UCT reveals first group of students who will be allowed back, but no dates confirmed yet

(Picture: Gallo images/ Getty images)
(Picture: Gallo images/ Getty images)

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has identified three groups of students who will be allowed to return to campus before others.

But UCT is not saying when, yet.

The first groups to return will be:

  • final-year medical students;
  • academically vulnerable students;
  • student "needing to access campus labs to complete their 2020 studies".

All the university’s students would only be permitted to return in an eventual "Phase 4", the institution said on Tuesday. But, again, the dates have not yet been divulged.

The announcement was made by Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Transformation and Student Affairs Loretta Feris at a "special online special assembly" last Thursday.

The core determinants behind their decisions were "current state regulations governing health and safety, risk management, and equity and fairness", UCT said.

Health and safety

"For instance, we need to ensure we can continue practising social distancing, which means that we can’t use all the beds in residences. We also need to have screening and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and students to return under sanitary conditions. The medical students will need to have a period of quarantine.

"All of these are necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of all us. This is why it is important to emphasise that we have a collective and shared responsibility to ensure we contain and manage the spread of the virus together."

The second factor the university's management considered were the national, provincial and local rules and regulations governing the different lockdown levels.

"Third, all decisions regarding the phased return would be underpinned by equity and fairness, taking into account the deepening of inequality as a result of Covid-19."

UCT explained why medical students were their first priority, saying: "Two weeks ago, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande indicated that final-year medical students needed to return to campus to access clinical platforms and complete their academic year. Conversations are ongoing about the return of other final-year Faculty of Health Sciences students."

The faculty had since worked on the academic programme and negotiated with Groote Schuur Hospital about the return of students to clinical platforms. They had also given thought to which residences could be used.

"The Department of Student Affairs has identified the residences we can use. They have also put a screening protocol in place, PPEs have been procured and an appropriate staffing plan is in place and will be consulted on with labour unions."

UCT’s second priority group was "students who the university believes are vulnerable, based on their ability to learn remotely under current conditions, among other considerations".

'Need to understand what vulnerability means'

Feris said: "Once the national regulatory framework permits UCT to do so, the intention is to return these students to residence – not for face-to-face learning, but to continue remote learning in residence, with tutorial support.

"But we need to identify these students. We need to understand what vulnerability means in reference, not only to a student’s ability to learn remotely because of issues such as connectivity, but also because of their socioeconomic circumstances. A small task team that includes colleagues in the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching is busy developing these criteria. This is ongoing."

The third group of students in line to return are those who have to access laboratories, studios and various facilities in order to finish their academic years.

"Guided by the revised academic calendar, we’re working to understand who these students are, and what their numbers are, so that we can develop a plan to accommodate them," said Feris.

"Finally, we hope that all other students will also be able to return to campus."

As to when this will be, UCT "will be guided by the national directives".

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