Campuses all across the country will reopen in stages starting next month. And although October 15 is a busy day for many, the Higher Education Ministry has come out to assure the public that the staff and students will be safe.
Breathing Life Back Into HEIs
Datuk Seri Dr Noraini Ahmad, the current Higher Education Minister, has announced several initiatives that will ensure the wellbeing of all members of the ecosystem.These initiatives include free RT-PCR swab testing at government clinics for students who are entering Sabah, Sarawak, and Labuan, and a 20% fee cut to benefit the 555,340 students in public higher education institutions (HEIs) for Semester One of the 2021/2022 academic year.
Dr Noraini also encouraged the HEIs to provide self-test kits to students upon their return. Additionally, they must also have isolation areas for patients with Covid-19 symptoms and confirmed positive cases.”Most of the 1.2 Million students at HEIs across the country have been enrolled in online teaching and learning (PdP), for more than three semesters.
“This has been a huge challenge for everyone involved in the ecosystem, particularly in terms of their psychological resilience and mental resilience during the educational process,” she also stated during the Sept 14 announcement of the SOPs for HEIs.”As such to ensure the sustainability and quality of the country’s higher education while placing the safety of students as a priority, the ministry will implement the students’ physical return to campuses in stages as approved by National Security Council” As for the mental health of the students, Dr Noraini also announced that the ministry’s KPT Prihatin initiative will provide mental health programs and counselling services, in accordance with the “Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysia Family)” concept.
She stressed that the reopening of varsities will only be applicable to fully-vaccinated students, as well as academic and non-academic staff.
Dr Noraini stated that the ministry was working with the Covid-19 Immunisation Taskforce (CITF) in order to accelerate the vaccination process for campus fraternities before the HEIs open next month. This initiative is also made possible by the VACC2Campus program.
The ministry has projected that all HEI employees and students will be vaccinated by the end of October. As for vaccination rates, Dr Noraini has mentioned that 66% of students are currently vaccinated and that 90% of HEI academic staff and non-academic staff have been vaccinated so far.
Dr Noraini urged the staff and students to get vaccinated immediately if they have not already done so. And they can come to any of the vaccination centres to get vaccinated if they have yet to receive an appointment.
New students will only need to show their MyKad and student/staff cards when they arrive at the vaccination centres, whereas students who are still waiting to be enrolled on MySejahtera will need to present their MyKad and passport along with their offer letter.
She has also urged HEIs not to forget about the students’ travel plans.
Students returning to Peninsula Malaysian campuses only need a permission letter. However, students who are entering Sabah or Sarawak or Labuan must follow the SOPs enforced in their respective states. For the latter group, they must apply for a permission letter from the Royal Malaysian Police to cross state borders and must also undergo the RT-PCR swab test prior to their application.
Students can get the test at no cost in government health clinics.
Dr Noraini stated that their PdP will be taught in a hybrid format. Students can also choose to study online for programs or courses.
She added that varsity can also conduct online lessons. “Activities that involve laboratories, workshops and studios (on campus), can be done in groups guided by established SOPs.” She added.
President of Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities, Datuk Dr Parmjit Sing echoed Dr Noraini’s sentiment. He has said that Dr Noraini had actively engaged with the higher education sector and sought their views on the reopening of campus.”The precautionary measures taken are prudent, as the daily incidence of infections is still high. We support the requirement that students only be fully vaccinated after they have completed the 14- or 28-day post-jab period. This will ensure that all campuses remain safe.
”Dr Parmjit is also the Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation chief executives officer. He said that most institutions are willing to teach in a hybrid format, which will likely continue until next year.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia deputy Vice-chancellor (Student Relations) Prof Datuk Othman Karim stated that while the university wants academic activities to resume to normal, it is taking into account the Covid-19 situation and coming up with an appropriate game plan.”The minister’s SOPs are the best. We will determine which courses require students on campus, and which can be done entirely online.
He added, “We will then make necessary travel arrangements for students who need to attend campus.”Prof Othman stated that universities will discuss providing self-test kits to students.
Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor, the vice-chancellor at Universiti Malaya (UM), stated that 80% of students who have lived in the varsity’s residential colleges will return to campus for the 2021/22 academic semester.
“UM has prepared a Special Operating Procedure for Students’ Re-Entry to Our Campus, based upon the operating procedures announced and UM’s readiness,” he announced in a Sept 15 statement. He added that UM would not ignore student welfare and will strictly implement the SOP to aid students in their return.