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The University is aware of the many concerns relating to the return to campus of a limited number of staff and students later this month. Please be assured that plans to this end are well advanced, and that you will be given ample time to prepare, should you be identified to be among the first to return.

The safety of our staff and students is our greatest priority, and since COVID-19 is only transmitted through contact, we will be consistently striving to keep numbers and face-to-face contact on our campuses to a minimum. This means each of us will need to adapt to new ways of working, studying and living, and to consistently embrace new behaviours, like physical distancing and wearing a mask, at all times. 

These readiness plans are captured in the update below.     

National Directive

As indicated in a letter to students last week, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology announced on 23 May the national directives for the phased return of students in the Risk Adjusted Strategy for the PSET Sector.  This is aligned with the national Risk Adjusted Strategy in terms of lockdown levels. Furthermore, on 24 May, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the lockdown level would change from level 4 to level 3 on 1 June.

The Minister indicated that academic activities would operate in line with the national risk adjusted strategy. In this regard, while remote learning would continue there would be a gradual return to campus during different lockdown levels. The Minister indicated that under lockdown level 3, a maximum of 33% of students could return to campus and residences. At lockdown level 2, a maximum of 66% of students could return, and that at lockdown level 1, 100% of students could return.

The return of students to campus and residences at each level is on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the Department.

For lockdown level 3, the Minister indicated that students who will be prioritised to return include those in the following groups:

  • Students in the final year of their programmes, who are on a path to graduating in 2020.
  • Final year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity and access to residence and private accommodation.
  • Students in all years of study that require clinical training in their programmes (provided that the clinical training platforms have sufficient space and can accommodate them while adhering to the safety protocols).
  • Postgraduate students who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies.

In addition to the above, universities may also consider the selected return of other categories of students to residences who may face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments provided that the above groups are prioritised and all safety and logistical requirements are met.

Identification Process of Returning Students

Universities need to put a process in place to identify which students should return. This process is well underway at Mandela University.

A task team convened by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching, that includes the DVC Research, Innovation and Internationalisation, Executive and Deputy Deans, the Dean of Students, SRC representatives, and other key stakeholders is in the process of identifying up to 33% of mainly final year students, especially those that need to do lab and studio work, experiential learning and clinical training, those final years that are on Pathway 2, as well as some students with disabilities.

This team will assess which students should be earmarked to return at each lockdown level. A set of principles, criteria and data will be used to inform such decisions, along with the lockdown level specifications about the number of students permitted on campus at a point in time.

Notification Process

The University will notify students who have been identified to return to campus and our residences via text message. Only students who receive this SMS notification and an official follow-up email will be able to return.

The email to such students will provide details as to the specific dates in June when that student can return to the University’s residences and/or accredited off campus accommodation. These dates have been staggered to allow us to reintegrate students back into residences safely.Permits

Students should only travel to the University after receiving their permit. Details of the permit process, as well as what to expect on campus and what is expected of students on campus, will be shared in the official emailed communication.

This permit requirement is inclusive of students who need to travel to Port Elizabeth or George.

Ongoing Learning

In the interim, all students are encouraged to continue to learn remotely, either online, or through materials sent to them. We know that this is not always easy. We undertake to continue to provide as much support as possible in terms of learning and teaching and psychosocial support for students learning remotely.

As previously shared, a blended learning approach will also be used when students return to University for the remainder of the 2020 academic year. In this blended approach, most of the theoretical work will be covered online, augmented by MS Teams and Zoom virtual lecture sessions, flipped-class discussions and tuts.

Students are only likely to be in contact sessions for lab and studio work, experiential learning, work integrated and school-based learning, and for some revision and augmenting tutorials or block release sessions.

Ongoing Preparations

During June the University will continue to prepare our campuses for the return of staff and students to ensure that all the required measures are in place related to health screening, sanitising, cleaning and physical distancing.

Venues for contact sessions have been deep cleaned and going forward will adhere to physical distancing and health hygiene requirements.

In addition, to keep numbers and face-to-face contact to a minimum, students will be notified by their lecturers regarding the days that they should come to campus where health screening, testing and hygiene protocols will be in place as a key priority, to keep students healthy.

We want to urge all students to hold each other accountable for continuing with health behaviours and practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19.

We acknowledge that these are difficult times and that many are anxious about the journey ahead. We commit to walking alongside you in striving to complete the 2020 Academic Year.

Professor Cheryl Foxcroft
Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Learning and Teaching