Approximately 66% of students are set to return to campus under level two of South Africa’s lockdown restrictions. Minister of higher education Blade Nzimande made the announcement on August 26. The minister announced the 2020 academic year will be extended and completed by early 2021.
Which students will be returning?
According to the minister’s announcement, several categories of students will return under level two. This includes students who were supposed to return under level three but couldn’t be accommodated due to capacity constraints on campus. Students in all years of learning who need technical equipment and practical placements will be returning. Finally all first year students in all undergraduate programmes will return.
When will the 2020 academic year end?
The department is aiming for all institutions to complete the 2020 academic year by the end of February. They expect the 2021 academic year to start somewhere between March 15 or April 15. According to Nzimande, all efforts will be made to ensure all institutions meet this requirement. Some institutions might be able to meet these requirements with ease as they have been conducting online learning programmes from the beginning of lockdown. However most students have not been on the programme.
Students from the university of Fort Hare took to social media to express their concerns about being left behind as the academic year progressed at other universities.
Even university students with access to resources have found difficulty with the online learning process.
When are students to return?
Most students returning to in-person learning were meant to be integrated into the campus space from September 1. Speaking to The Daily Vox, Karabo, a third-year LLB student from Nelson Mandela University said after the minister’s address, students at NMMU received emails from faculty about their return. He has been back on campus since July 7. Students were given the option of remaining in residences during the lockdown. Karabo said he decided to return to the residence because it has been tough to study at home. “It was really hard to study around my siblings [along] with the lack of connectivity and WiFi,” said Karabo. He said being back on campus will mean he has access to resources.
What about TVET college students?
The department said students at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) have been returning to campuses from June 10. Most of the students returned to their campuses by July 27. The final cohort of students returned on August 25. However, TVET colleges have complained that they didn’t receive the necessary support from the colleges and department. They have not received laptops or data, students said.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) said in a statement that students registered in performing arts courses, those needing to undertake practical blocks, and selected postgraduate researchers will be invited back to campus. The students will be returning to residences or academic spaces according to UCT’s amended academic calendar. All returning students must undergo a ten-day self-quarantine period when they return to their residences.
At the University of KwaZulu Natal, management has identified approximately 2500 students to return to university. These are students having significant challenges with online connectivity and/or non-conducive living and learning environments. The students were notified of their return via a personal invitation from the university.
Several universities and colleges have been identified as high to medium risk according to their operating conditions, location and context. These institutions will be helped to ensure the academic year is completed.
What measures are being taken to ensure student’s safety?
All student residences have been sanitised for students to return. Universities said they will adhere to the regulations and guidelines for COVID-19 safety. Karabo said the university told students that all the rooms were cleaned and sanitation stations were installed even before students arrived. Now that students are back on campus, they are screened everyday.
“The circumstances are different so the university has to adapt and us as students have to adapt as well,” said Karabo.