New return plans for South African university students

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, has outlined his department’s plans for the return of university students as South Africa’s lockdown regulations are eased.

In a media briefing on Saturday (23 May), Nzimande said that the coronavirus has had a significant impact on the academic year and that his department is focused on saving the year while still prioritising the safety of students and staff.

The minister said that some final-year undergraduate students have already returned under the level 4 lockdown, with more students allowed to return as the restrictions ease.

This will include the return of a number of students when the country moves to level 3 lockdown restriction in June, he said.


Level 3

Students that will be allowed back to the campuses under level 3 include:

  • All groups that have already returned under level 4 restrictions;
  • Students in the final year of their programmes who are on a path to graduating in 2020;
  • Final year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity, and access to residences and private accommodation should return;
  • Students in all years of study that require clinical training in their programmes. This is subject to the proviso that the clinical training in their programmes have sufficient space and can accommodate them while adhering to safety protocols.
  • Post-graduate students who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies.

Nzimande said that provision will also be made for students who need to travel and relocate to their campuses during the lockdown period.

He added that this will be dependent on the lockdown level of the district in which the university is located.

“If level 3 is announced in a particular district from 1 June, then institutions, where campuses are located in that district, will recall students inline with the criteria to start their contact tuition two to three weeks after the announcement.

“This depends on the readiness and capacity of each institution. Should level 3 be announced to begin on 15 June, then students would be recalled to start two to three weeks thereafter,” he said.

The minister said that these protocols will be further clarified in a soon-to-be-published gazette.


Level 2

A maximum of 66% of the student population will return under level 2 of the lockdown. Nzimande said that this will include:

  • All groups that have already returned;
  • Students in all years of study who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to complete the academic year;
  • Students in all years of study who require practical placements and experiential learning to complete the academic year;
  • First-year students in all undergraduate programmes.

Nzimande said that institutions can also consider a selected return of other categories of students to residences, namely those who face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments, provided that all safety and logistical requirements are met.


Safety 

The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation indicated that stringent screening will performed at all campuses.

Aadditionally, each institution’s management must have a Covid-19 task team with an implementation team.

Some of the safety guidelines which are being put in place include:

  • Mass-screening at all campus entry points;
  • Class-based screening;
  • Residence-based screening.


Read: South Africa’s new university could accept its first students by 2022 – here’s the plan

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New return plans for South African university students