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Change the world

04/05/2020

Recently, government has made several announcements in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In the main, we shift from a national lockdown alert Level 5 to alert Level 4, with the announcement of the plans for the higher education sector to commence the roll-out of a phased return to campus.

On Thursday evening, 30 April, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, outlined a number of contingency measures being put in place in the sector, in preparation for the continuation of the academic year.

As we are guided by the national response to COVID-19, we are pleased that the ministry’s plans are closely aligned to the planning that have been under way at Nelson Mandela University. In past weeks, amid all the uncertainty, the University devised plans around a number of scenarios in a concerted effort to salvage the academic year, while ensuring that no student is left behind.

New Learning Methods

Given our strong commitment to social justice and equality, our approach to resuming learning and teaching is to allow all students to complete their semester 1 modules through multiple, blended pathways. It is possible to switch between the pathways and it is likely that they will converge, to an extent, when students return to campus. The pathways will take on a phased approach. Some pathways may start at different dates and may take longer to complete, but they will nonetheless allow students to complete their modules, which is our main aim.

Pathway 1 students will learn online until they can return to campus for lab and experiential learning work, clinical training, work-integrated learning, school-based learning and tutorial and revision sessions, where needed. Pathway 2 learners will learn, where possible, with materials that they have at home or that can be provided to them. When they get back to campus, they will continue to cover the same work as Pathway 1 learners, with an intensive delivery approach that blends some contact opportunities with the same online learning opportunities that Pathway 1 students accessed.

As Pathway 1 intensifies from Monday, 4 May, given that access to data is coming on stream, with the relevant students applying to access a device in the coming week, some challenges are likely, as both students and lecturers adapt to online learning. Patience and persistence are needed as we start this new approach to learning. Our priority from 4 to 18 May is to get as many students as possible to restart their learning.

Our International Office will act as a support base for international students. We expect that all study abroad and exchange students will be able to complete the first semester using Pathway 1a or 1c options.

Postgraduate Students

Postgraduate students are advised to contact their supervisors to rearrange work schedules, to attend to supervision needs and reprioritise research timelines, where applicable.  Training and support workshops for postgraduate students scheduled for March and April were postponed, while a few programmatic workshops were converted for online delivery. Those who do not have access to the online version will be prioritised for attending face-to-face meetings once this is possible.  Resources for postgraduate students and academic staff are available on the Research Development website.

Support for Students

The necessary academic and psychosocial support is available to enable students to learn successfully and adapt to changed circumstances. Academic support includes tutoring, supplemental instruction, augmenting tutorials, writing assistance, success coaching, and academic advising on various platforms (online, email, WhatsApp, etc.). Emthonjeni Student Wellness (ESW) is offering a tele-psychological service to students experiencing psychosocial challenges. This counselling service is offered via email, Zoom, Skype, SMS, WhatsApp, and telephonically, depending on what is accessible for the student. In addition, there are webinars on Fridays that cover topics related to dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. Recorded versions of the webinars are posted on the ESW Facebook page.

Staff

Several health and safety as well as learning and teaching continuity plans are underway, in terms of Human Resource Management, Infrastructure and Facilities Management, Support Services, and ICT. These measures are also applicable to our George campus. 

The guiding principle is to strike a balance between the prevention and spread of (COVID-19) in the workplace, while safely completing the 2020 academic year in a sustainable manner, through complying with the prescribed behavioural practices.  A phased, “return-to-work strategy” underpins the principles of our employee health and safety, based on government’s five coronavirus risk alert levels; while also focusing on alternative ways of learning and teaching aimed at completing the 2020 academic year.

These protocols provide the platform to review and regularise policies and practises aligned with the “new working norms,” of only a third (1/3) of employees being allowed in the workplace at level 4.  The University has identified all its essential and critical services to determine which categories of staff will return to work in a planned phased manner.

Specific details pertaining to a phased strategy for returning to work, including preparatory work building up to this, as well as support measures, will be communicated to staff by relevant Management colleagues, as work unfolds. 

Let me reiterate that the safety of our staff and students remains of paramount importance. While we remain resolute in our determination to complete the 2020 academic year, we are working hard to balance this with the primary objective of preserving staff and students’ health and wellbeing.

I request that we continue observing the regulations as set by government in a bid to contain the spread of the virus, which has to date infected more than 6 300 South Africans.

I thank you sincerely, once more, for your resilience in this very trying time that is not easy on any of us.

Prof Sibongile Muthwa

Vice-Chancellor: Nelson Mandela University

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za