College, university campuses not to reopen immediately in Bengal: Education minister

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(Eds: Adding details, minister's quotes) Kolkata, Feb 3 (PTI) Colleges and universities in West Bengal, closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, will not reopen campuses immediately, Education Minister Partha Chatterjee said on Wednesday.

The vice chancellors urged the state government to allow institutions to conduct classes and exams of odd- semesters on online mode till March, Chatterjee told reporters after a meeting with the VCs.

'The VCs said, since a month's time is left (for completion of exams) for odd-semesters (like 1, 3, 5, 7) let us continue with the online mode. The government agreed to their proposal.

'The varsities also communicated to the government about their inability to reopen hostels immediately due to the pandemic situation,' the minister said.

About the request by guardians and other stakeholders to take a quick decision about the modalities of 'even semester' academic activities, he said, 'The possibility of elections being held in April and the poll schedule clashing with semester classes and exams also figured in the discussion with the VCs.

'They said a decision based on mutual discussion, considering all aspects, will be taken up by them. The government left the decision to them, saying students should not be inconvenienced,' he said.

With online classes in vogue, students and faculty in all higher educational institutions are gradually getting used to it and some varsities have also helped students so that they can participate in the classes without any difficulty, Chatterjee said.

It was also decided that laboratories will be kept ready for use by PhD researchers on case-by-case basis, the minister said.

To another question about reopening of state-run and state-aided schools for beginning classes in higher grades from February 12, Chatterjee said, 'We will issue specific notification about reopening of schools for higher classes at the appropriate time.' 'That notification will give every details - about the measures and how many students will be allowed at a time,' he added.

Earlier, spokesperson of the West Bengal Vice- Chancellors' Council (WBVCC) said after meeting the minister that laboratories of the institutions will be opened for the benefit of research scholars.

'Several VCs told the minister that with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, and students from outside Bengal and abroad studying in many universities and colleges here, it will not be feasible to either reopen the hostels or campuses just yet. The minister concurred with our views.

'Therefore, it was decided that classes and semester exams should continue to be held through virtual mode at present,' the spokesperson said. PTI SUS MM MM MM