UGC to reopen universities in May if Covid-19 situation improves

The Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) has raised concerns over the move by the authorities to reopen universities in May while the University Grants Commission (UGC) says it will go ahead with the partial opening of universities in early May if the Covid-19 situation continues to improve in the country.

UGC Chairman Snr. Prof. Sampath Amaratunge told The Morning that while it was difficult to determine a definitive date the universities could fully open, limited staff and students could be allowed to restart work in May.

“It’s too early to say whether we should or shouldn’t open universities. But as it stands and if the coronavirus situation continues to stabilise and get better, then I don’t see a problem in opening universities to allow a limited number of faculty members and students to continue their activities, especially if some form of public transport is also allowed to function,” Amaratunge said.

He said that a number of university professors and faculty members had urged the UGC to allow them to continue their research programmes.

“There were a lot of laboratories and such that were being used and academics were carrying out various researches. They pointed out that their peers and partners abroad were continuing research and thus they should too be allowed to do so,” Prof. Amaratunga said, pointing out that only a very small number of staff and students would be allowed to attend initially.

He also noted that only a handful of districts had a high number of Covid-19 cases. “Only four districts have double digits in confirmed cases of Covid-19. More than 20 districts have only one or two such cases or none at all.

Therefore, if the situation continues to improve, then I don’t see why universities too shouldn’t be opened, particularly since industries will also resume
functions around the same time,” he said.

The UGC announced recently that staff members would be recalled to work on 4 May while second-year students would resume their curriculum from 11 May.

However, FUTA President Prof. Shyama Banneheka said that it was premature of the UGC to announce dates for reopening universities, given the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The Government hasn’t announced a date when the curfews would be lifted. The health services haven’t even announced an end to the lockdown and social distancing protocols. It is too early to guess when universities should do it. I don’t think it is correct of the UGC to take a decision to open universities, even partially,” Prof. Banneheka said.

He went on to say that opening universities would also require some functioning of the public transport system.

“Opening universities and schools would also mean the restarting of the public transport system. This would be detrimental to the efforts of implementing social distancing protocols and reducing the spread of coronavirus. School vans packed with children is one such example of how detrimental it could be,” he pointed out.

– Skandha Gunasekara