Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr. Blade Nzimande on Saturday announced that about a third of university students would be allowed to return to campuses under level 3 of the lockdown period.
The minister was speaking at a media briefing on the department’s response to the government’s risk-adjusted strategy aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this month announced that most parts of the country would move to level 3 of the lockdown from 1 June.
“Under level 3, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses, delivery sites, and residences on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the department,” Nzimande said.
This would include the following cohorts:
- All groups that had already returned during level 4 lockdown.
- Students in the final year of their programmes who were on a path to graduating in 2020.
- Final year students who required access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity, and access to the residence and private accommodation.
- Students in all years of study that required clinical training in their programmes (provided that the clinical training platforms have sufficient space and can accommodate them while adhering to the safety protocols).
- Postgraduate students who required laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies.
Nzimande said a further 33% of students would be allowed to return to campuses under level 2 of the lockdown, while 100% would be permitted under level 1.
‘EDUCATIONAL DATA BUNDLES’
He also conceded that internet connectivity and access to data continued to be a major challenge for students who needed to continue learning from home.
“In addition to zero-rating, we have successfully negotiated, with all mobile network operators, very favourable rates for NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] students including Funza Lushaka students who will receive 10 gigabytes daytime and night time, for three months starting from the start of June until end of August,” he said.
Nzimande said students who would be affected by the gradual re-opening of campuses would be assisted to return to campuses due to travel restrictions in place between provinces.
“Institutions will issue permits to identified students to allow for their travel. It is critical that we adhere to these criteria to ensure that campuses are ready for students to safely return, and the effective health screening, cleaning protocols are in place to keep everyone safe,” he said.
The minister also announced that a tentative academic calendar was put together for the return of students at TVET colleges.
“A campus-based approach will be applied where colleges are affected by different lockdown levels. Campuses located in districts that remain in lockdown level 4 will remain closed and students will be supported using multi-modal remote learning approaches. Each of these colleges will therefore, develop a detailed remote learning support plan and share it with students as well as post it on the college website,” he said.
Tentative calendar dates:
N6 and N3: 10 June
N5 and N2: 15 June
N4 and N1: 22 June
Business studies students
N6: 25 June
N5: 29 June
N4: 06 July
National Certificate: Vocational students
Level 4: 13 July
Level 3: 20 July
Level 2: 27 July
‘NO STUDENT WILL BE LEFT BEHIND’
While emphasizing the guidelines would be subject to decisions made by the National Coronavirus Command Council, Nzimande also stressed that no student should be disadvantaged.
“As stated in our last briefing, the government is committed to ensuring that all NSFAS students have access to an appropriate device to support their online learning and to ensure that no student is left behind. Some universities have already issued their students with laptops, some as part of their normal policies, others as a response to COVID-19,” Nzimande said.
“A lot of work then had to be undertaken to quantify the exact number and location of these students who still need to be issued with devices. That work has now been completed and procurement will commence as soon as the approval of the minister of finance is received,” he added.
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