The Department of Higher Education and Training has a "risk-based plan" to save the 2020 academic year in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande and his department on Thursday presented the plan to both houses of Parliament's committees overseeing higher education.
Nzimande said they want to save lives and the academic year at the same time.
"But, as we all know, lives matter more," he said.
The department presented plans for the opening of universities, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and Community Education and Training (CET) colleges to the committees.
- There are different ends to the 2020 academic year envisaged, depending on the trajectory of the pandemic. The latest being the end of April, the earliest the end of January. This is because the department is looking at 27 weeks of contact learning for students.
- From 1 June, all institutions to be offering forms of remote multimodal flexible teaching and learning, supported by approved resourced plans.
- Under Level 4 of lockdown, the strictly controlled phased-in return of final-year undergraduate students in programmes requiring clinical training begins, with MBChB students having been the first, from 11 May.
- Under Level 3 and 2, groups of students - undergraduate and postgraduate – will be phased in, based on national criteria to ensure a controlled return, physical distancing and other protocols to support student and staff health and safety.
- Under Level 1 of lockdown, all students will return to campuses with physical distancing and health protocols still in place.
- Students will not return to TVET colleges' campuses during May. There are two scenarios – that students will return at the start of June, or at the start of July.
- The return of students to onsite learning will only take place once the National Coronavirus Command Council have taken into account all necessary health and other considerations.
- In preparing the learning environment for receiving students, all colleges must satisfy the Department of Health's requirements to prevent the spread of the virus. The critical activities include cleansing of learning areas, preparations for the daily screening of staff and students, and procurement of cleaning materials and personal protective equipment (PPEs).
- Daily screening of staff and students will be undertaken. Physical distancing will be mandatory when students return and will be enforced by splitting classes into two. Students will spend half the normal teaching time in face-to-face learning, the other half in independent study, supported with additional learning support materials from lecturers. Normal class sizes will resume under lockdown Level 2.
- Students will not return to Community Learning Centres during lockdown Level 4. The entire month of May is dedicated to preparing learning centres for students' return.
- Even if lockdown Level 3 comes into effect in May, students will still only return from early June 2020. In addition to the pre-condition of lockdown Level 3, students will only return once the colleges are cleared as compliant with the guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
- The academic calendar for CET colleges will be amended to align it with the declaration of Level 3 lockdown. The CET College June examinations have been deferred to November 2020. On return to classes, the General Education and Training Certificate (GETC) and Senior Certificate students will be prioritised.
- Classes will be split in half to accommodate physical distancing until lockdown Level 1 is reached. Regions and CET colleges are working on securing and resourcing additional infrastructure.