Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande outlined the government’s plans on Saturday to allow students back on campuses.
Among some of the major announcements were that National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students would receive 10GB free data from June through to August; all students and staff members returning to campuses will be screened upon entry; and one third of students will be allowed back on campuses and in residences under Level 3 of the lockdown.
Currently, final-year students in programmes requiring clinical training, particularly in medicine, have been returning since mid-May. All other students have to study through digital and other means until they can return.
Under Level 3, a maximum of 33% of students will be allowed back on campuses and in residences – as long as they can been accommodated in line with health and safety protocols.
President Cyril Ramaphosa previously said most of the country should have reached Level 3 by the end of May.
The students who will be allowed back under Level 3 should be in their final year and must require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity and access to residence as well as private accommodation.
Postgraduate students who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies may also return.
Students in all years of study that require clinical training in their programmes can also go back. Universities can also decide to allow back students to residences who may face “extreme difficulties” in learning at home.
Once Level 3 is announced, students will be given a period of two to three weeks from the announcement date to return back to their campuses. Institutions will issue permits to identified students to allow for their travel. Only a third of students will be allowed back in residences under Level 3.
Students will be screened for Covid-19 symptoms at campus entrances.
Once the country reaches Level 2, two-thirds of the student population will be allowed back. First-year students in all undergraduate programmes will be allowed back as well as students in all years of study who require laboratory and technical equipment to complete the academic year.
Students in all years of study who require practical placements, experiential learning or workplace-based learning to complete the academic year will also be allowed back – provided the workplaces and platforms are open and prepared. Two-thirds of residences may be occupied during Level 2.
Only at Level 1, will all students return.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students will return by specific dates, but if their campuses are in areas that are still on Level 4 during that time – they will remain closed.
These are the return date for engineering students:
N6 & N3: 10 June
N5 & N2: 15 June
N4 & N1: 22 June
For business studies students:
N6: 25 June
N5: 29 June
N4: 06 July
National Certificate (Vocational) Level 4: 13 July
Level 3: 20 July
Level 2: 27 July
All lecturers need to return by 8 June.
Students registered for General Education and Training Certificate, Senior Certificate and National Occupational Certificates at Community Education and Training colleges need to return by 17 June. Exam dates have been postpone to next year to enable them to complete the 2020 academic year.
Nzimande announced all NSFAS students, including Funza Lushaka teaching bursary students, would receive 10GB daytime and 20GB nighttime data for three months, starting from 1 June until the end of August.
This thanks to a new deal with cellphone service providers which secured “very favourable rates”.
He said these students should register their cellphone numbers with their respective institutions, and they shoud not change their SIM cards during this period.
Nzimande added the government was not in a position to subsidise data to students who fall within the so-called “missing middle” category – those who did not qualify for NSFAS bursaries, but came from households who might have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“We, however, appeal to [cellphone companies] to work with institutions to also offer affordable packages to such students.”
He said the government was working towards an affordable higher education loan scheme involving the private sector.
An agreement with the SA Revenue Service has been concluded to provide the NSFAS access to the latest tax data to validate the household income of applicants.
The NSFAS will now also be able to include other income, such as investment and rental, in its applications assessment.
“This will greatly assist towards the finalisation of outstanding appeals,” Nzimande added.