ISLAMABAD: Higher Education Commission (HEC) Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri on Thursday stressed the need for immediate measures on part of universities to ensure readiness for online classes.

Speaking at a vice chancellors’ conference, he asked the universities to adopt and announce a formal policy and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for approval of online courses.

“If you think your courses are ready for online dissemination, communicate in writing to HEC so that they may be brought into practice and made available for students,” he told the vice chancellors during the meeting conducted online through Microsoft Teams.

The VCs expressed their full commitment to making online classes and e-learning a success amidst the closure of universities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.“During the third vice chancellors’ committee meeting held since the closure of universities due to the spread of coronavirus, the university heads reviewed the progress on their readiness to offer online classes to avoid academic loss,” said a statement issued by the HEC.

It said the VCs expressed their resolve to accelerate their efforts with the collaboration of HEC to enhance the quality of online classes, ensure readiness of e-learning components and contribute to the national effort against the prevailing crisis. They thanked the HEC for facilitating the universities in executing the Learning Management System (LMS). They said they were committed to resolving all the issues facing the students, faculty and administrative staff in making LMS a success with the assistance of HEC.

Earlier, the HEC chairman said LMS had to be put into place before the start of online classes in order to provide information, track progress, and coordinate activities.

Similarly, universities need to establish governance system for decision making and adjudication of complaints. He asked universities to assign responsibilities for authorisation of online classes to a dedicated decision-making body such as an “Online Academic Council.” He also requested VCs to appoint focal points for Covid-19, online courses and for technology support and to collect and share data on online readiness as quickly as possible.

Dr Banuri also asked VCs to satisfy themselves that all actions to prepare for online courses had been taken.

“If there is any lapse, there should be readiness to address it.” He said each class has to be certified for readiness. All course elements must be uploaded on LMS, which must contain introduction, learning objectives, textbooks and assignments alongside a lesson plan and rules including grading policy.

“The vice chancellors need to ascertain if the professor or teacher concerned has prepared themselves properly for this task,” he said and added that HEC was taking steps to address issues facing the students, including access to internet, and support to students in need. As a first step, he requested VCs to collect and share information about students’ location and connectivity challenges.

The HEC is in contact with telecommunication companies to introduce Taleem bundle to bring about subsidised internet packages for students.

“We hope to reach an agreement quite soon” He said universities need to raise their technology capabilities as technology, especially IT, is getting more important amidst the current situation.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2020

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