He indicated that the decision to allow more students back on campuses would be done in terms of the detailed Covid-19 management plans in place across the sector and would ensure the continued safety of students and staff.
Pretoria – Universities will from next month allow 66% of students back to campuses, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, said yesterday.
Nzimande indicated that the decision to allow more students back on campuses would be done in terms of the detailed Covid-19 management plans in place across the sector and would ensure the continued safety of students and staff.
In terms of the criteria for alert level 2 of the lockdown, Nzimande said all students who were in groups that had been prioritised to return in level 3, but couldn’t be accommodated due to the maximum campus carrying capacity being reached, would now be allowed back.
This includes students who require laboratory and technical equipment, as well as those who require practical placements and work-based learning to complete their academic year.
All first-year students in undergraduate programmes have also been included in the groups to be allowed to resume their studies on campuses.
He encouraged the remaining students awaiting the move to level 1, to continue making use of remote multimodal teaching, learning and assessment until they could return to campuses.
This will include international students studying at South African universities who are currently outside the country.
The announcement for more students to return was despite concerns highlighted by the minister regarding the various institutions’ most recent operational plans submitted to the department regarding their risk assessments.
Nzimande said following the submissions on Tuesday, they were able to deduce that 14 universities were at low risk of Covid-19, taking into consideration their assessment of the operating conditions, location and context.
These are the University of Pretoria, Unisa, Wits University, University of Johannesburg, North West University, Rhodes University, UCT, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Nelson Mandela University, Cape Peninsula University, Stellenbosch University, UWC, the University of Zululand and Sol Plaatjie.
Six universities were, however, placed at medium risk and a further six at a high risk. Universities at medium risk are the Tshwane University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, University of Limpopo, University of Mpumalanga, University of the Free State and University of Venda.
Those deemed to be at high risk are Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, Vaal University of Technology, Walter Sisulu University, Mangosuthu University of Technology, University of Fort Hare and Central University of Technology.
Nzimande said his department was engaging with all medium- and high-risk institutions identified to secure commitments and actions to lower risks and expedite operational capabilities to ensure 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.”
He said these interventions would be crucial given that some universities had not adequately resumed academic teaching and learning for a large proportion of their student populations since March.
“The protocol governing the staggered return of students to campuses must hold still. Any uncontrolled return would be highly irresponsible and would place the lives of students and staff at risk.”
The academic year for universities, according to Nzimande, will proceed until the end of February 2021, with the new academic year to start from March 15, 2021.
On digital learning devices, he said that while the department viewed them as crucial in this pandemic, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme administrator had indicated that no bids had been successful thus far.
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