Universities across South Africa have developed a framework for the safe return of students and staff in a co-ordinated and phased manner. This was pursuant to an announcement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the country moved to alert level three of the lockdown from 1 June. The framework that all these universities developed was in line with the guidelines provided by the national government.

University of Cape Town (UCT)

According to a media statement issued by UCT, the move to alert level three did not signal an automatic return to campus for them. “We have been warned that tragically, the COVID-19 outbreak could still get worse as we proceed into winter”, read the statement. It was further mentioned in the media statement that “the plan for a gradual and phased return of students, as health and safety conditions allow, does not at this point in any way mean that the current emergency remote teaching approach will stop. UCT will continue with remote teaching until the end of term three”. Returning students were required to quarantine on arrival and to practice strict social distancing.

University of Witwatersrand (Wits)

Wits said in a letter to staff and students that “the well-being and safety of [their] students and staff is paramount, and it will take [their] collective effort, courage and determination to keep the coronavirus at bay”. After consultations with the Deans, academics, and student leaders, it was agreed that a staged approach will be adopted with the first cohort of students that already returned from 8 June. This cohort will, according to the letter issued to Wits staff and students, be followed by a second cohort in mid-July. The letter concluded that “we are living through a difficult period, but it is time for us to put our shoulder to the wheel and to move forward, in the interest of the broader Wits community. This is a true test of our ubuntu – our personal actions and choices impacts those around us, and it is up to each and every one of us to act responsibly for the sake of our collective humanity”.

Sol Plaatje University (SPU)

Sol Plaatje University (SPU) welcomed their first cohort of students from 19 June. Among those students that returned to campus were those in their final year of study and those requiring access to laboratories and technical equipment. The SPU SRC and some members of the student leadership in residences returned approximately 10 to 14 days prior to the first cohort of students. The team was trained in the various health protocols and is now assisting the university with the transition to a new way of operating, necessitated by the present pandemic. Professor Andrew Crouch, the Vice Chancellor of SPU mentioned in a letter addressed to the university community that “a further cohort of students will be allowed once the COVID-19 alert level has been further reduced and we are advised to do so by the government”. The SPU Senior Manager: Communications and Marketing in the office of the Vice-Chancellor, Kahini Maistry, told PDBY
that “lectures will continue online, the students that returned to campus returned because they need access to labs and technical equipment which will necessitate their working in the relevant environment on campus”.

The University of the Free State (UFS)

According to the director of communications and marketing, Lacea Loader, UFS acquired a total of 3500 laptops that were given to assist eligible NSFAS and FUNZA Lushaka funded students, as well as students with disabilities who had difficulty accessing UFS’s online platform. Loader confirmed that students belonging to the said categories also received a three month data bundle grant from the Department of Higher Education and Training. Furthermore, it was confirmed that UFS students and staff started returning to the campus in a phased approach from 1 June. The university reported their first COVID-19 positive case on 16 June, this was confirmed by an e-mail which was sent to UFS students by the Rector and Vice Chancellor, Prof. Francis Peterson. This was the first positive case that has been reported at UFS since students were allowed to return to campus from 1 June.

The Central University of Technology, Free State (CUT)

CUT welcomed all final year Radiography, Clinical Technology, and Biomedical Technology students to campus on 1 June. This was done according to the phase-in process of returning students under level three lockdown regulations. The first group of students who returned to campus are 1607 in Bloemfontein and 403 in Welkom. Seithati Seimenokane, CUT Journalist / Communications Specialist, told PDBY that “they returned to their private residences in the two cities on 12 June, where they were required to self-quarantine before commencing with on-campus contact academic activities on 26 June”. She further added that “other students will be returning in phases and will also be required to self-quarantine before commencing with on-campus contact academic activities”.In explaining whether academic activities will continue online or not, she said that “the university will continue with online lessons, and have delivered tablets to our students to ensure that they have access. We have also acquired data for them, from various cell phone network providers, to ensure that they are able to continue with their lessons. In addition, international students, who due to lockdown regulations cannot return during level three will continue to be accommodated online”. Seimenokane further added that should a student test positive for covid-19, the university will follow the recommended procedure of isolating the student and tracing all those they might have come into contact with, to stop the further spread of the virus. “To ensure our student’s health and safety, all buildings, including the university residences, have been decontaminated and cleaned, sanitising stations installed, and upon entering campus all students will be screened and issued with two washable cloth masks”, she added.

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