end of Chitra, 2076. The absence of a systematic guidelines and procedures to regulate online classes was realized and Guidelines for Facilitating the Alternative Mode of Learning 2077, was issued by the UGC. It was reported that this guideline, has become very effective and useful. Universities have adopted the procedures and norms that are clearly mentioned in the Guidelines. They have also developed further directives in the spirit of the Guidelines to address their specific needs and standards. In fact, all the universities and their affiliated institutions have effectively implemented the Guidelines.

3. Activities/ Programs implemented under UGC grants

Although the impacts of Covid-19 have been felt among universities since the first week of Chaitra 2076, UGC received the programs and budget to ameliorate the effects of Covid-19 at the end of Ashad. In between some universities, , had already started running online classes by mobilizing their own internal resources. Even before receiving the UGC grants (related to Covid-19),According to Vice-Chancellors, the new programs and budget granted to minimize the impacts of Covid-19 has made it easier for universities to implement alternative learning measures effectively. The grants provided by the UGC have been utilized by the universities in the following ways:

1) Internet capacity has been upgraded.

2) Students and teachers were provided with official university email accounts.

3) Teachers and students have received technical training in running/taking online classes.

4) Examinations have been conducted in programs with fewer students.

4. Regarding current academic session

Among various measures prescribed in the UGC Guidelines 2077, attention has been focused on not letting the academic year go to waste. For this, the students, who are studying in the current semester or academic year and whose final examinations have been postponed due to Covid-19, will be able to take classes of next semester or year via online. The postponed examinations will be conducted at an appropriate time in future.

5. Action plan for next six months

It is quite uncertain as to how long the Covid-19 condition will continue. In case the circumstances do not return to normal in near future, the need for developing a more effective alternative learning system has been realized. For this, the concept of a common integrated data center will have to be implemented in coordination and collaboration of all the higher education institutions. To establish such a data center, however, will require a large amount investment. For this, sources to cover the budget need to be identified. It has also been realized that such a data center should be housed at the UGC. The meeting discussed the following actions that the universities need to take in the coming six months:

1) To prepare and publish a 6-month academic calendar within 7 days, in order to avoid the loss of entire semester and academic year,

2) To conduct online examinations in possible subjects,

3) To revise the curriculum of higher education so as to align them with research and service opportunities,

4) To adopt and implement various necessary measures to run classes and conduct examinations,

5) To formulate strategies to develop professional capability of students pursuing higher education in the Faculty of Education, and

6) To move forward by making teaching, learning, and research as the foundation of the curriculum.

6. Other issues raised during the discussion

Sanskrit university has a special situation. With the termination of Uttarmadhyama (post-middle school) level, the mainstay of student enrollment, in Sanskrit University, has been gone. Thus, it was requested that UGC and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology come up with a special decision regarding the situation for the future operation and sustenance of the university.