With students of a number of public universities growing fidgety, Education Minister Dipu Moni made known at a virtual press conference the government decision on opening university dormitories and classes. Her announcement of exact dates for these will now give enough time for the university authorities to prepare academic and examination schedules accordingly. Hopefully, this will dispel the confusions created over the decisions taken separately by some universities on holding examinations. Indeed, at least one university even had to retract from taking examinations in the face of protests from students. It was not that students were against appearing for examinations; rather they were avidly eager for completing their academic life. The university authority's firm decision not to open dormitories and at the same time making arrangement for examinations were contradictory. Quite naturally, students brought out protest rallies, demanding opening up of hostels first and then taking exams.
Clearly, such flawed decisions send wrong signals to students and may at time lead to undesirable developments as exemplified by the frenzied attempt by them to enter university halls of two public universities. Students of a public university had to gate-crash before entering their dormitories. All such unpleasant developments and ugly incidents could be avoided if only the uncertainties caused by not-so-wise decisions of the university authorities were put at rest by announcing a clear and reasonable time table like the one the education minister came up with. Now students know that dormitories will open their doors to welcome them from May 17, immediately after the Eid-ul-Fitr and classes will resume from May 24. This is fair enough, unless the pandemic suddenly takes a turn for worse. Currently, the daily death from the virus has dropped to a single digit and the number of infection is quite low. It may come down further by the time universities will start operating normally unless, of course, the Eid congregation and homeward exodus from cities become super spreaders.
Admittedly, students of the tertiary level have a lot to worry about. It concerns not only to complete their courses in time but also to enrich their academic portfolios. Many are eager to compete in the Bangladesh Civil Service Examinations and loss of years only makes their chances slim. The stake is high for students at this level because the job market is irrationally competitive. Aware of their genuine concerns, the education minister has been sympathetic enough to instruct the authorities concerned for making necessary adjustments so that no candidate misses the BCS examination on account of the delay caused by the pandemic.
However, this is an extraordinary situation and the gains achieved in terms of control of coronavirus infection cannot be let go. If experiences of university campuses in the United States of America are any guide, students should be on their guard. Even off-campus parties at the University of South Carolina triggered infections three times the average in that county. The university authority could not help taking actions against a number of students. To the government's credit, it has decided to inoculate teachers, students and other staff members before opening universities. Even then, they will need to maintain the WHO-recommended health protocols when dormitories get going and classes resume.