Higher Education to welcome back all students

With the country having moved to Level 1 of the lockdown, the Department of Higher Education is now in a position to welcome back all university students, including international students who are currently outside the borders of South Africa.

“All universities are implementing their plans to return all students and staff from 1 October, subject to any restrictions linked to their own risk assessment due to their local context and conditions,” Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, said on Wednesday.

Briefing media on regulations relating to the Covid-19 Level 1 restrictions, Nzimande said the department will be able to move to a 50% occupancy of rooms, up to a maximum of 250 persons indoors at a time, with the ventilation of rooms remaining critical.

While they will also allow the hosting of side gatherings of up to 500 people at a time, the prescripts of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) regulations will apply. These include health and safety protocols, in terms of physical distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, sanitising and environmental cleaning.

“Returning international students, who remain outside the country, need to meet the requirements of the COGTA regulations, which include having a test not older than 72 hours, showing that they are negative for the virus on arrival in South Africa. If not, they will need to go into quarantine at their own expense for at least 10 days before proceeding to their respective institutions,” Nzimande said.

Over 1,000 positive COVID-19 cases reported

According to the most recent monitoring report, as of 17 September 2020, a total of 1,979 positive Covid-19 cases have been reported by institutions and of these, 1,215 are staff members and 764 are students.

A total of 245,652 students have been issued with permits to come onto campuses for teaching, learning and research purposes.

Nzimande said some institutions were still implementing the phased return of the first 66% of students to their campuses when the announcement for the move to level 1 was made.

“On a daily basis, 70,815 individual staff and students were screened entering university campuses in the period between 8 and 22 September 2020. It appears that not all students issued with a permit are returning to campuses, as some are still choosing to continue to work remotely from home.

“The number of daily screenings is also linked to the management of activity on campuses, in that students are not all arriving on campus every day, but are attending campus when it is necessary. This is to ensure that the health and safety, and physical distancing protocols are adhered to,” the Minister said.

Ongoing support for institutions

The Minister said the department has held one-on-one engagements with all institutions that were at high or medium risk, and has been providing ongoing support.

“As at 17 September, the picture had moved somewhat, with seven institutions in the medium risk category, and 19 at low risk. Currently, no institutions remain at high risk.

“For the universities at medium risk, general observations are that they still have some way to go to complete their first semester programme. Summative assessments, where these are required, have yet to begin,” Nzimande said.

Completion of academic year

Nzimande announced that 10 universities aim to complete the academic year before the end of the 2020 calendar year, while four plan to end in January 2021, seven in February 2021, and five plan to complete in March 2021.

With the announcement of the National Senior Certificate examination results expected late in February next year, Nzimande said the new academic year for first-year students will be staggered between 8 March 2021 and the 12 April 2021.

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