No jab, no accommodation for University of the Free State students

27 November 2021 - 12:10
By Philani Nombembe
The University of the Free State council has approved the institution's Covid-19 vaccination policy.
Image: 123RF/ssilver The University of the Free State council has approved the institution's Covid-19 vaccination policy.

Unvaccinated students will not be allowed on the University of the Free State’s (UFS) premises as from February.

This is according to a Covid-19 vaccination policy approved by the UFS council on Friday.

Rector and vice-chancellor Prof Francis Petersen said though the university does not compel people to vaccinate, it has the right to require vaccination if anyone wants to access its premises. The policy will be implemented from February 22.

“The policy implies that the university does not force anyone to be vaccinated, but the institution has the right to require vaccination if you want to access the institution’s premises in order to protect our staff and students,” said Petersen.    

“The UFS is a residential university that requires face-to-face engagement by both staff and students, and operational requirements entail that our staff, ad hoc contract workers, and students are regularly exposed to large groups on the three campuses. We have a fiduciary duty to ensure a safe and caring environment and to meet the health and safety obligations on the campuses.”

Petersen said since March 2020, the institution has followed a predominantly online emergency remote learning-and-teaching programme with a minimalistic approach to the return of staff and students to campus. Where possible, staff members have been working from home, except essential service employees and academic staff required to support students studying on campus.

“The viability of consistent remote working and study conditions is not in line with the culture and strategy of the UFS. Although a blended learning approach is supported, sole online learning will be detrimental to the quality of our graduates and the experience that the institution should offer to its students as a residential university,” said Petersen.

He said the institution is concerned about the number of staff, students, and ad hoc contract workers who have tested positive for Covid-19 since the commencement of the national lockdown. The pandemic has resulted in a number of people being placed in quarantine, testing positive or being incapacitated due to Covid-19 complications and deaths.

“We believe that the policy will be a contributing factor in encouraging the entire university community to make the responsible decision to vaccinate.”

He said vaccinated people will be required to upload their vaccination certificates on an electronic platform to obtain access to campus. Only vaccinated students will be allowed to access on-campus accommodation. Students who are not vaccinated by February 14 2022 will not be prevented from registering for the academic year but can only access the campus if vaccinated or granted an exemption.

“The development of the policy was consulted widely with relevant internal stakeholders, among others, the university’s senate, supporting it with an overwhelming 84%. The university also followed due process by referring the proposed policy to all its governance structures for consultation, including obtaining opinions from reputable legal firms in the country,” said Petersen.

He said the institution has conducted a thorough risk assessment of the implementation of the policy, and a contingency plan is in place that will be implemented in the absence of full implementation of the policy.

“We will consider following a flexible approach if we initially find that the rate of vaccinations is low. We will work tirelessly with government to accelerate the rate of vaccinations with the ultimate goal to obtain a high enough level of vaccinations to limit the transmission of the Covid-19 virus and create a safe work and study environment for our staff and students,” he said.