Support system in place for varsity students

Wednesday Apr 29th, 2020
By Rayyan Rafidi

Universities are providing support systems to students who are facing academic and financial hardship amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) School of Graduate Studies chairman Associate Professor Dr Noor Hazarina Hashim said the university has put in place a detailed alternative teaching and learning plan for those affected by the outbreak.

"Faculties and schools are entrusted to help students in this matter. Deferment of studies is allowed through a formal application, without counting the current semester. UTM has approved a 50 per cent fee deduction for withdrawal and postponement made before May 15 this year."

While research students might face challenges due to restricted campus and laboratory access, the university has taken initiatives to ensure they are least affected, she said.

"Research supervision continues online and viva voce will be conducted via videoconferencing. We also allow students to submit their thesis electronically."

The university will boost its efforts to lift students' financial problems during the outbreak.

"UTM scholarships' recipients and students who are working as graduate research assistants will continue to receive their monthly allowances and wages. The School of Graduate Studies will continue to offer the International Doctoral and National Postgraduate Funds to students.

"Students are also given financial flexibility during these hard times. There will be no additional fees for students in the final semester who require extension and for those who need to complete their studies in semester three."

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) deputy vice-chancellor (Academic and International Affairs) Professor Datuk Dr Mohd Marzuki Mustafa said while the university is applying pandemic-appropriate measures, the welfare of vulnerable postgraduate students is looked after by the student affairs unit.

"We issue permits for students to access labs for a limited time to ensure important living specimens are taken care of.

"Access to the library's online materials is still available. Postgraduate students can apply for extension.

"Any additional costs, such as fees and accommodation within the university associated with the extension, will be waived," said Marzuki.

The university's Environment Management master student, Abdul Rahman Arif Azhari, said the pandemic has impacted his studies because he previously studied statistics for his bachelor's degree.

"This course is new and a different field for me, so I am a little bit behind compared with students with a degree in geography."

As his master's degree is funded by his father, Rahman is concerned about his study timeline and financial repercussions of the Covid-19 on his studies.

"My father and I need to have a serious talk about this. Our family is running a restaurant and our business has slowed down due to the outbreak.

"Personally, I think that the university can give a 50 per cent discount on tuition fees to students affected by the pandemic. Even though public universities are cheaper than private universities, there are students in need."

Having completed his lab work, doctoral student Muhammad Nidzhom Zainol Abidin from UTM's Faculty of Engineering is writing his thesis and research papers at home.

"I can still have fruitful discussions with my supervisor via email to keep my research progress in check. However, the outbreak has impacted my thesis evaluation."

Fortunately, UTM has taken action to address this matter, he added.

"Thesis can be submitted online during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period. Oral examinations are postponed and can be conducted online once campus reopens."

As a UTM Zamalah Scholarship recipient, Nidzom receives his monthly allowance as usual amid the outbreak.

"For this semester, I am required to pay tuition and viva voce fees to submit my thesis and sit the examination. Since receiving the scholarship, I have saved up a good portion of money from the monthly allowance.

"I am going to finish my studies soon but in a worst-case scenario, the backup plan would be to use the allowance I received from assisting in my supervisor's research to pay for the fees."

Monash University Malaysia Pro Vice-Chancellor and president Professor Andrew John Walker said the university is committed to protecting its students' health, safety and wellbeing.

"We have established a RM1.5 million Student Compassionate and Hardship package for all students suffering financial hardship as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. So, we can support our students financially while they continue their studies.

"We have streamlined the process of scholarship extension for our doctoral students. We also provide funding for a three-month 'thesis completion' scholarship for those whose research has been disrupted by the MCO."

He said the university is strictly observing government requirements during the pandemic and as this situation is evolving rapidly, it will continue to monitor the situation and adjust the offerings as and when necessary.

Working closely with Australia, Walker added that the university has extensive experience and unrivalled expertise in blended and online education.

"Currently, all lectures are conducted online and essential on-campus learning activities, such as laboratory sessions and clinical activities, will be scheduled late in semester one, if possible or at the end of the year.

"Giving students the ability to continue to progress their studies online means they can graduate as planned."