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Public university students in uproar over prolonged Covid-19 closure

  • Published at 05:31 pm February 21st, 2021
ju students break into halls
File photo: Jahangirnagar University students gather at the campus demanding the reopening of the residential halls on Saturday, February 20, 2021 Collected

Reopening of residential halls among chief concerns of students

A growing number of students at public universities are becoming disgruntled with the continuing closure of the educational institutions across Bangladesh, enforced due to Covid-19, when almost everything else has returned to a semblance of normalcy.

All educational institutions have been closed for nearly a year - since March 2020 - because of the pandemic.

Students fear that the continuing closure will lead to them to fall further behind in academic activities, as online classes have either failed to engage or been inaccessible for many students. 

Several students from outside Dhaka have also been struggling to find adequate accommodations in the city amid the closure of residential halls.  A significant number of these students find employment in the capital to help cover educational expenses, and returning home is not an option for them.

Dhaka Tribune has learned that a large portion of public university students are now living in rented houses near their universities. This is more expensive as well as less safe, especially for female students.

Students suffering

Frustrations boiled over on Saturday when students of Jahangirnagar University broke open the locks of at least six dormitories in protest of the closure. The students’ demands include reopening of the residential halls as soon as possible.

On Sunday, the students issued a 24-hour ultimatum for reopening the halls.

The protest was sparked by an attack on the students on Friday by residents of a village adjacent to the campus. Thousands of students were residing at rented hostels near Gerua Bazar.

 “The restaurants of Gerua Bazar have been closed from today [Sunday]. Following the chaos, male students there have not been able to get food. We cooked and provided meals to them personally,” said Noshin Adiba, a student of the 45th batch at Jahangirnagar University.

Also read-  Jahangirnagar University students assaulted over cricket match dispute

“Female students are feeling insecure off the campus out of fear of a fresh attack,” said Adiba, a student at the university’s drama and dramatics department.

“If our six-point demand, including official reopening of halls, are not met by the given timeframe, we will enter the dormitories by our own means at 12:01pm on Monday,” she added.

Md Tabia Islam, a student of the 45th batch in environmental sciences, said: “Many students of JU currently stay [near Gerua Bazar] amid the closure of the university, since they belong to lower middle-class and poor families.

“As they need to support their own education as well as their families, they need to stay here and work,” he added.

The students also urged the university authorities to ensure the safety of all who reside near Gerua Bazar after the official reopening of halls.

Students at Rajshahi University also staged demonstrations for the second consecutive day on Sunday and issued a 24-hour ultimatum to reopen all dormitories. 

In a protest in front of the RU vice chancellor’s residence,  they threatened a tougher movement if the halls were not reopened.

Rajshahi University student Mahmud Saki said everything had become normal across the country, except academic activities at public universities.

“School, college students are getting auto-promotion, private universities started taking exams long ago, the National University has also started taking exams. But we are being deprived,” he added.

RU Proctor Prof Lutfor Rahman said they cannot reopen the campus and halls without a government order.

Students of Kushtia’s Islamic University (IU), too, demonstrated on the campus on Sunday, demanding the reopening of residential halls.

Rejecting assurance from the university’s proctorial body, the students threatened to intensify their protest movement unless the halls were reopened. 

Later in the day, during a meeting with the representatives of the protesting students, IU VC Prof Shaikh Abdus Salam also said reopening the halls was not possible without directives from the government and the UGC.

“The government might decide to reopen the halls by March,” he said, adding that he would discuss the matter with the Ministry of Education on Wednesday, UNB reported. 

Students of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) in Sylhet locked the university VC residence and stopped traffic movement near the campus, demanding the reopening of residential halls by Tuesday. 

Following demonstrations by students on December 23, the academic council of Dhaka University on January 31 urged the authorities to reopen dormitories. The government has yet to take a decision on the matter.

Government, university authorities in a fix

The Ministry of Education called an emergency virtual meeting on Saturday evening, attended by vice chancellors of all public universities, high-ups of the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh (UGC), the education minister and her deputy.

The meeting discussed the reopening of universities but could not reach a decision.

According to UGC Secretary Dr Ferdous Zaman, Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni informed the meeting that arrangements were being made to vaccinate all students, teachers, and other staff of educational institutions.

“They will be registered separately and brought under vaccine coverage, so that no one is left behind. The minister asked for opinions from the VCs about a probable time for reopening university campuses, but the VCs could not reach a consensus,” the UGC secretary added.

Some VCs supported an immediate reopening, while others wanted to wait until the Covid-19 pandemic was firmly under control. 

The education minister also asked the VCs to monitor the situation at universities where students had begun protests.

Mizanur Rahman, vice chancellor of Jagannath University, said the Ministry of Education would make a final decision in a day or two, after talking to the government about reopening campuses.

“After the opening of the halls, residential students and teachers will be vaccinated on a priority basis,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

The meeting also discussed measures to maintain hygiene after reopening campuses.

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