University campuses remain closed during level 4 lockdown

 ·30 Apr 2020

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has announced that higher education students, including universities and TVET colleges, will not return to their campuses during Covid-19 alert level 4.

“Firstly, whatever we do in the PSET (Post School Education and Training) sector, our responsibility is to lower the infection curve. Secondly, we must save the 2020 academic year, but not at the expense of lives. Thirdly, our efforts to save the academic year must avoid worsening the infection curve.

“We will be implementing a risk adjusted strategy for the entire PSET sector based on the national Covid-19 protocols, and will direct and manage the way institutions carry out their academic mandates at all times within this strategic and policy framework,” the minister said.

He said that guided by the work and decisions of the National Command Council, it was decided not to resume with campus-based academic activity throughout the PSET sector, including all Universities and TVET Colleges, both public and private, during level 4, which kicks in Friday (1 May).

The only exception will be the controlled return of final year Clinical Training (medical) students, under strict conditions, to also directly assist with the health management campaign of the Department of Health.

“The risks of a return to normal campus-based activity for thousands of students and staff are simply too great and cannot function successfully outside of the national context of a general lockdown.

“Universities and TVET Colleges do not operate in a vacuum, but in a historically-specific context,” the minister said.

Academic adjustment

Nzimande said that the 2020 academic year will be re-organised to enable all institutions and their students to complete academic requirements, with the prospects of extending into early 2021 depending on the epidemiology and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic threat.

“The completion of the academic year 2020 and the start of academic year 2021 will be aligned with the plans of the Department of Basic Education in terms of the completion cycle of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations, and the release of the NSC results.”

Any plans to reopen universities for contact learning over coming months will necessarily have to be calibrated within national Covid-19 health and safety parameters, taking into account issues of physical distancing, biosafety, and other risks, the minister said.

“As a result of highly uncertain and fluid social context imposed by the viral threat on every aspect of South African society, it is not possible to determine with any measure of certainty the dates when physical return to campuses for the bulk of our students will be possible.

“Until we reach that point, every effort is now being made to put in place multiple and flexible methods of teaching and learning to support all our institutions and all our students.”

Nzimande  said that institutions will continue to offer training and support to academic staff and students in respect of the necessary technologies and mechanisms required to support teaching and learning.

The minister said the start of the 2021 academic year will be adjusted to cooperate with the measures taken by the Department of Basic Education regarding the completion of the matric year.

June and September holidays will also be reduced to assist in the completion of the 2020 academic year, Nzimande said, and the revised academic calendar will be provided in due course.

Read: New tentative date for the reopening of schools announced

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