Ensuring students' safety key to reopening universities: Nzimande

09 June 2020 - 17:20
By Zingisa Mvumvu
Higher education minister Blade Nzimande addressed the media on Tuesday on the reopening of universities. File photo.
Image: Sunday Times/Sebabatso Mosamo Higher education minister Blade Nzimande addressed the media on Tuesday on the reopening of universities. File photo.

The government is trying to strike a balance between saving lives and saving the academic year.

This is according to higher education minister Blade Nzimande, who was speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday.

He said since the beginning of lockdown level 3, universities across the country had been allowed to open campuses and residences for 33% of their student population. However, there are conditions on who qualifies for this group. Only the following students are allowed to return:

  • postgraduate students who require laboratories and technical equipment to undertake their studies;
  • all students in their final year and due to graduate this year;
  • final-year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity and access to residences or private accommodation;
  • any student in any level of study who requires clinical training in their programmes; 
  • all students who had returned to universities in level 4.

Nzimande said universities were allowed to develop their own additional categories of students who may be allowed to return to campus, though these needed to include only those students who could demonstrate that it was impossible to continue studying from home.

“I would like to emphasise that we recognise that some institutions may identify other groups of students, in line with their particular contexts, for their return to campus. However, any deviation from this criterion must be approved by my department and must fall within the maximum of 33% of the student population,” he said.

All students belonging to any of the groups allowed to be part of the initial 33% will have to abide by strict safety and health protocols.

“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 [and] cleaning protocols are in place to keep everyone safe.”

Students who stay off-campus in privately rented accommodation close to their universities are also allowed to go back, as long as physical distancing is observed.

At Technical Vocational Education & Training (TVET) colleges, Nzimande said engineering and business students were allowed to return during level 3.

Students who are not allowed to return to campus would be supported through the provision of necessary electronic devices and mobile data.

“All other students will be supported through remote multi-modal teaching, learning and assessment until they can return to campus.”