Ensuring Safety Guidelines in Varsities amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

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Sani Aliyu

With the announcement last week by the federal government on schools reopening amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, some university managers explained to Funmi Ogundare the efforts and safety guidelines they have put in place to kick-start academic activities

Last Thursday, the federal government okayed the reopening of schools in the country after about six months break owing to the Coronavirus pandemic. The National Coordinator of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu had recommended a phased return of students during a briefing in Abuja.

According to Aliyu, “educational institutions which include daycare, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions should begin the process of working towards potentially reopening within this phase.”
He recommended that states conduct a risk assessment to ensure that all schools are at a level of compliance and create a monitoring mechanism to assess, create and monitor the level of preparedness.

For resumption of tertiary institutions, the National Universities Commission (NUC) had in August, issued a directive to all federal, state and private universites in the country to complete a template form showing their readiness for resumption of academic activities.

The Directorate of the Executive Secretary’s Office, Dr. Chris Mayaki, said the NUC had requested universities through a letter addressed to vice-chancellors of the 171 approved universities to suggest the kind of protocols and strategies they are putting in place in their various institutions.

“We are collecting some of the responses which have already started coming in and at the end of the day the picture should emerge about the extent to which our universities are prepared to reopen for academic activities.”
Some of the university managers, who spoke to THISDAY, explained the efforts they have put in place for resumption of academic activities in line with the federal government’s directive.

Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State is putting in place necessary facilities to ensure a safe and healthy environment for staff and student habitation when school resumes for onsite or in-person studies.
Dr. Joshua Suleiman is the Director of Communications and Marketing of the institution. He said the facilities have been installed in all its campuses; from the gate to the classrooms, halls of residence, office blocks and within the university teaching hospital.

“A health communication plan has also been put in place to ensure the campus community is, every moment reminded of the need to keep safe by observing all approved health protocols,” he said.
Already, its College of Postgraduate Studies has resumed online studies since the first week of August for the new academic session, while the undergraduate students commenced a new academic session on September 7, with online registration of courses and learning.

“We are doing this so that our students will not lose any year to inability of academic institutions to begin physical academic mode of instruction and learning. It is also to live out our brand promise; the future is bright irrespective of the circumstances and situations.

“Our university is resolved to make sure no academically commited student spends a day longer than the period it takes to complete his or her programme within stipulated parameters,” Joshua stressed.
A gradual phasing has been done for students resumption in Lagos State University (LASU). The Vice- Chancellor, Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun said students in 400, 500 and 600 levels would resume for a duration of two months with an intensive lecture starting from 9am to 3pm for those that live off-campus.

“After the completion of 400 level, 500 level and 600 level resumption, students in 200 and 300 levels are to resume for a two months lecture before the commencement of exams. Resumption for the students in 200 and 300 levels has been divided into different days of the week.”

Fagbohun said between Mondays and Wednesdays, 300 level students would be on campus for lectures, while on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 200 level students, would be on campus in order to maintain social distancing.

“This is in a bid to protect the lives of the students of Lagos State University and the staff from the risk of contacting the virus,” he said, adding that his institution has provided taps and soap dispenser for regular hand washing, and that the use of face mask is compulsory.

“In line with the NCDC requirement for medical facilities, Lagos State University has a COVID-19 team to keep the university on its toes in ensuring compliance. Isolation places have been provided in the university. There are waiting areas and consultations rooms available in the university. With the prepared roadmap, LASU is prepared to accommodate students and visitors. Visitors are implored to kindly comply with the laid-down rules,” he said.
The Vice-Chancellor, Anchor University, Lagos, Professor Joseph Afolayan said its online programmes are still running, adding that the institution plans to write its second semester exams by mid-September.

For students resumption he said: “We have reshuffled the arrangements of students in our hostels to allow for more space. The carrying capacity of the hostels will take more than twice the number on campus now. We don’t have any problem with classrooms, we have more than enough space for that.

“There are new points for washing hands around the campus and we have soaps at all the points. The university has been producing hand sanitisers and nosemasks, so we always have enough to go round. All staff and visitors on campus are already following the new rules in terms of checking their temperature and washing their hands, and we won’t have any problem getting students to fall in line.”

The Vice-Chancellor, Edwin Clark University, Kiagbodo, Delta State, Professor Timothy Olagbemiro said his institution is complying with the protocols prescribed by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Contol for reopening of the universities, safely and securely.

Olagbemiro, who doubles as the Chairman, Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Registrars of Private Universities, said the body had initiated actions and programmes to enable all its member private universities to prepare for reopening and had also put in place strategies to open and finish the session well.

He said his institution has made provisions for, and use of infrared thermometers at the university’s main gates, hand devices and washing with soap, use of sanitizers and observance of social distancing.

With a small fully residential campus, the VC said the university has planned a phased reopening that will ensure that 400 level students resume alongside 100 level students so that they can complete sufficient lectures for their second semester.

“Chapel activities would be conducted as usual and together once every Wednesday, while observing social distancing. There will be resumption of first cohorts of about 400 students who will be accommodated on campus for the first four weeks. Lectures and practicals will be conducted for final year students during this period. All final year students would have three weeks to complete their projects.”

Semester examinations would also be conducted during the fourth and fifth weeks for all 400 level students, as Olagbemiro added that all final year external examiners would be conducted on campus during the fifth week.
“Vacation of all 400 level students from the campus will be at the end of the fith week. All 100 level students would remain on campus for extra four weeks to complete their second semester classes and examinations. All 200 and 300 level students will return to campus and join the 100 level students for two weeks of lectures and practicals.

“Matriculation would be held for all 100 level and new students before the conduct of the second semester examinations. Thereafter, examinations would be taken for two weeks before the students vacate.”
Olagbemiro said the institution has also directed that every student must resume with six face masks in compliance with the COVID-19 protocols.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Professor Abayomi Fasina has been saddled with the responsibility of chairing the COVID-19 response committee of his institution and advise the university on what should be put in place for resumption of students.

Unfortunately, the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) may delay its resumption.
“We have not been able to hold online classes as most private universities are doing as a result of the strike. We have the facilities for virtual teaching, but because of ASUU strike. The content to be delivered is going to come from ASUU, if they don’t supply, then we can’t upload anything to teach the students.

“Our plan is that once ASUU calls off its strike, we plan to give our students data to come online as some of them are from indigent homes, so that we can deliver lectures. We are also putting in place all the strategies and facilities. We have increased our bandwidth on campus. We have also gotten in touch with some telecommunications organisations.”

The DVC expressed hope of a positive outcome of ASUU’s negotiation with the federal government, saying that once the parties are able to settle, ASUU will give a directive for lectures to commence virtually, including a phased resumption of students physically in school and ensuring safety guidelines.

“The federal government should enhance the welfare of lecturers. The students have been eager to come back to school, they are tired of sitting at home, even the lecturers too are tired of sitting at home. When you bring them back to school, and the facilities are in place, they are refreshed.

“In most institutions, everybody wants to go virtual. The dynamics of university administration is going to be tough post-COVID-19 era, and business will not be as usual again where we used to have a very large class. Online exams will be by CBT,” Fasina stressed.