Covid leaves trail of devastation at SA's TVET colleges
'If we identify that there is a rapid increase, in particularly institutions or campuses, of infections, we will close those institutions' - Blade Nzimande
A total of 23 staff members from SA’s 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, and four from community education colleges, died of Covid-related complications between December 15 and January 11.
Up to November 13 last year, 48 staff members and 10 students from the country’s 26 universities also died after contracting the virus.
These figures were released by the minister of higher education, science and innovation, Blade Nzimande, on Monday during a briefing on plans for the reopening of the post-school education and training sector.
He said there were 146 staff infections at TVET colleges and 123 recoveries, and 98 infections and 85 recoveries at the community education colleges.
His department will be receiving updated reports on Covid-19 infections and fatalities at higher education institutions on January 20.
“But we want to make it clear that if we identify that there is a rapid increase in particularly institutions or campuses of infections, we will close those institutions. If we identify cluster infections of a serious nature we will close down immediately," he said.
Nzimande said they were aware that infections would have increased over the festive season.
Commenting on applications for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), Nzimande said the entity recorded more than 750,000 applications for the 2021 academic year, an increase of 185,000 from last year.
At least 61% of applicants were beneficiaries of government’s Sassa grants.
Nzimande was adamant that the scheme will not be reopening applications to students for funding despite a call by “some from within the stakeholders” to reopen applications.
“Unfortunately, we are not going to do that. Firstly, we gave four months last year for those who want to apply to apply. We are now focusing on screening for purposes of allocating those who are successful.”
He said the reality was that not all students who apply for space at a university will be offered one.
Nzimande said 10 universities had completed teaching and learning, including exams, for the 2020 academic year.
“The remaining 16 are completing the academic year [for 2020] at different times depending on their own academic timetable, but they will complete it between now and March.”
He urged all institutions to communicate their detailed programme with all stakeholders, particularly with prospective students, parents and workers “so that they remain informed at all times on the rollout of the institutional programme for proper decision-making”.
Nzimande urged higher education institutions and Higher Health South Africa, an entity of the department, “to mobilise and capacitate own health-care workers and final-year health science students to volunteer to be trained and act as extra hands supporting the department of health”.
“It will be impossible for 40 million people to be vaccinated only by the department of health acting on its own.”
He said front-line health-care workers of Higher Health must be included among the rest of the health-care workers to be among the first to be vaccinated.
“We are working closely with the department of health on this.”