SUMMARY: SA tertiary education institutions to reopen in June

Minister Nzimande spoke on his department's response to the government's risk-adjusted strategy aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

JOHANNESBURG - A third of tertiary education students will return to class in June under level three lockdown.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, announced this in a media briefing on Saturday.

Minister Nzimande spoke on his department's response to the government's risk-adjusted strategy aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

He said the reopening of universities would be done in phases to ensure that there’s adequate social distancing. 

"Should Level Three be announced to begin on 15 June, then students would be recalled to start two to three weeks thereafter to allow students to travel back to their campuses and institutions to ensure that the campuses are effectively prepared for the return," said Minister Nzimande. 

READ: Nzimande says tertiary institutions to close Wednesday

He added that once Level Two is announced a further 33-percent will be allowed on campus. Only under Level 1 will all students be allowed to return to campus.

The minister said all public universities have, however, developed ways to continue lessons under lockdown to help students finish the academic year, including those not returning to campus in June.

“All public universities have developed detailed strategies for remote multi-modal teaching and learning during the period of the current lockdown, for implementation as from the beginning of June as per our previous commitments.

"As I have indicated before, institutions have developed their detailed institutional plans, as each institution is unique and we cannot follow a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Each institution has committed to ensuring that all students are given a fair opportunity to complete the academic year 2020. We are working closely with all universities to ensure the implementation of this commitment,” he said. 

 READ: Rhodes University assists in sanitiser shortage in EC

The minister said the government acknowledged the barrier to connectivity for some students and has found a way to keep everyone connected. While access to institutional websites will be free, YouTube videos and other additional content to assist with remote learning would be accessible through subsidised “educational data bundles,” he said.

Students who are beneficiaries of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and Funza Lushaka bursary scheme will receive 10GB daytime and 20GB night-time data for three months, starting from 1 June until the end of August. 

But, students in private universities are not part of the current zero-rating schemes.

"While we acknowledge that students who fall within the so-called “missing middle” category, as well as students in private institutions, also need support in accessing data for their online learning, as many of them also come from homes that are hardest hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, the government is currently not in a position to subsidise them," he said.

A tentative academic calendar has been drawn up for TVET Colleges and Nzimande said the first batch of students in these institutions would report to campus on 10 June.

The minister sought to assure South Africans that his department has been hard at work, finding ways to save the academic year, despite the uncertainty caused by COVID-19.

He said he would soon publish the criteria for the risk-adjusted strategy for the return of students in the Government Gazette.

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