Dear Students and Faculty:
You may have all seen the announcement made yesterday about resuming our academic semester through online teaching from August 20, 2020.
The University of Hyderabad, as the rest of the world, has been going through an unprecedented crisis this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Since mid-March, we have had to experience the sorry sight of empty classrooms, laboratories, and studios, vacant hostels, and campus spaces without the buzz of student activities. As the Vice-Chancellor, while this has been a cause for extreme unhappiness, I have also had to confront the challenge of planning for resumption of academic activities even as we assess the public health risks associated with returning to our normal reality of 5000 students and 500 faculty members on the campus. Along with my senior colleagues, I have had to imagine a new normal for the University, an Institution of Eminence, that is consistently ranked among the top higher education institutions in the country.
In early July, I appointed a Task Force that has been mandated to hold consultations with various stakeholders and prepare a roadmap for resumption of academic activities. That group of committed colleagues have been working day and night to come up with suggestions to address some of the tricky issues we face in kickstarting our activities again after a 5-month lull. After carefully weighing the situation with the continuing spread of the virus and the dire need to respond to the educational aspirations of our students who have been without any formal academic activity for almost half the year, the Task Force has recommended that we try going online with our teaching-learning process for this semester.
As someone who has been a teacher for over three decades, I too, like many of my colleagues, feel that online teaching is a poor substitute to face-to-face classes with all the joys and excitement that they offer. However, in the current situation, with the undesirable alternative of declaring a ‘zero semester’ staring at us, we are compelled to go the way of hundreds of public and private educational institutions in India and elsewhere in the world. I am acutely aware, as is the Task Force, of the digital divide and problems with Internet connectivity and communication infrastructure that some of our students from deprived socioeconomic backgrounds face. To address that issue, at least to some extent, the University is putting together some welfare measures, including a digital access grant for the needy students. Let me assure all of you that we will do everything possible institutionally to support students and see that no one is left behind in this process. I am proud of the fact that many of our faculty members have also come up with ideas for their individual or department-level support for students during this difficult period.
I am conscious of the fact that our faculty members, some of who are aged 60 and above, have had to cope with the pandemic in their own homes and families, and struggling to manage academic and research commitments at the same time. This altered reality of online teaching at the University is also new to them and there are many challenges to overcome. The University will provide all the flexibility to academic units to plan their online courses innovatively, even as they follow globally acceptable protocols for online teaching. Where ICT infrastructure is not up to the mark at the departmental or individual faculty levels, we will do our utmost to improve the facilities expeditiously.
As we move forward on this new path, I am sure there will be teething troubles and contingencies, which I am hopeful we can overcome with our collective will and intent to do the best we can to cater to the academic needs of our students effectively and with sensitivity towards those who require added support.
Looking forward to your cooperation,
With warm regards,
Prof. Appa Rao Podile