03 May 2020
STATEMENT OF THE MINISTER ON PLANS TO PHASE IN STRATEGIC FUNCTIONS IN THE POST SCHOOL EDUCATION AND TRAINING (PSET) SECTOR IN LIGHT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
On Thursday, 30 April 2020 Dr. Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science & Innovation presented a wide ranging statement on the state of higher education in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement addressed concerns that were raised by students, staff, university management and various other stakeholders. Overall, the statement by the Minister affirms the measures and undertakings that were announced earlier by the University of Zululand.
The current communique seeks to capture the salient points that were raised in the Minister’s statement.
From the onset, the Ministry took immediate and drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus and ensure that students and staff are protected. It put all our post-school educational institutions on early recess, and thus effectively suspended academic activity. In the intervening period, the Ministry has carefully evaluated the situation in the country, and has decided on a plan to manage the situation going forward. In the words of the Minister, the measures to be taken will be informed by three overarching considerations, “Firstly, our responsibility is to lower the infection curve. Secondly, we must save the 2020 academic year, but not at the expense of lives. Thirdly, our efforts to save the academic year must avoid worsening the infection curve”.
The plan announced by the Minister contains a number of key resolutions and injunctions that affect all universities and TVET colleges. Some key themes in this plan are the following:
2020 Academic Year
- Campus-based academic activity throughout the PSET sector shall remain suspended, including at all Universities and TVET Colleges, during the Level Four (4) lockdown period. The only exception will be the controlled return of final year Clinical Training (medical) students, under strict conditions, to also directly assist with the health management campaign of the Department of Health.
- The Minister has made it clear that saving lives is a priority, and as such no student can be allowed on campus during the lockdown period, under any circumstance.
- It is not possible to determine with any measure of certainty the dates when physical return to campuses for the majority of students will be possible. Any decision on this matter will be guided by government COVID-19 protocols.
From 01 May 2020 until South Africa transitions into a lower COVID-19 risk phase, a number of critical interventions will be put in place across the PSET system. These include the following:
- Developing and implementing effective multi-modal remote learning systems to provide a reasonable level of academic support to students at all institutions to resume learning. The government will ensure that no student or institution is left behind in this process;
- Securing a universal access deal with the major Mobile Network Operators to enable students to have free data and connectivity to support remote learning.
- Physical delivery of learning materials where no immediate digital means are ready or feasible.
- Finalizing the procurement and distribution of devices (laptops) to NSFAS qualifying students.
- NSFAS qualifying students should urgently register their correct contact numbers with their institutions to avoid problems of misdirected data and deliveries.
- Prepare all campuses with deep cleaning and biosafety protocols to ensure readiness for the eventual return of students and staff. This will also include the provision of face masks, sanitisers, sites for quarantine, psychosocial support services, etc.
- NSFAS funding for all students will continue while the academic year is underway.
PLANNING GUIDE FOR UNIVERSITIES
- The Minister has called on universities to align their planning with the national framework. Each university is thus expected to plan to ensure that its specific programmes, resources, and capacity are adequate to offer various forms of remote and flexible learning starting at the beginning of June 2020, and until a full return to contact teaching and learning is feasible.
- All institutions will continue to offer training and support to academic staff and students in respect of the necessary technologies and mechanisms required to support online and multimodal teaching and learning.
Issued on behalf of University of Zululand Management