Most universities in UAE opt for online classes this semester

Higher education institutions are taking all necessary precautions to keep their students and staff safe on campus

Image used for illustrative purpose. A professor and students taking part in an online class are seen on a screen. February 28, 2020.

Image used for illustrative purpose. A professor and students taking part in an online class are seen on a screen. February 28, 2020.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Though universities in the UAE are well prepared to welcome back students to campuses for this semester, a number of will hold most of its classes online, Khaleej Times has learnt.

Higher education institutions are taking all necessary precautions to keep their students and staff safe on campus. Earlier, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai issued a 118-point circular laying down the reopening protocols.

As part of its safety strategy, one university, RIT Dubai, will carry out nearly all of its classes virtually. Its president Yousef Al Assaf said: "We are now open, classes have already started. Our first semester will continue online until the end of October and then we will be reassessing the situation.

"More than 90 per cent of our classes are online, with the exception of a few that require attendance such as in laboratories."

Simulations will also be used so that students can experiment and practise at home. "Attendance for labs has been reduced to meet an absolute minimum of less than 10 per cent. Alternatively, some lab kits will be given to students to do experiments at home for some of the classes in computing and electrical engineering," Assaf said.

American University of Sharjah (AUS) will also continue to monitor the situation throughout the semester to determine if additional opportunities for on-campus engagement can be provided, while maintaining compliance with ministry directives.

Kevin Mitchell, chancellor of the AUS, said: "Classes for the fall 2020 semester at AUS began on August 30. The university will continue with remote teaching and learning for the fall 2020 semester to prioritise health and safety."

Limited the number of students, teachers on campus

During the summer break, a number of physical changes have been made to campuses, tailoring them to the safety measures that will have to be implemented amid the pandemic.

Some institutions that will be conducting on-site classes are limiting the number of people on campus, allowing only a quarter of its population within the premises.

A spokesperson from the Zayed University (ZU) said: "At Zayed University, we are excited to welcome our new and returning students, faculty and staff back to our Dubai and Abu Dhabi campuses for the academic 2020-21. As we begin the Fall Semester classes tentatively on September 6, we have made the decision to allow only 20 to 25 percent of students on campus premises, which is around 300 of the overall number enrolled for this year. We will also maintain the faculty and staff capacity to 50 percent or less on campuses."

The university also remains committed to ensuring that students of determination are coping well with online learning procedures and other academic challenges.

"As ZU shifts to the hybrid education model for the 2020 fall semester, the Students Accessibility Services team will continue to support students of determination and will provide accessible courses online and ensure the same level of support, which will be delivered virtually," the spokesperson said.

'We will welcome back all students with strict safety protocols'

Some other colleges are planning to welcome students back on the campus have developed a string of easy-to-follow protocols.

A host of measures are in place - from thermal scanners and sanitising stations to contact tracing strategies, floor markers, limited entry and exit points, socially distanced classroom set-ups, staff training, isolation areas and designated health and safety officers.

Frequently touched surfaces and all common areas, including washrooms, will be cleaned several times a day, in addition to daily general disinfection drives.

Dr Vajahat Hussain, CEO of Amity Education ME, said: "We are fortunate to have the space and facilities to accommodate face-to-face learning for all students, while complying with safety protocols. University campus reopens on September 15, following the KHDA's compliance inspection, which will be conducted before students arrive.

"Majority of our students are returning to campus. Students that are unable to return to Dubai or students with pre-existing medical conditions can opt to continue with distance education."

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