The Way Forward​

To ensure the desired academic continuity in Indian HEIs, it is recommended that some of the actions are taken centrally to address common issues across the board including the governance of the planning, regulatory flexibility, quality assurance, funding mechanisms, and centralised academic content management.

GOVERNANCE

At a centralised level, it is recommended to understand and plan the course of action. For this, a central task force should be created to work on creating a repository of HEIs across the country with following details –

  • Student Count
  • Faculty Count
  • Percentage of students via reservation
  • Percentage of students with special needs
  • Location
  • Location COVID Status (Containment/Red/Amber/Green)
  • Location type (Urban/Rural)

It would then be useful to coordinate with all institutions to classify them based on the ideal type of continuity – Online/Physical/Broadcast/Hybrid. Based on the type, a readiness checklist should be provided to the institution, which can be self-attested and audited by the HEI. The results of these should be shared with the central task force, to evaluate the current readiness status of HEIs to resume operations.

Based on this, further policy and infrastructure planning will need to be done to support the institutions which have the desired readiness to resume classes.

REGULATORY FLEXIBILITY

Based on the various challenges faced in taking forward the semesters in times of COVID-19, physical campuses may not resume for a while. Therefore, if institutions resume classes in online and broadcast mode, they may not be able to accomplish all requirements of an academic year, given the various infrastructural and resource limitations. Also, if physical classrooms do resume, they will operate under the new guidelines of the pandemic, thereby requiring certain flexibilities. Thus, it is recommended that certain essential areas documented below should be considered for certain regulatory relaxation, further to what may have been provided, and that these are regularly revised based on the progress of the current crisis.

  • Minimum credits required
  • Awarding of degrees
  • The required hours of lab and other such activities required per week
  • Examinations
  • Faculty research

It would be useful to coordinate with all institutions to classify them based on the ideal type of continuity – Online/Physical/ Broadcast/Hybrid.


QUALITY
ASSURANCE

Given the new norms under which classes may operate in the physical, online, hybrid or broadcast mode, the quality assurance mechanisms will need to be revised keeping in mind the new normal. It would help institutions, if the central bodies could create a central self-audit quality checklist which can ensure uniform and standardised implementation across all HEIs. This should be different based on the mode of academic continuity and also take into consideration the health safety of all stakeholders.

Given the new norms under which classes may operate in the physical, online, hybrid or broadcast mode, the quality assurance mechanisms will need to be revised keeping in mind the new normal.

 
ESTABLISH FUNDING TOOLS OR BUDGET RELIEF MEASURES

Based on the initial classification of HEIs, their requirements should be gathered as well. This will allow centralising the procurement of goods and therefore be more cost-effective.

The key infrastructure requirements could be:

  • Online Mode
    -Technology – Software
    -Technology – Hardware
    -Connectivity
    -Power Infrastructure
  • Physical Mode
    -Testing kits/PPE
    -Sanitization material
    -Transportation/Travel
  • Miscellaneous
    -Microphones
    -Recording Devices

Based on this, the requirements could be aggregated and then based on large numbered requirements, a central agency could collaborate with private sector organisations to provide relief of cost overhead to HEIs in the following ways:

  • Subsidised rates for laptops/ microphones/ recording devices and other hardware
  • Subsidised rates for internet packages
  • Upgradation of Power backup systems and provision of UPS devices at lower rates
  • Transport systems dedicated to HEIs for travelling to and from campus which are compliant with the requirements of health safety
  • Subsidised rates for software including recording applications, e-classroom technology, and virtual labs/other experiential learning software
  • Subsidised rates for e-resources and digital books
  • Subsidised rates for sanitization material.

The GOI may also identify funding tools and opportunities to provide some financial respite to HEIs which may be limited by the impact of the admissions. This support may need to be extended to private institutions as well.

CREATION OF CENTRALISED ACADEMIC CONTENT

Special teams of academics can be deployed to create one-time content for online classrooms/MOOCs for the common subjects which can then be utilised across all HEIs, similar to Swayam. Additional budget can be assigned for engaging with Online Program Management (OPM) to have a special curriculum built. This way the expenditure can be minimised, quality can be standardised, and effort can be streamlined to create class content which gets deployed to all HEIs, especially the ones which do not have the capacity to create content or conduct online classrooms.

Special teams of academics can be deployed to create one-time content for online classrooms/MOOCs for the most common subjects which can then be utilised across all HEIs.

Apart from the centralised governance, HEIs will need to ensure that they plan the commencement of their classes, and create a well-documented and exhaustive Academic Continuity Plan which should also include a Campus-Physical-Readiness Plan in case there is an opportunity to resume physical classes.

 MOBILISATION

As a part of ensuring smooth continuity of education across HEIs, each institution should first establish the following to mobilise their academic continuity:

  • Central COVID-19 Taskforce
  • Risk Assessment
  • Readiness Assessment
  • Infrastructure Planning
  • Budget Planning
  • HEI Health Services
  • Academic Continuity Plan
  • Health Safety Plan and Protocols
  • Partnerships for Infrastructure

ACADEMIC  CONTINUITY PLANNING

As a part of the Academic Continuity Planning, the following steps can be followed:

  1. Define Scope
  2. Devise Plan
  3. Document an ACP
  4. Implementation
  5. Monitoring and Evaluation
  6. Closure of emergency response

Define Scope

Define scope of actions based on the nature of emergency and tentative timeline after which the institution is likely to return to normal. The institution will do well by considering different scenarios, i.e. optimistic, pessimistic, and most-probable, and create frameworks to switch between these scenarios as the emergent situation may demand.

Devise Plan

In this stage, the institution management needs to identify the following:

  1. Key Stakeholders: Clearly identify the individuals, departments and committees that need to be engaged in planning and execution of the action
  2. Tasks Impacted: Identify the activities, policies or processes that will be impacted and require attention.
    • Ongoing activities: Check and document the existing status of the activities (e.g. how much has been completed, and the specific portions of the task that will be impacted).
    • Future activities: Assess the impact of the situation on next year/semester plans (e.g. placements, new faculty recruitments and onboarding, academic and extra-curricular events ).
  3. Policies Impacted and Protocols Required: Of the existing policies (e.g. related to student attendance, academic performance requirements, faculty teaching and administrative workload and performance, ), the HEI should identify the policies that will require modifications and the areas which may need new policies or clauses within existing policies to manage the emergent situation, as per the recommendations made in the previous section.
  4. Need for New Infrastructure: An evaluation should be done of the existing physical/technology infrastructure in place to assess the need for creation of new structures (including facilities, hardware, software ) and corresponding committees to manage the situation. For example, when COVID- 19 forced all teaching activities to move online, additional technology infrastructure and financial resources were required to facilitate online teaching.

The HEI should identify the policies that will require modifications and the areas which may need new policies or clauses within existing policies.

 

  • Coordination Mechanisms: The institution may need to consider mechanisms to coordinate actions across different departments/schools/specialisations. While some of the changes will apply across the institution (e.g. semester-end dates), others may apply for specific departments or course types (e.g. theoretical courses vs lab/field-work oriented courses). Further, some actions may provide leeway to individual course instructors. Thus, new coordination mechanisms may be required to ensure rationalisation of action and smooth implementation of action Further, escalation matrices need to be created to ensure quick decision on the gaps in action plans or resolve any queries from impacted parties. The powers and responsibilities of the existing and new committees or positions need to be defined, along with defining final dispute resolution authorities for specific actions.

Therefore, it is recommended that a new task force/office should be setup to focus on academic continuity.

Document an ACP

Based on the analysis done, create an ACP to include the following:

  • Classroom Continuity Plan
    -Teaching & Learning
    -Assessments & examinations
    -Non-classroom based activities
    -Infrastructure
    -Protocols
  • Research Continuity Plan
  • Non-Academic Plan (Placements, Internships, Internationalisation, Academic Calendar, Orientation of New Batches)

This should also comprise the following:

  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Task force team details
  • Support functions’ responsibilities

It is recommended that a new task force/office should be setup to focus on academic continuity.


Implement

Along with creating action plans, create the following as well:

  • A responsibility matrix for implementation of all action
  • A Coordination Committee that is empowered to ensure that all emergency response plans are implemented
  • A repository of emergency response
  • A dedicated web page to inform all stakeholders about the actions taken by the institution as a response to the
  • A folder on Cloud (internet) that contains all the policy/process documents that were applicable before the emergency situation. A second folder must contain all these documents with relevant changes incorporated. A spreadsheet or web page may be created containing a list of all the relevant policies with their status during emergency, e., suspended till further notice, modified partially, new policy, etc. with hyperlinks to the relevant documents in the folder.

Based on the plans, and creation of the above, create a project management plan which will have clear-cut milestones, timelines, and assessment criteria for tracking the progress.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Keep collecting, collating, and sharing feedback with all relevant stakeholders (including the coordination committee). Based on continuous feedback as well as an assessment of a situation that forced emergency action, revise the specific action and the steps as required. While one may start with the most-probable scenario, there is a need to periodically revisit the assumptions to decide whether optimistic or pessimistic scenarios may need to kick in at some stage.

Closure of Emergency Response

After periodic assessment of the situation, once it is decided that the situation is back to normal, declare a date for ending the emergency response. Update all relevant documents with applicable changes when things get back to normal, i.e., previous status fully restored, specific clauses modified for limited period (e.g. mandatory internships can be done in 3rd year instead of 2nd year for one batch), clauses or policies modified permanently, etc. Dissolve the committees created specifically to tackle the emergency situation