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Private Univ Classes: No date fixed for reopening

Private university authorities have yet not been able to finalise when in-person classes will resume because a majority of their students are yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

More than 70 percent of students have completed registration for the jabs, but only around 40 percent of them received the first dose of the vaccines, according to an estimate of the private university authorities.

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Talking to The Daily Star, top officials of 10 private universities said they do not want to take any decision about returning to on-campus classes "in haste" as it involves students' safety, which is their primary concern.

Even after finalising the dates, the universities would continue to hold classes and exams online for several more months, they said.

"We will resume face-to-face classes when we feel the situation is safe for students, with a significant number of students vaccinated," said North South University Vice-Chancellor Prof Atiqul Islam.

On-campus classes at the private universities have been closed for more than a year and a half due to the pandemic. However, universities took classes and exams online and completed two semesters. Most are set to start another semester by the end of this month.

There are 108 private universities in the country, 98 of which are currently operational with around 3.5 lakh students and 16,000 teachers, according to the latest University Grants Commission (UGC) annual report. The 10 other universities, recently approved by the UGC, are yet to start academic activities.

Public universities have already reopened halls and libraries and will soon resume in-person classes.

On September 23, the UGC in a directive to all private universities said they can carry out on-campus educational activities if both teachers and students have gotten at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine or are registered to get the vaccines.

But senior officials of some universities this correspondent talked to have proposed that the government set up inoculation centres on campuses to scale up vaccination.

North South University (NSU) Vice-chancellor Atiqul Islam said about 30 percent of the university's 24,000 students have gotten both doses of the vaccine so far.

"We started activities for the fall semester online. We can also start taking in-person classes but it depends on vaccination of students," he said.

He said the university authorities requested the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) to set up a vaccination centre at NSU as the university has doctors, a medical centre, and pathological labs on campus.

He said undergraduate students are likely to get priority after resumption of in-person classes, but it depends on the decision of the syndicate and academic council.

The authorities of Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) are holding discussions about resuming in-person classes and may resume anytime soon.

"Our plans are underway and we are taking all measures needed to safely reopen. We will announce it soon," said IUB VC Prof Tanweer Hasan.

He, however, declined to comment on how many of the 11,000 students of his university got the vaccine so far.

IUB also proposed setting up a vaccination centre on campus.

Brac University Registrar and Controller of Examinations (acting) David Dowland said they are carefully observing the Covid situation and taking the safety measures required to run in-person classes at a later date.

"In the meantime, we continue to support students and staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The safety of our students and staff are among our prime concerns," he said.

The fall semester of Brac University is starting online.

Prof MM Shahidul Hassan, vice-chancellor of East West University, said students' registration for jabs is going on and about 2,000 out of their 9,000 students have received their first dose.

"Without [students] getting the first dose, we will not resume in-person class," he added.

All deans, chairs and senior professors are in discussions about resuming classes from spring semester, set to start from January 2022.

Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology will resume classes in phases.

VC Prof Muhammad Fazli Ilahi said of around 7,000 students, an estimated 45 percent have gotten the first dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

He said students who are fully vaccinated can attend lab classes in person and meet their supervisors. Fourth-year students will get preference, he added.

University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh's acting VC Prof Shamsad Mortuza said they are consulting with students through a survey and monitoring other universities' approaches to determine whether they can resume in-person classes.

United International University VC Prof Chowdhury Mofizur Rahman said they are still uncertain about reopening the campus.

Of around 5,000 of their students, 70 percent have registered for vaccines and 30 percent received both doses, he said.