– Shivani Chaturvedi (Chennai)
The AIADMK-led state government has bit the bullet and reopened in-campus classes in higher education institutions (HEIs) on December 7. The reopening order issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, is restricted to final-year undergraduate students of arts and science, engineering, agriculture, fisheries and veterinary colleges and universities statewide. It’s also applicable to students in undergraduate and postgraduate medical and paramedical courses. The government has also given the green light to reopen hostels for final-year students of these collegiate programmes.
However, the state’s 37 universities, 552 engineering colleges, 449 polytechnics, 566 arts and science colleges and 50 medical colleges, which partially reopened after nearly eight months of lockdown because of fear of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected 793,000 citizens and killed 11,822 statewide (December 7), are experiencing thin student attendance.
Although somewhat disappointed by this tepid response, college administrators and faculty are not crestfallen. “The longevity of the pandemic is not yet clear. So, until the anti-Covid vaccine comes into the market, parents and students are hesitant about in-campus classes. Therefore, it’s best that final year students who need to complete their projects and interact with faculty should have the option to come to campus. Rather than students being forced to attend, it’s better that colleges resume classes in a phased manner. Meanwhile, we are adhering to prescribed protocols to safeguard the health and safety of students who come to the campus. For now, we are restricting campus visits to final-year students so they can complete their education and be prepared for employment,” says Prabhakaran Gopalakrishnan, principal of KCG College of Technology, which has 2,000 students and 250 teaching and non-teaching staff on its muster rolls.
Meanwhile, semester examinations are being planned for mid-December and the general expectation is that with Covid-19 infection and fatalities reducing daily and mass vaccination around the corner, final year students will be sufficiently prepared to write their final exams in April-May as per the usual calendar before the legislative assembly election scheduled for early May.
The leadership of the ruling AIADMK party which will fight the forthcoming assembly election in alliance with the BJP, which is making a huge comeback in peninsular India, is confident that its optional college attendance policy will win it the state’s not inconsiderable youth vote, as it has warily treaded middle ground on this issue.
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