In the initial stage of COVID-19 outbreak, its seriousness was not realized correctly. As in case of past unplanned closures of educational institutions, many teachers and students welcomed the break in studies. They asserted to take care of the deficiencies due to the unplanned holidays by conducting classes during the summer vacation. With the passage of time, as scary reports from China, Iran, Italy, Spain, USA and UK flooded the media, people started realizing gravity of the situation. The people could see that the epidemic was not short-lived as they had hoped.

With more and more calamities, teachers, students and government started realizing that they could not afford such a long disruption in studies. Under the lockdown conditions, online education was the only option. So, universities started adoption of online mode of education. At UMT, we luckily had a fully functional Learning Management System for the past ten (10) years. We also had an entity for distance education named UMT-CONNECTED since 2017. We also had an Office of Technical Support responsible for maintenance and further development of IT technology.

With the availability of these resources, UMT was able to launch online classes from 16th of March 2020, the very first day of closure of universities. UMT faculty members were already well-trained in Learning Management System. UMT CONNECTED organized training sessions for faculty in use of classroom software, ZOOM in our case. After trial of the software for about a week, UMT purchased licenses for all its faculty members, students and management personnel. Looking back today, UMT has already an experience of eight (8) weeks in conducting of online classes.

Although our experience with online classes is brief, yet several advantages are already obvious. The No. 1 advantage is its global access. The No. 2 advantage is that it is live. If there is an important talk / lecture at any distant location, getting live access to the lecture is so easy. Organization of a national or an international webinar has become a trivial task. At UMT, we have been conducting online meetings of our statutory bodies without any problem. Another important advantage of online classes is the savings in time and money, and relief from physical fatigue due to elimination of daily commuting between home and university. This advantage has been enjoyed by students as well as faculty members. With training in use of LMS and classroom software, faculty members have learnt use of modern teaching aids, thus, enhancing the learning experience of their students. The classroom software also records the whole proceedings of the lectures. By reviewing the recordings of their lectures, the teachers have improved their lecturing.

It’s not easy to eliminate cheating in online conduct of quizzes and examinations. For degree programs in science, engineering and technology, completion of specific lab experiments under supervision of lab engineers is required. The equipment must be installed and maintained in the laboratories located at the campus. There is no online option for doing an internship or an on-the-job training. Some students, especially, those from remote towns, complain about the poor quality of internet connectivity and unreliable domestic power supply.

COVID-19 epidemic has forced us to shift from face to face (F2F) to Online mode of teaching. A lot of work has been done by universities in adoption of online mode of teaching. Considering the advantages of online mode, abandoning it totally, even after diminishing of COVID-19, would be a major loss. Keeping in view the advantages and limitations of each mode, universities should practice both F2F and online modes of teaching. Considering the degree programs offered at universities, it can be noted that there are many degree programs which can be conducted through utilization of online teaching mode exclusively. Then, there are other degree programs which involve a lot of practical work and are, therefore, laboratory intensive.

Universities can offer options of doing a degree program either through face to face (F2F) mode or online mode of teaching. The two modes shall have separate fee structure. Obviously, online mode of teaching will cost less. Thus, some students would opt for online degree programs, which would lead to relieving of load on campus infrastructure. Then, universities would be in a better position to meet the requirements of laboratories or studios essential for the students engaged in F2F mode of education.

The online option of completion of degree would be a blessing for students belonging to small remote towns as they would pay lower fees and won’t need to pay hostel and food charges. The authorities should facilitate establishment of online study centers, where good IT facilities be made available to facilitate high quality online education. These study centers should provide their facilities to students of all universities offering online education.

In view of the benefits associated with online teaching, it is proposed that HEC may allow universities offering of, both, degree programs with online courses and degree programs with face to face (F2F) teaching. HEC must ensure strict quality assurance on, both, F2F mode degrees and online mode degrees. The degree programs based on online teaching would be highly beneficial for students living in small towns in remote areas.

The needed IT technology may be made available to online degree students by creation of study centers offering excellent internet facilities even in the far flung areas. With ability to offer online degrees in any town of the country, the best Pakistani universities would have a great impact on promotion of high-quality higher education even in the remote areas.