OPINION: What a dead year would mean for students and institutions

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President Museveni yesterday delivered another widely followed address on the fight against COVID-19 in which he sought to guide Ugandans on an approach against the global pandemic that has now recorded over 9 million cases globally.

To the disappointment of many, the President kept schools, universities and other learning institutions closed and there seems no likelihood of reopening in the near future due to the risks associated.

On the eve of the budget reading a few weeks ago, Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa asked President Museveni to announce a dead year for all educational institutions as a measure to keep learners safe.

Also Read: FULL LIST: Highlights from President Museveni’s latest address on COVID-19

The suggestion was however rejected in favour of buying radios and TV sets for learners to enable virtual learning.

We examine what it would mean for university students if the government had chosen the other path.

The dead year policy is one that has been entrenched in higher education academic policy frameworks for many universities. A dead year is declared when a student is absent from studies from or fails to pursue their studies during an academic year for various reasons such as health, and financial challenges.

For most institutions, Prof Dr Michael Mawa, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs, Uganda Martyrs University, says granting of a dead year is not automatic as the student must seek permission from the relevant authorities such as the Academic Registrar to take a dead year or semester prior to the conclusion of that year or semester.

He explains that a university academic year is constituted of two semesters of 18 weeks each or three terms of 12 weeks each.

Also Read: FULL LIST: Kabale University 2020/2021 Government Sponsorship List

“For most university students, the suspension of their studies due to Covid-19 came at a time when they had covered about eight weeks of their second semester of the academic year 2019/2020. A blanket dead year for these students would have meant that even their first semester is in effect dead hence starting all over again.”

Prof Mawa, who is also the founding president of Ugandan Universities Quality Assurance Forum, says a careful review of dead year policies of most universities reveals that there is a fee.

“Some institutions have up to 25 per cent of tuition and functional fees to be paid by a student who has been granted a dead year/semester. Moreover, the costs of accommodation and feeding for a full time residential student will have to be covered again.”

So the question is, if this option had been taken, would students have been asked to pay all costs or would government have covered these direct and indirect costs for all students who have to start their repeat academic year or semester again? I guess we will never know.

Besides time and financial waste that comes with a dead year, Prof Mawa says students will have to deal with the psychological anguish that comes with the lost time and money.

“For final year students, a dead year would mean lost opportunity to pursue further studies or secure employment that comes with the presentation of complete academic transcripts that indicate the level of performance of the student,” he shares.

Joining university?
Prof Mawa says with new entrants, the situation would have been dire.

“The entrance of new first year students and the presence of old first year students, whose academic year would have been declared dead, would mean universities would have to operate dual classes for the same year of students or to combine the two cohorts of students in the same class.”

He attests that the latter option is even more challenging in light of the ‘new normal’ of social distancing amidst limited classroom space in most universities.

“Moreover, the option of running dual classes for the two cohorts would imply that universities would have to deploy more educational resources to ensure quality teaching and learning,” he says.

With the current challenges presented by Covid-19 to universities, Prof Mawa believes any additional problems occasioned by a declaration of a dead year would break the higher education institutions.

“Therefore, option for “emergency remote education” is the best option to enable students complete their year of study. This means MoES and the MPs need to relax their initial hard stand on online teaching and assessment,” he mentions.

Also Read: Makerere staff protest search for Prof. Nawangwe’s deputy during lockdown

Prof Okwakol responds with a ray of hope when she says that institutions that are ready to offer e-learning classes can do so, as long as they show NCHE that they have the facilities to run such and the courses are accredited.

“NCHE has come up with emergency guidelines. The Emergency Open Distance And e-Learning (ODeL) system, to cater for this period for the next 12 months to enable institutions offer open, distance and e-learning classes. These will be sent out to institutions very soon,” she mentions.

Story courtesy of the Daily Monitor. Click here to view the original article.

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Joshua Amaitum

A creative and passionate writer who loves to work magic with words