Following Up Students Return : Administration Clarifies

Following Up Students Return : Administration Clarifies

A fortnight ago, the institute started the long and endless process of calling back the final year students phase-wise, maintaining all the protocols to prevent any covid outbreak in the campus premises. The link to the article can be found here. On Monday, i.e. February 15th 2021, the administration circulated a notice which contained all the details regarding the much-awaited return of all other students to the campus. There were a fixed set of rules for all students irrespective of year and programmes which were-.

  • There shall be no mid-semester exams.
  • End semester examinations for each theory subject shall be for 80 marks which would be conducted for 3 hours.
  • Theory classes shall be conducted in online mode.
  • The practical and end semester exams shall be in conventional mode for which students will be called back to the campus in a phased wise manner.

NOTE: The major portion of the article seeks clarification based on Circular No. NITR/RG/2021/M/0101 which was released on 15th February 2021 regarding the students return to the campus for the completion of the current academics. However, a more recent Circular No. RG.0112  was circulated on 21st February 2021 which has put on hold all the students return to campus except that of  Batch 1. 

The rest of the article is divided into 2 parts:

  1. Initial Clarifications by Dean Academic (Ac) on the recent circular.
  2. Detailed clarifications by Dean Ac, Chief Warden and Tnp cell on the original plan.

Clarifications based on the recent notice circulated on Sunday(21/02/2021)

As soon as the new circular was out, Team MM went ahead to interview the Dean Ac Prof. Saroj K. Patel to seek clarifications regarding the sudden change in plans. A brief excerpt can be found below:

Monday Morning(MM): What events led to the release of the new notice and the sudden change in plans within a week?

Dean Ac: The behaviour of the COVID-19 virus is quite unpredictive in nature. When we circulated the notice on Monday, we felt that the situation was improving and we could call back our students. Moreover, the state government had permitted to open all the educational institutions. Hence, we felt that we could take the risk and call back all the students in a phased manner.
But with the origin of the new strain and sudden surge in the number of cases of covid-19 in some states like Maharashtra and Kerela, we had to take this decision. Moreover, we don't have any testing facility in Rourkela, and if any unprecedented situation happens, we will be having a lot of difficulties.
We have to consider both the career and health of students simultaneously. We are experimenting with the current final year students and monitoring their situation; a further decision will be taken in due course for rest year students.


MM: Many students have already booked the tickets based on the circular which was sent on Monday. Can anything be done for them?

Dean Ac:  I understand this question and there are many such questions but very few solutions. In this situation, whatever decision that we take can never be 100% ideal. Even if they have booked their tickets and come here and if suddenly there is an outbreak, then it will have some serious consequences. So that's the fact of the matter we are unable to find any answers right now.


MM: Pre-final year students to have joining dates from the 2nd week of May, and if there are any more delays, it might affect their internships. So how is the administration going to deal with the situation?

Dean Ac: Currently, we are focussing on the final year students, and further decisions regarding the exams and practicals for pre-final year students will be taken after monitoring the situation. Moreover, we will not be disturbing their schedule of the internship phase, ie. May to July. Even in the previous circular, we had given them a break in the required period.

 
MM: Are there any chances of having an exam online if the situation does not improve in the upcoming months?

Dean Ac: No, there are no chances of having an online examination. As said earlier, the proposal was rejected multiple times by the senate. Hence we called up the final year students as well so that we can conduct their exams offline

.
MM: If the surge in the number of covid cases continues for the upcoming few months, what are the backup plans that the administration has in mind?

Dean Ac: We have currently put on hold all our proposals of calling back the students except the final year students. If such a situation arises, we have no option but to delay the academic session. I had proposed CCE(Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation) to be the mode of evaluation from the very beginning but that was actively opposed by the students, which could have potentially helped us publish the results on at least some basis

Clarifications based on the notice circulated on Monday(15/02/2021)

The students of all batches and programmes were categorised into five different batches based on the proposed timeline of return. The notice also mentioned that students needed to maintain a quarantine period of 5 days before their entry into the academic premises.

The following schedule was given to all the students as per the notice :

1. Schedule of First Batch and Second batch students

2. Schedule of Third Batch and Fourth batch students

3. Schedule of Fifth Batch students

The circular also stated that For Executive PhD students, the institute would have no obligation to provide them with accommodation inside the campus. They have to make their arrangement for their accommodation.

Moreover, all students are required to provide their dates and times of arrival to the campus in the Google forms, which was circulated by Prof. Nihar Ranjan Mishra (Dean Associate Academics). Parents can also enter the campus by showing a Covid Negative report (less than 72 hours old) for dropping their wards. But, they are not allowed to stay in the hostel.

Team Monday Morning caught up with Dean (Academics) Prof Saroj Kumar Patel and Chief Warden Prof. S.K Pratihar to clear the doubts regarding various hostel and academic conundrums revolved around the notice circulated on Monday. The following is the excerpt.

Academic Issues (Dean Ac and Training and Placement Cell)

Examination issues

The notice, circulated on Monday, i.e. February 15th, had the schedule of two offline exams. Where most of the country's reputed institutions have gone with the new normal, i.e. online mode of conducting semester exam, NIT Rourkela has instead opted for having two offline exams within one month. When asked why NITR didn't have at least one online semester exam, which could have reduced the burden on students, Dean Ac Prof. SK Patel said that it was the Senate's decision and refused to comment on why the decision was taken.

Monday Morning(MM): Why are autumn sem exams conducted before spring sem exams (which was more recent)?

Dean Ac: The Autumn semester comes before the spring semester. Moreover, there are many students on the extension semester who will be graduating and are still in need of the autumn semester results since November 2020. Hence we felt that we needed to prioritise the autumn semester first and then complete the spring semester exams.

MMHow are the 80 marks being considered to be conducted in the time span of 3 hours in which 50 marks exams were taken previously? Has the administration instructed the professors on the length of question papers to be set?

Dean Ac: The end semester exams of 80 marks would be considered by extrapolation, ie. Marks obtained out of 50 would be multiplied by 1.6 to scale to 80 marks.

MM: Backlog exams for the last Academic year haven’t yet been conducted and have been scheduled at the end of the semester exam. So how is the administration going to conduct those exams?

Dean Ac: Our main focus currently lies in the completion of the regular exams maintaining all the protocols rather than on the backlog exams of last AY.

MMWhat is the tentative date of result declaration for students of each year?

Dean Ac: The result declaration dates for final year students would be the same as last year's dates. But the dates of the result declaration are yet to be finalised for the rest years students.

Internship and Placement Issues

Some of the pre-final year internships go slightly beyond July 20th. Will it be possible (like every year) to avail TnP leave during that interval as practicals would be going on?

Pritish Kumar Kar (Secretary, Training and Placement Committee) -  Yes, it is possible to avail TnP leaves, provided the internship should be on-campus, which the student is pursuing. In addition to this, some research internships like MITACS does also get extended; in this case, the intern can contact the academic department for applying for the leaves.

MM: Some 3rd-year students have their off-campus internships starting before the scheduled exams are over. How is the administration planning to tackle the situation? 

Dean Ac: We were told that there are only a handful of such cases and can reschedule the internship dates. Moreover, the majority of the students want to finish the exams before the internship break.

MM: As the students of 2nd and 3rd year haven't received their previous academic CGPA, how will they sit for their respective internship and placement season?

Dean Ac: We want to finish off the exams as soon as possible so that students of current 2nd and 3rd years can get their CGPA, enabling them to sit for their respective internship and placement drives at the start of the next Semester.

Many sophomore year students interested in a specific field to gain exposure apply to various universities for research internships. Such internships are generally conducted from May to June. Due to the clashes in practical and examination dates, it looks bleak for any sophomore year to apply for internships. When the same was asked of Prof. Patel, he commented that such internships are not mandatory for such students, and no special provisions can be made for tackling the situation.

Miscellaneous

Many first-year students appear JEE again as partial droppers in pursuit of better branches or colleges. But the scheduled date for the last exam of the autumn semester clashes with the dates of JEE Advanced, i.e. July 3rd 2021. This has left many freshers in a state of dilemma and has left them with no options. Team MM enquired Prof. Patel if any provision is made for them so that they don't miss either of the two exams. The request was refused, citing that the administration couldn't afford to delay the academic session. Moreover, he pointed out the administration should not encourage the students to leave the institute and increase the number of vacant seats.

MM: Since the flights from some countries haven't been resumed yet, how are the students from foreign nations returning to campus on the scheduled date? Is there any provision made for them?

Dean Ac: We haven't yet received any requests until now. However, if such a situation arises, we would try to tackle it.

MM: Dual Degree Final year (5th year) students have just 2-3 theory courses this sem and no practicals. Is there any provision for them to return after the last date mentioned in the circular, so they return to campus only for the number of required days?

Dean Ac: We are yet to discuss anything regarding it, but we can have a provision for them to return after the last date mentioned in the circular such that they return to campus only for the number of days required considering the number of theory courses they have.

MM: When will the new academic year start for the current 1st and 2nd-year students?

Dean Ac: The new academic year will start on the next working day after completing the last exams for the current 1st year and 2nd year.

As posted in the Academic UGPG channel, Prof. Patel clarified that it's too early to decide the mode of conduction of the Autumn semester of Academic Year 2021-22 as the decision depends largely on when the government declares any relaxation in covid guidelines.

Hostel Issues (Chief Warden)

MM: How will the entry and exit for day scholar's be regulated? Do they need to produce a covid negative certificate whenever they enter the campus?

Chief Warden Prof. S.K. Pratihar (CW): Covid negative certificate should be provided at the entrance gate only once while entering for the first time to the campus. They will only be entering the administrative area only to complete the examination and the missed practical classes. We need to take some risks so that we can complete the academic session at the earliest. 

The Dilemma of Hostel Allocation

The final year students were called first at the start of the month. One of the primary reasons why they were called was that they occupied a single bedded room. The rest boys students occupied the double-bedded room in which isolation couldn't be done. Team MM enquired Prof. Pratihar of the same, and this is what he said- 

We will try to give single occupancy rooms to the pre-final years in the same hall as of their previous year. When they report to the campus the caretaker will allot them rooms. We have a proposition that for this temporary accommodation (as students have returned only for the completion of labs and exams), out of supposing two roommates,  the student who comes first will move to a new room and one who comes later will stay in the same room but we are yet to decide about this in a meeting.

MM: How students from 1st and 2nd year will be put in isolation simultaneously due to the large strength of students? What is the plan for allocating rooms for 1st and 2nd-year students when they return to campus?

CW: The students must produce a Covid negative report only once they arrive at the campus for the first time. The current 2nd years will stay at their previous hostels, i.e. GDB and MV, and the current first years will be temporarily accommodated in the senior hostels. Everyone must vacate the hostels once the exams and practicals are over; additionally, the luggage can be kept in the common halls.

MM: With the construction of the new girls' hostel yet to be completed and the problem of inadequate hostel rooms for girls yet to be solved, how is the administration going to accommodate so many girls maintaining the protocols at the same time?

CW: We have planned to temporarily accommodate the pre-final year girls in single rooms in the KMS hall and one complex. For this temporary accommodation, a complex is also devoted to girls where one flat will accommodate around 5-6 students.

Maintaining Covid Protocols in Campus

MM: During the five days of quarantine, what is the exact protocol to be followed by the students? Ex: Are they allowed to visit the mess?

CW: Students are not allowed to visit another place on campus except the mess and the washroom. The students who are isolated would be allocated a dedicated place to have their food.

With the covid pandemic still not over, there are still chances that students might get in contact with infected people outside the campus. Prof. Pratihar gave us an insight into how the administration will try to tackle such a situation. This is what he asked when asked if students are allowed to go out of the campus.

As per the protocols, under normal circumstances, students would not be allowed to leave the campus for any reasons. In case of an emergency, they can be allowed for a short duration only after they take permission from the hall's warden. Students are expected to compromise and follow the rules for the safety of everyone around them.

MM: How is the administration thinking of maintaining social distancing in hostel premises, especially in places like the hostel mess?

CW: We expect the students to cooperate with the administration and maintain all the safety protocols during their stay. We expect the students to be responsible and understand the danger posed to everyone if covid guidelines are not followed.

We have some security mechanisms and methodologies that we will implement, but it's difficult to execute those measures without students' cooperation. Social distancing should be maintained properly at common places like the hostel mess.

We have a dedicated team for the process of sanitation for all common meeting places. We have been sanitising various places in the hostel regularly for over a year. The frequency of sanitation after students' arrival hasn't yet been finalised, but we will be doing it regularly.

Maintaining all the covid protocols in the hostel campus is a Herculean task for the administration, and even a single case might lead to a severe outbreak. Such unprecedented cases can create severe havoc on the campus. When asked to Chief Warden if there any backup preparation for the students in case the Covid-19 case breaks out on the campus, this is what he had to say-

This unfortunate incident we will try to prevent at any cost because we don't have any alternative currently. The other alternative we had was the conduction of the exams in online mode, which the Senate rejected, leaving us with no options right now. We have made efforts for completing the current academic year and courses as soon as possible. But if such a situation arises, we will try to tackle it in the best possible manner.

Giving assurance to the students, Prof. Pratihar told that the campus situation is under control, and he expects full cooperation from the student's fraternity to maintain the campus free from Covid.

Conclusion

With a huge amount of confusion and lack of clarity regarding the future of either of these circulars, it is important to note that the stance of the administration and the guideline to be followed is likely to be the same whenever students are called back irrespective of the specific date. Hence, all the above clarifications do provide valuable insight into what might be in store for the students. Nonetheless, it requires remarkable cooperation of both the students and the administration to ensure the safety of every person on the campus from the deadly virus along with the successful completion of academics.

Team MM hopes that students get clarity on what lies ahead of them as soon as possible. We also urge all the students to follow the guidelines set by the administration for their stay whenever they are called back.

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