Universities in South Africa told to prepare for a year of Covid-19 restrictions

 ·30 Mar 2021

Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande has published a new national framework aimed at preparing the country’s universities and other higher education institutions for the 2021 academic year.

“It is now clear that the 2021 academic year will start under Covid-19 restrictions and that the pandemic will remain with us for some time and will pass though different intensity waves until the vaccination programme has been fully implemented,” said Nzimande.

He added that the Covid-19 pandemic will effect daily lives and workplaces for some time to come and that the lockdown levels will change over time, depending on the trajectory of the pandemic.

“Eventually it will be necessary to return to normal teaching and learning and work. However, this must be done based on the understanding that the pandemic will be unpredictable; that further spikes of infection may follow; and that geographical differentiation may have to be considered as some areas may be declared hotspots.”

Nzimande said that different methodologies will have to be explored to ensure that staff and students at higher education institutions are able to access campuses as safely as possible.

He added that the mitigation of health and safety risks should be built into the daily lives and work of all institutions – including living and teaching spaces.

Because of unique circumstances at each institution, a one-size-fits-all approach is not feasible. Therefore each institution must work out its own management plan for the 2021 academic year based on its context within the adjusted national lockdown rules framework, which may be adjusted from time to time, Nzimande said.

“The pandemic will continue to affect the world for the foreseeable future.”

“It is necessary for institutions to do everything possible to prevent new infections and campus outbreaks that could put lives at risk and further disrupt the completion of the 2020 academic year, as well as the commencement and continuation of the 2021 academic year.”

Institutional plans 

The directive states that all higher education institutions must develop plans for the opening of the 2021 academic year and the managed integration of staff and students to campuses and residences.

The department said that the access of staff and students to campus, contact tuition and to residences must be managed within the parameters of the applicable national alert level regulations and the relevant regulations, as published by the minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

“This means that institutional plans will be adapted from time to time in line with any changes announced at the national level,” it said.

“Each institution must develop and implement a teaching and learning plan to ensure that physical distancing and other health protocols are observed at all times.

“This implies implementing blended learning methodologies, flipped classrooms, carousel and block contact teaching, and so on. The teaching and learning plan should ensure that all students are afforded the opportunity to participate meaningfully in teaching and learning.”

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