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Blade Nzimande Unveils Plans For Re-Opening of Tertiary Institutions

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HIGHER Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Saturday that re-opening of institutions of higher learning will take place in phases informed by different levels of the COVID-19.

Addressing a media briefing in Pretoria, Nzimande his ministry will publish national directives on the broad parameters and conditions under which each institution must plan for the controlled resumption of all forms and levels of academic activity to complete the 2020 academic year.

He said the sector was committed to resume academic activities in line with the national risk-adjusted strategy.

“This includes putting remote learning systems in place as well as planning the gradual return to various campuses during various phases of the risk-adjusted strategy,” said Nzimande.

He said under level 4, the department allowed for the controlled return of final year students in programmes requiring clinical training.

“Medical students have been returning to clinical training platforms from 11 May and other final students in other programmes requiring clinical training will begin returning from 1 June 2020. Under level 3, a maximum of 33% of the student population will be allowed to return to campuses and residences on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the department.” 

He said should Level 3 be announced to begin on 15 June, then students would be recalled to start two to three weeks thereafter.

In other words, a period of two to three weeks will be given to allow students to travel back to their campuses.

“Under level 2, a maximum of 66% of the student population will return to campus for teaching, learning and assessment in line with the set criteria. Under level 1, it is expected that 100% of the student population should return to campus. We are therefore going to require the strictest enforcement of physical distancing and health protocols,” he added. 

Nzimande also announced that a tentative academic calendar was put together for the return of students at TVET colleges.

“A campus-based approach will be applied where colleges are affected by different lockdown levels. Campuses located in districts that remain in lockdown level 4 will remain closed and students will be supported using multi-modal remote learning approaches. Each of these colleges will therefore develop a detailed remote learning support plan and share it with students as well as post it on the college website,” he said.

“Several colleges have already developed learning materials both for TV and radio broadcasts which are shared through the DHET website. These initiatives will continue beyond the return of students to campuses.  Furthermore, all students who will not have returned to campuses in June and July will also be supported remotely until they return to campus according to the phase-in process. Colleges are using textbooks, e-Guides, past question papers, and uploaded YouTube videos to assist students. These are supported through bulk text messages from colleges and WhatsApp groups set up by lecturers.”

Nzimande also said National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) remained fully operational and continued to disburse allowances to all NSFAS beneficiaries.

He added that NSFAS students, including those from the Funza Lushaka, will receive free data for three months starting on 1 June. 

“I am pleased to announce that we have successfully negotiated with all mobile network operators very favourable rates for our NSFAS students, including the Funza Lushaka students who will receive 10GB daytime and 20GB night-time data for three (3) months, starting from 1 June till end of August, as subsidised by government,” said Nzimande

“I want to repeat what I said in my previous statement that NSFAS and the Funza Lushaka students must ensure that they register their cell-phone numbers with their respective institutions. We advise that during this period, they must also not change their sim-cards so as to enable network operators, through their institutions, to load data to their devices. I just want to emphasise that this data that needy students will receive must be used for dedicated online educational platforms for teaching and learning as approved by institutions.”

He added: “I therefore would like to acknowledge and thank all the network operators (MTN, Telkom, Vodacom and Cell C) who have been working with us to ensure that we deliver on this important intervention. We have also made free digital content available specifically to our TVET College students through our DHET website, the National Open Learning System (NOLS) of our Department, institutional websites and other sites, where students can find digital materials which will assist them in their learning and preparation for exams.”

He said for TVET Colleges a tentative academic calendar has been drawn up pending any new announcements on the different levels of the lockdown by the President.

In terms of the tentative calendar the following return dates apply:

NATED Trimester (ENGINEERING) students

  • N6 & N3: 10 June
  • N5 & N2: 15 June
  • N4 & N1: 22 June

NATED Semester (BUSINESS STUDIES) students

  • N6: 25 June
  • N5: 29 June
  • N4: 06 July

NC(V) students

  • Level 4:   13 July
  • Level 3:   20 July
  • Level 2:   27 July
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