Universiti Sains Malaysia believes Covid-19 needs up to six months to contain, will continue online classes until Sept

Soldiers and police officers conducting checks at a roadblock in Bukit Jelutong, Shah Alam March 22, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Soldiers and police officers conducting checks at a roadblock in Bukit Jelutong, Shah Alam March 22, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 22 — Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) today outlined its plans to continue having online classes and allowing limited access to the university until early September instead of just during the current nationwide two-week shutdown ending on March 31, as it believes the Covid-19 outbreak will take a minimum of four to six months to be contained.

USM posted today on Facebook its strategy plan going forward to cope with the Covid-19 outbreak as “USM Project Overcome”, basing this decision on feedback received from a previous Facebook post where the university had asked for views and suggestions to plan for future scenarios.

“This message is to inform that — based on excellent feedback from our scenario planning post (March 19th) — USM will continue to implement our limited access/online teaching, learning, and assessment policy for a period of 24 weeks (until Sunday September 6th 2020),” the university wrote in the lengthy Facebook post today.

“All changes in existing processes and introduction of new standard operating procedures will be centred on business continuity — we aim to continue and complete Semester 2 of the Academic Year 2020,” it added.

In explaining its decision to continue having an online and teaching approach until September, USM spoke of the risks of having thousands of students physically on campus.

“We are of the opinion that it will take at least 4 to 6 months for Covid-19 to be contained. In addition, our experts are with the opinion that, should students return to USM, we would not be able to effectively safeguard against the risk of exposure for all 14,000+ students in their respective Desasiswa for a number of reasons, including the use of communal toilets and eateries,” it said.

When classes will resume

USM said all undergraduate online teaching and learning will resume on April 5 for its Kubang Krian campus and April 6 for all other campuses, and with the university saying its current IT infrastructure is able to support its e-learning platform.

If the government’s movement control order is lifted, USM said it would consider allowing students back in limited batches to conduct experiments and to empty their rooms, and to also consider allowing those on campus to return home.

USM said all its post-graduate supervision and assessment will resume on April 1, while all post-graduate taught courses will resume April 5 for its Kubang Krian campus and April 6 for all other campuses.

As for examination or viva for PhD or Masters students, USM said external examiners will not be required to be physically present, with the process to be online and with external examiners to be optional and with internal examiners to assess and pose questions on behalf of the external examiners in the latter’s absence.

USM said it is currently discussing the possibility of allowing researchers and postgraduates to have limited access to laboratories while strictly observing the movement control order and social distancing, and with strict standard operating procedures that would enable the university to track individuals on campus.

Petaling Jaya residents hold up a ‘#stayathome’ sign during the movement control order March 22, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Petaling Jaya residents hold up a ‘#stayathome’ sign during the movement control order March 22, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

Student and staff wellbeing

USM said it has currently implemented a 10-day temporary measures (from March 21 to March 30) that will cost RM360,000 to provide food and grocery coupons worth RM10 per day to more than 3,600 students and their spouse (mostly international post-graduate) that are currently residing on campus due to the movement control order.

Separately, USM’s Pusat Islam has also extended monetary aid to about 300 students, with such aid not limited to Muslims.

“We wish to point out that the above is financially not sustainable. The Government announced financial aid but we also understand the challenges faced by our health front liners nationwide (and the financial pressures faced by the Government).

“As such, we are currently exploring alternatives in ensuring the wellbeing of students on campus, including extending aid only to the BL40s and B40s (BL40s are those with family income of less than RM1,000, or those whose parents were recently laid off, or whose business or livelihood were directly affected by the pandemic),” the university said.

USM also said less than 10 per cent of its staff are on campus, with the rest working from home.

USM aiding in Covid-19 fight

“At the time of writing, both HUSM and IPPT have been roped in to assist the Ministry of Health in handling Covid-19. There were also a number of near misses when patients chose not to disclose important information pertaining to their contact with Covid-19 suspects,” the university said, referring to Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia and the university’s Advanced Medical and Dental Institute (IPPT).

“As such, as an institution, USM must continue to be vigilant, and must always keep track of its operational health should more resources are required in the case of a prolonged pandemic. Therefore, business must continue, and services must be rendered with the utmost level of commitment and passion,” it added.

USM had previously shown a proactive approach in handling the Covid-19 outbreak, including by declaring on March 16 a lockdown of all its campuses for three weeks from March 17 to April 5.

The university’s March 16 lockdown announcement was made hours before the federal government announced a two-week nationwide shutdown of non-essential activities and universities via the movement control order.

On March 15, USM had also published a detailed list of some of its 16 initiatives to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak, including a special allocation of RM350,000 to deal with Covid-19, replacing all lectures with online learning from March 15, and banning all staff and students from overseas official trips and urging the postponement of non-official travel both locally and internationally.

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