The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in which “touch me not” has become the new normal, has led to a complete disruption of activities worldwide and education is no exception. Educational institutions worldwide have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to the almost complete closing of schools, universities and colleges forcing them to move online. But recently a downward trend in the number of daily infections and deaths was noticed in India, because of which the Central Government and various State Governments passed directions to completely open colleges and universities and allow them to function normally like the Pre- Covid times. Because of these directions, several National Law Universities (“NLUs”) took decisions to re-open for physical classes soon. But recently, Coronavirus numbers have begun to spike again, especially in states such as Kerala and Maharashtra.
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Are NLU’s and other colleges the same?
A logical question that arises is what and how these NLUs are any different from the other colleges?
As stated in a notification of the Consortium of the NLUs, NLUs are a different category from the other colleges because of the fact that these are residential campuses that have students from all across India. Thus, the risk they possess of students getting infected with COVID-19 is much higher than any other college.
The functioning of the NLU’s has been deeply affected by the circumstances. Considering the special and distinct categories to which these NLU’s belong, the re-opening of these colleges have to be construed through a more critical lens.
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The Recent Press release of the Consortium
Owing to these circumstances, the Consortium of the NLUs constituting each NLU’s respective Vice-Chancellor, conducted a meeting to discuss their future course of action and the possibility of reopening their universities in March. According to the press release, as vaccinations are yet to be made available to students and staff, a complete reopening of physical classes and hostels will pose extremely high safety risks for students, faculty and the university community.
According to the UGC Guidelines and the regulations made by the central government and state government, the university is required to make a single decision that would be applicable to all the NLUs together, but the Consortium believes that it would be better if the decision to open the college in a phased manner is left to individual NLUs as they are better equipped to make a decision based on their existing infrastructure arrangements, maintenance and medical services and local conditions.
It would be better if universities reopen safely rather than rapidly, as it will be easier to mitigate the loss of life or potential long-term medical harm to teachers, students and the university community and since NLUs have no requirements of laboratories or in-person simulation continuing on online mode would not disrupt the 2021 academic calendar. They have further advised NLUs who have not yet announced reopening to wait for a few days. The General body is set to meet again in the first week of March to review the situation.
What is the impact of the prevailing circumstances on students?
This decision of the consortium can negatively impact many students who are quite keen to join the campus, particularly the final year students who might not get a chance to study on the campus again. This might also be a blow to the standards of education that are likely to drop in the absence of classroom learning and field experience. But, we need to keep in mind that this pandemic has caused hardships to everyone, be it teaching staff or students, everyone has found them on the wrong side of the problem.
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Thus, in conclusion, considering the safety of students, teachers and staff and the gravity of the situation at hand, the chances of reopening of NLUs in light of the Consortium’s recent Press release, are quite bleak and the students can only hope for the best.
About the Author: Kritika Singha is from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. Her areas of interest include Corporate Law and Public International Law.