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This is how SA universities will reopen during the lockdown

23 May 2020 - 14:44 By JEFF WICKS
Higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande on Saturday announced plans to reopen the country’s universities.
Higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande on Saturday announced plans to reopen the country’s universities.
Image: Gallo Images

As SA wades into the second month of a protracted national lockdown, higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande on Saturday announced plans to reopen the country’s universities.

The reopening of institutions of higher learning will take place in stages, drawn directly from the various levels of the Covid-19 lockdown.

This as speculation swirls that SA could move to level 3 restrictions on June 1.

“We know that the lockdown is not nice and it's not designed to punish people, but rather to save lives,” he said.

“The sector is committed to resume academic activities in line with the national risk-adjusted strategy. This includes putting remote learning systems in place as well as planning the gradual return to various campuses during various phases of the risk-adjusted strategy,” he added.

These plans were closely linked to the presence of health and safety measures implemented by the institutions.

“Any college or university that is not ready to reopen will stay closed. This is about safety.”  

He said that should provinces or districts have their lockdown level scaled upwards, students who have returned will be sent home again.

This is how universities will reopen:

Level 4

“We allowed for the controlled return of final year students in programmes requiring clinical training, starting with medicine (MBChB) and the phasing-in of all other programmes, such as nursing, dental, veterinary sciences, and so on.”  

Medical students have been returning to clinical training platforms from May 11, and other final year students in other programmes requiring clinical training will begin returning from June 1.  

Those students who have not returned in this period are supported through remote teaching models, he said.

Level 3

Under level 3, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses, delivery sites and residences on condition that they can be safely accommodated.

This will include:

  • Students in the final year of their programmes, who are on a path to graduating in 2020.
  • Final year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity and access to residence and private accommodation should return.
  • Students in all years of study that require clinical training in their programmes (provided that the clinical training platforms have sufficient space and can accommodate them while adhering to the safety protocols).
  • Post graduate students who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies.
  • All groups that have already returned during alert level 4.

“In addition, institutions may also consider selected return of other categories of students to residences who may face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments provided that the above categories are prioritised, and all safety and logistical requirements are met,” Nzimande said.

Students who return under the scaled back lockdown level will be given a two to three-week window to return to classes once they have been recalled by the institution. This will apply to each changing level.  

Nzimande said: “It is critical that we adhere to these criteria to ensure that campuses are ready for students to safely return, and the effective health screening, cleaning protocols are in place to keep everyone safe.”

“Some institutions may identify other groups of students in line with their particular contexts. However, any deviation from this criteria must be approved by my department and must fall within the maximum of 33% of the student population,” he added.

Level 2

Under level 2, a maximum of 66% of the student population will return to campus for teaching, learning and assessment in line with the following criteria:

  • All groups that have already returned;
  • 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/ work place-based learning to complete the academic year (provided the work places and platforms are open and prepared).
  • First year students in all undergraduate programmes.

Level 1

“Under level 1, it is expected that 100% of the student population should return to campus. We are therefore going to require the strictest enforcement of physical distancing and health protocols,” Nzimande said.

He said that detailed readiness plans have been submitted to his department.

“We are analysing the plans with the aim of approving the necessary reprioritisation of funds to support these campus readiness plans through the Covid-19 responsiveness grant (CRG),” he added.

“No-one must try and recklessly move outside of these parameters. No-one wants this virus here, not government and not Nzimande. We need to work together and work to these carefully thought-out prescripts and arrangements,” the minister added.