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More universities reopening soon

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Now that South Africa has taken the step down to level 2 of the lockdown, and we gradually merge back into our routines, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande announced that some students will again be allowed to return to university campuses.

Briefing the media on Wednesday on the department’s plans for level 2, Dr Nzimande, said a maximum of 66% of students will be allowed to resume their studies.

 

This will be done in accordance with COVID-19 management plans to keep students and staff safe, while also allowing for greater access to campus teaching and learning for more students.

 These categories of students will be able to return:
  • All groups that had been selected to return in level 3 but couldn’t be accommodated due to the maximum campus carrying capacity having been reached.
  • Students in all years of study, who require laboratory and technical equipment to complete the academic year.
  • Students in all years of study, who require practical placements/experiential learning/workplace-based learning to complete the academic year (provided the workplaces and platforms are open and prepared), and
  • First-year students in all undergraduate programmes will also be allowed to return to their campuses.

Nzimande continued by saying that all other students will continue to be supported through remote multimodal teaching, learning and assessment until they can return to campus.

The Minister acknowledged that each institution would regulate the application of these measures based on their own academic programme plans and strategies.

“I am aware that there have been different approaches and strategies for completion across the system, and some institutions have faced difficulties in implementing their teaching and learning plans effectively.

“However, we have been doing everything possible to ensure that we support institutions to respond in the best possible way to the many challenges that have arisen during the pandemic.

"This has included the re-prioritisation of funds to support the COVID-19 response at our public universities,” Nzimande said.

Institutions have already been requested to submit their updated plans on how they will safely accommodate students and staff.

International students studying at South African universities, who are currently outside the country, will only be able to return to their campuses during level 1 of the lockdown when international travel resumes.

The minister said that priority may have to be given to registrars and senior medical students in this category, should regulations change to allow for international travel under level 2.

 Risk identified

According to the latest report, of the campuses that have been assessed, 14 universities are considered to be low risk, six considered medium risk, and another six campuses deemed high risk for the spread of Coronavirus.

The 14 universities deemed to be low risk include:

  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT),
  • Nelson Mandela University (NMU),
  • North-West University (NWU),
  • Rhodes University (RU),
  • Sol Plaatje (SPU),
  • University of Cape Town (UCT),
  • University of Johannesburg (UJ),
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN),
  • University of Pretoria (UP),
  • University of South Africa (UNISA),
  • Stellenbosch University (SU),
  • University of the Western Cape (UWC),
  • University of the Witwatersrand (WITS), and
  • University of Zululand (UNIZULU).

The six universities deemed to be medium risk include:

  • Durban University of Technology (DUT),
  • Tshwane University of Technology (TUT),
  • University of Limpopo (UL),
  • University of Mpumalanga (UMP),
  • University of the Free State (UFS), and
  • University of Venda (UNIVEN).

The six universities deemed to be high risk include:

  • The Central University of Technology (CUT),
  • Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT),
  • Sefako Makgatho University (SMU),
  • University of Fort-Hare (UFH),
  • Vaal University of Technology (VUT), and
  • The Walter Sisulu University (WSU)

Nzimande went on to say that the department is engaging with all medium and high-risk institutions for assurance that action will be taken to lower risks and fast-track operational capabilities to ensure the successful completion of the 2020 academic year.

“Special support measures will be put in place to ensure academic activities resume at an accelerated pace at these universities,” Nzimande said.

Academic year to be completed in February 2021

The minister said that he has met with both the COVID-19 Ministerial Task Team and Vice-Chancellors last week to agree on a deadline by which all institutions must complete the current academic year and a fixed period of starting dates for the 2021 academic year.

“As it stands, we are targeting all institutions to complete the 2020 academic year by the end of February 2021, with starting dates for the new 2021 academic year ranging from 15 March to 15 April 2021. All efforts will be made to ensure that outlier institutions get up to speed to meet this requirement,” Nzimande said.

The detailed management of the two processes across the system will be released once all the necessary consultations have been completed.

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