Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, has issued a new directive which will enable some medical students to return to university to complete their studies.
The directive, which was published on Wednesday (13 May), permits the recommencement of the academic year for final year medical students at South African public universities with effect from 11 May 2020.
It also allows for the once-off travel of final year medical students studying at public higher education institutions to travel from their homes to the university campus where they are registered for study during the period 8 -31 May 2020.
The directive does not specify why only final year medical students are allowed to return. It also does not provide any safety guidelines or information on the return of lecturers.
Wits University said that the directive will require a limited opening of the Wits Junction Residence Complex and the Faculty of Health Sciences building, as well as the clinical training platform in various hospitals.
“The University has prepared for the return of 314 medical students in their final year of the MBBCh and GEMP programmes. 91 students from this group will be housed in the Wits Junction on a self-catering basis.
“An additional 142 medical students on the Mandela Castro programme will also be returning to continue their clinical training in hospitals. These students will be housed, as usual, in the Witwaters Building and at various hospitals.”
The university said that it has also introduced a number of health and safety measures to protect staff and students.
Return of schools and universities
Under the country’s current lockdown restrictions, no schools or universities are allowed to operate.
Most of these education institutions closed before the country entered into its now 7-week lockdown, meaning the academic year has been severely impacted.
Both the Department of Higher Education and the Department of Basic Education are expected to give presentations on when their respective academic years will resume on Thursday (14 May).
The department had previously indicated that children could return to school as early as this week, but minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga later said that no date has been set for the return of pupils to schools and that only the ‘schooling sector’ will be open from 4 May.
The plan to return to school is also likely to be met with fierce resistance by teacher unions who have warned that government should not ‘jump the gun’ in reopening schools.
The unions are concerned about the safety of their members and have also criticised the department’s handling of the announcement about schools reopening and accused it of miscommunication.