South African tertiary education institutions have been closed since the start of lockdown. For many students, this has been a frustrating and confusing time, wondering what is happening and if/when they will be able to continue with their studies in 2020.
The good news is that South African universities began to gradually reopen as of 1 June 2020 – in line with a statement released on 23 May by Dr Blade Nzimande, South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation. This is in line with other sectors of the economy and schools slowly opening up as South Africa moved into the 3rd level of lockdown at the beginning of June.
So when can I go back to college?
As far as possible, colleges and universities should provide online learning for the majority of students, while face-to-face learning is phased in.
Obviously, the reopening of tertiary education in lockdown level 3 will be implemented carefully and with various risk adjustment levels to ensure the health and safety of students.
Not all students will go back at the same time. Instead, there will be a phased approach. Students in their final year, or who need to use laboratory equipment and tech facilities were prioritised in the level 4 strategy.
Students with disabilities, as well as those who will struggle with online learning for various reasons, will also be given preference.
Getting campuses ready to reopen
Nzimande announced detailed plans to ensure the safety of students, and to allow tertiary institutions to prepare.
In terms of health and safety, proposed measures include stringent screening and a COVID-19 task team with an implementation team at each campus. Institution readiness should include:
- Earmark facilities for isolation and quarantine of any symptomatic students
- Screen all individual entering the campuses daily
- Provide hand sanitisers at the entrances of all facilities
- Clean and sanitise surfaces regularly
- Regularly monitor and clean high-risk areas such as libraries
- Restrict class sizes to fewer than 50 students
In terms of education, all public institutions have developed strategies for online teaching, and are encouraged to prioritise remote learning where possible.
When will technical and vocational institutions reopen?
It is unclear when vocational colleges will be able to reopen their campuses. According to Nzimande, a tentative timeline has been proposed but is still under discussion.
What about NSFAS funding?
During lockdown, NSFAS has been fully operational and will continue to provide payments towards beneficiaries. There are also plans to provide NSFAS beneficiaries with funding for digital learning tools and devices, to help with online learning and better prepare them for the future.
Regarding SETA learnerships, there was a misunderstanding at the beginning of lockdown where some SETAs halted payments. This has been cleared up, and all stipends have been provided for.
Please note, all information contained in this article is correct at the time of writing.