COVID-19: USM Update
THURSDAY, 22 MARCH 2020
USM PROJECT OVERCOME #WEWILLNAILTHIS
Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullah/Salam sejahtera all. I hope you are well.
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). 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.
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.
As mentioned earlier, ALL undergraduate online teaching and learning will recommence April 5th (Kubang Krian), and April 6th (all other campuses). Our IT team has improved our online readiness (see below) and CDAE has been tasked with categorising online approaches based on bandwidth requirements – we shall aim for the lightest-bandwidth solution(s).
In addition, ALL postgraduate supervision, and assessment will recommence Wednesday April 1st 2020. ALL postgraduate taught courses will recommence April 5th (Kubang Krian) and April 6th (all other campuses).
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ACADEMIC MATTERS (UNDERGRADUATE):
a) We lost 2 weeks’ worth of teaching (Week 5 and 6 – 16th March to 29th March) and these can be compensated by extending Semester 2 into the 10 weeks long vacation/KSCP – special semester/industrial training.
b) Following the above, a new academic calendar will be issued. The schedule would also include the necessary time required to complete internships and final year projects.
c) We have MQA self-accreditation status, and as such, I believe, all changes in assessment split between coursework and exams can be approved by the Senate. Academics are to consider open-book online exams, and innovative formative assessment. It is time to be creative and we would love to implement them.
d) Following the above, we strongly advice that all paperwork for Senate to be readied before the Senate meetings scheduled for April and May 2020. All Deans are also presently discussing with the relevant accreditation bodies/boards regarding matters specific to their programs.
e) KLE-USM will follow the current SOP and is being dealt with by PPSP and our representatives in India. Those students who are presently in Malaysia will be based in Kubang Krian until the travel restriction is lifted.
f) In the event of the MCO being lifted, USM will consider the option of allowing students back in limited groups/batches in order to conduct experiments, and to empty their rooms. We will also consider allowing those on campus to return home.
g) Schools are encouraged to be creative in planning and executing the above, whilst attempting as much as possible, to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Special attention need to be given to laboratory and field-work based actvities, especially if they contribute to a number of learning outcomes
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ACADEMIC MATTERS (POSTGRADUATE):
a) All processes involving pre-viva and viva, progress reporting, write ups and publications are to recommence Wednesday April 1st 2020.
b) PhD/Masters examination/viva will no longer require the physical presence of external examiners. The process is to be conducted online instead, and the presence of external examiners is optional. The Dean/representative of the Dean/internal examiner will assess and pose questions on behalf of the external examiners in their absence.
c) We are currently discussing the possibility of limited access to laboratories for researchers and postgraduates while strictly observing MCO and social distancing. The discussion will include strictly implementing SOPs that would enable USM to track individuals on campus at any given time.
d) Matters pertaining to international medical and dental students – particularly those at clinical/practical stages - will be discussed in greater detail this week. One of the proposed approaches is to extend a semester with reduced, pro-rated fees.
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At the time of writing, as part of a temporary measure in response to the MCO, USM began issuing food/grocery coupons worth RM10/day to 3,600+ students and their spouse (mostly international postgraduate) currently residing on campus. This temporary measure will only last for 10 days (starting March 21st and ending March 30th) and will cost RM360,000. In addition, USM’s Pusat Islam has also extended monetary assistance to about 300 students, and this is 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).
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Work from home continues and at the time of writing, less than 10% of our staff are on campus.
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USM EXPERTISE/TASK FORCE:
a) A team coordinated by INFORMM and led by Assoc Prof Dr Wan Mohd Zahiruddin (PPSP) comprising experts from epidemiology, infectious diseases, public health, community medicine, hospital management and lab specialists, has been formed to provide a framework on how USM will manage future waves of Covid and other infectious diseases. Once completed, the framework will be shared campus wide.
b) The DVC of Research and Innovation office will also be looking at special funds for research into the areas stated above.
c) A team comprising Pusat Sejahtera, UKKP, and various expertise from Schools of Industrial Technology, Chemistry, and IPPT to name a few, will be formed to explore ways to produce large volumes of sanitisers and to develop SOPs for decontamination. Decontamination exercises will be led by UKKP. We are also looking for those with capabilities to produce large quantities of personal protection equipment (PPE).
d) The self-accreditation/OBE committee and CDAE will be looking at a rating system for our online courses and recommend ways to fulfil course learning outcomes and the general improvement of student experience.
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USM AND THE NATION:
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.
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.
We will nail this inshaaAllah.
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USM TECHNICAL READINESS:
Our current ICT infra can fully support our e-learning platform because we split the resources between full time students and PPPJJ students. PPKT has upgraded our e-learning server (full time) to 32 vCPU and 160GB RAM. For PPPJJ, the configuration stays as it is. As a backup, we still have the capability to upgrade the servers to 48 vCPU and 512GB RAM.
#stayathome #stayatdesasiswa #stayatcampus
(PROFESSOR DR. FAISAL RAFIQ MAHAMD ADIKAN)
Universiti Sains Malaysia