South African universities close early over coronavirus fears

 ·17 Mar 2020

Minister of higher education Blade Nzimande has announced that all post school institutions will be closed for early recess from 18 March, in line with government’s plans to prevent further spread of the coronavirus in South Africa.

This will include the normal institutional break that was coming in the next few weeks, with the minister noting that some institutions have already implemented this particular plan.

Several universities had already suspended contact lectures following the declaration of the coronavirus pandemic as a state of disaster in South Africa.

Currently, the plan is to return from this break on 15 April 2020, just after the Easter weekend; however, Nzimande said that the exact dates for coming back will be based on the assessment of the severity of the coronavirus in South Africa.

There was also an agreement that arrangements will be made for student accommodation and leave for workers during this period. This will handled by each respective institution.

The minister said that despite the early closure of universities, some academic activities will continue, such as post graduate programmes and research.

“Therefore, it is not a shutdown, but an early recess,” the minister said. “However, we have agreed that institutions will be using the recess to test out online and digital learning platforms, for possible use at a later date.”

Examinations at some colleges that were set for March and April will be postponed with a resume date to be announced at a later date.

Authorities will continue to meet around the virus and make decisions as things change, the minister said, with universities and colleges expected to publish more details pertaining their own plan around the virus.

In line with government’s general plan to combat the virus, tertiary institutions will follow these guidelines:

  • All international travel should be cancelled or postponed;
  • Any students or staff with critical reasons to travel should consult with authorities;
  • All individuals who have travelled internationally should self-isolate;
  • Travel within South Africa should be limited to essential travel only;
  • Activities that involve big groups – such as graduation ceremonies – must be postponed, or handled through other means;
  • All institutions must ‘jack-up’ communications around the virus;
  • There is an appeal to combat fake news and the spreading thereof.

Nzimande said that the department will also work to set up student health centres to help assist with treating those affected by the virus.

Read: Mass quarantines, emergency funding, and avoiding panic buying – here’s South Africa’s coronavirus disaster plan

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