In the face of agitation by students for the last few days, the government has decided in favour of opening universities on May 24 next. The students' dormitories would be opened on May 17.
The closure of educational institutions for more than a year has given rise to deep frustration among students and their guardians. Either for the falling Covid infection rate or the ongoing vaccination programme or both, students are not ready to wait anymore and want to go back to their classes. The government, it seems, is willing to wait for some more time as far as the opening of schools and colleges is concerned.
But the university reopening decision has again brought to the fore a usual administrative weakness---lack of coordination.
The Ministry of Education, before announcing the reopening of universities, did not feel it necessary to discuss with the Ministry of Health, the key player in pandemic handling.
A report published in one of the leading national vernacular dailies said the university reopening announcement caught the health ministry off-guard. The health authorities are not sure about the outcome of the decision.
The cabinet secretary, reportedly, told newsmen at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting, held on last Monday, that the Prime Minister had asked the education ministry to 'review' the situation before reopening of educational institutions. Presiding over the meeting, she also urged the relevant authorities to ensure vaccination of teachers of students before reopening of universities.
On the same day, education minister Dipu Moni announced the opening of universities. She also assured that before reopening teachers and students would be vaccinated.
The health ministry officials, reportedly, met in an emergency session to discuss the issue Tuesday night. They were not sure whether it would be possible to vaccinate so many students and teachers of public universities before the reopening of universities. They are equally unsure about the maintenance of health safeguard measures in the residential halls. Nor are the health authorities certain that there would not be a resurgence of the virus. Such resurgence is being witnessed now in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
In the case of vaccinating university students, the government will also have to amend its existing decision not to inoculate anyone below 40 if they are not on the priority list.
Besides, uncertainty about the availability of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (SII) according to the deal signed with it has surfaced. This month it has so far received only 2.0 million doses of the vaccine instead of 5.0 million doses that the SII is supposed to despatch a month under the contract. The Indian government's directive to supply vaccines for local people first has reportedly created the problem.
Many people, including students, are strongly in favour of opening all educational institutions, including schools. A survey conducted by the Citizens' Platform showed that over 60 per cent of respondents wanted the educational institutions to reopen. However, 55 per cent of them found it not safe until now to send their kids to schools. Students of universities say when almost everything is open and functioning, why should the educational institutions remain closed?
Some health experts do also favour reopening. They say when the rate of virus infection has been below 5.0 per cent for the past several weeks, educational institutions could be reopened gradually. If the situation changes, those could be closed again.
The government has come under intense pressure from students and a section of guardians to open educational institutions. It has decided to open the public universities first. But utmost caution needs to be exercised while taking a decision on reopening schools and colleges.