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Blade announces phased reopening of tertiary institutions

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Government envisages that students will gradually return to campus at various levels of lockdown

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande. Picture: Siyabulela Duda / GCIS

THE MINISTER of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, has announced the gradual reopening of the tertiary education sector from June 1. 

The minister said under Level 3 lockdown, a maximum of 33% of students will be allowed back on campus, with final-year students prioritised.

Nzimande told the media on Saturday that students should know that government was actively trying to save the 2020 academic year. 

Government envisages that students will gradually return to campus at various levels of lockdown. At Level 4, only final year students in clinical training will return, according to the minister. 

Postgraduate students who need access to laboratory equipment may return to campus under Level 3, Nzimande said.

According to Nzimande, institutions will recall students only after the lockdown level for their district has been announced, with a three-week delay before students actually return to campus.

Nzimande said the three-week delay in returning to campus will allow students who spent lockdown in other parts of the country to travel back to the province where they are studying. Permits will be issued to identified students to enable them to travel.

“Students who require lab and technical equipment, practical placements, and first year students will be prioritised to return to campus under Level 2, the minister said. 

Government is hopeful that at both Level 1 and 2 lockdown, there will be a two to three-week period for campuses to prepare for the return of students.

Nzimande said students returning to residences will form part of the 33% of students on campus underLevel 3, or 66% under Level 2. 

According to the minister, a tentative academic calendar has been drawn up for TVET colleges. “N6 and N3 will return on June 6, N5 and N2 on June 15, N4 and N1 on June 22,” he said.

“Guided by the principle to save lives and the academic year, the CET colleges will spend the rest of May 2020 preparing the central offices and the learning centres to be ready for safe return of staff and students”, Nzimande said. 

“We can’t have a ‘pass-one-pass-all’ approach. That is not negotiable. The main priority is to save lives.

“SETAs are currently engaging the employers and skills development institutions (public and private) regarding the return of learners,” Nzimande said.

“SETAs have also committed to priorities skills development related to Covid-19 pandemic areas in support of the supply and demand of essential goods and services during Covid-19 period and beyond.”

The minister emphasised that students with disabilities are a priority. 

“No student must be left behind,” he said.

Nzimande said institutions will consider the selected return of other categories of students to residences who may face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments. But this will only happen once all safety and logistical requirements are met.

When Level 1 is announced, it is expected that 100% of the student population should return to campus. A two-week period will be given for students to travel back to their campuses and institutions to ensure that campuses are prepared for the reintegration.