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HindustanTimes Mon,29 Sep 2014
Safety first for students
Vandana Ramnani, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, June 18, 2014
First Published: 10:41 IST(18/6/2014)
Last Updated: 11:20 IST(18/6/2014)

Ever been given a briefing by your trainer in your college before an excursion - say a 10-day trek in the Himalayas or an all-India sports meet? Does your college or university organise orientation sessions before you set out for a study tour? Do your teachers accompany you in all trips?

Last week’s horrific accidental deaths of at least 24 students from an engineering college in Hyderabad in the waters of the  Beas in Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi district, raises pertinent issues, the foremost being that of students’ safety. 

We asked a few academicians if institutes in our country are risk-proof and have a safety net in place in the form of formal guidelines, certain dos and don’ts for students to follow on excursions. Education experts point out that from a regulatory standpoint there are no overarching guidelines in India around safety. If there are initiatives, these have been taken by schools and colleges on a voluntary basis and most of them are generally informal in nature.

The need of the hour is to have the HRD ministry frame an overarching policy framework on students’ safety on campus and during excursions. Enforcing the rules should be an education regulator’s responsibility - when it is set up.

Delhi University has formal guidelines in place for Gyanodaya Express, NSS and NCC and other initiatives and ensures that ‘willingness certificates” and “risks certificates” are in order before students undertake any study/sports trips. Mentors and faculty always accompany students on these tours. Going forward, following the Mandi tragedy, students will have to be more sensitised to safety issues and told to be extra careful, informs Dr Parminder Sehgal, coordinator National Service Scheme (NSS), Gyan Uday Express initiative and deputy proctor in the vice chancellor’s office.

Delhi University sends 1,000 students on a unique India experience for which the Indian Railways runs a special train, DU Gyanodaya Express. In the past students have travelled to Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore and Wardha as part of this study tour.

“The next trip will take place shortly. We have a formal set of guidelines in place for this initiative. Students are briefed before departure. There is a formal orientation held for both students and teachers accompanying them. For other initiatives such as the National Cadet Corps and NSS, there are a different set of guidelines. Also, since it’s now mandatory to take up sports as part of the FYUP curriculum for which students need to go for sports trips regularly, separate guidelines are in place for almost every initiative taken under the Delhi University banner,” says Sehgal.

According to Prof BB Bhattacharya, former vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, there were no formal guidelines in place at the university when he was the VC but the university made it a point to ensure that a senior/faculty member  accompanied the students on tours.

“The university took adequate precautions. We did this informally when our students went trekking, visited towns and villages as part of their study tours, say to the Northeast, but there were no hard and fast guidelines. This was to ensure that no untoward incident took place. We did have our mountaineering club and the trainers coached students before hand, briefed them on safe and unsafe areas, sensitised them etc. When students toured sensitive areas, they were sensitised beforehand and as far as possible a senior always accompanied them,” he says.

 “We have guidelines to deal with sexual harassment, ragging etc but the general approach all along has been that higher education means students are adults and know best. Following the Beas incident, we need to develop certain kind of processes and then make sure that the systems are followed.More than guidelines, students should be made aware that certain things can happen,” says Prof J K Mitra, former head and dean, Faculty of Management Studies (FMS).

“In the context of what has happened (the Beas incident), there ought to be general safety guidelines for institutions.  These could prescribe that institutions should use reputed travel agents etc,” says Amitabh Jhingan, partner and national leader – education practice, EY.

The need of the hour is to have safety norms that institutions should put together. There is already talk of a single regulator for education, once that comes up, perhaps it should be entrusted with that role just as in the UAE the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA)  insists on a formal school/university policy on safety.

“Right now this should be done by the HRD ministry as it would then cover all educational institutions – deemed, central, state universities etc and going forward the regulator must take up this role,” he adds.

Avoiding risks
# Delhi University has formal guidelines in place for Gyanodaya Express, NSS and NCC and other initiatives and ensures that ‘willingness certificates’ and ‘risks certificates’ are in order before students undertake any trips. Mentors and faculty always accompany
students on these tours
# As it’s mandatory to take up sports as part of the FYUP curriculum for which students need to go for sports trips regularly, separate guidelines are in place for almost every initiative taken under the DU banner
# At the Jawaharlal Nehru University, students going for trekking or to the North East as part of their study tour, are informally briefed and sensitised by their trainers and mentors
# The need of the hour is to develop safety processes and ensure that systems are followed so that such incidents do not take place in future


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