Here’s when South African students will return to university

The Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology has outlined its preliminary plans to save the 2020 academic year, while still balancing the safety of students.

Government placed all post-school education institutions on early recess from 15 March after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared the coronavirus pandemic a national disaster.

Presenting to parliament on Thursday (14 May) the department indicated that the academic year was highly dependent on the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic, with plans to end the  year anywhere between January and April 2021.

To accommodate this, from 1 June all institutions to be offering forms of remote multi-modal flexible teaching and learning, supported by approved resourced plans.

It added that it plans to allow a number of students back in a phased approach based on the level of the lockdown:

  • Level 4 – Strictly controlled phased-in return of final-year undergraduate students in programmes requiring clinical training, beginning with MBChB (medical) students from 11 May 2020;
  • Level 3 and Level 2 – Further phasing in of groups of students (undergraduate and postgraduate) based on national criteria to ensure controlled return, social distancing and other protocols to support student and staff health and safety. The final decision for return of students in these categories will only take place once the National Command Council have taken into account all necessary health and other considerations;
  • Level 1 – Full return of all groups of students with social distancing and health protocols still in place. This includes 27 weeks of contact teaching planned to ensure effective completion of the academic year and a fair chance of success for all students.

The department noted that a similar approach will be followed for TVET colleges and other higher education institutions, with no student allowed to return under level 4 restrictions (before the start of June).

Medical students 

The department presentation comes after minister Blade Nzimande 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

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.


Read: Most of South Africa will move to level 3 lockdown by the end of May: Ramaphosa

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Here’s when South African students will return to university