As you know, South Africa has entered into “uncharted territory” in confronting the spectre of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are drawing on our long history of struggle against adversity to overcome this unprecedented challenge.
Like all the other sectors in our society, we have been forced to take immediate and drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus and ensure our students and staff are protected.
2020 Academic Year
Guided by the work and decisions of the National Command Council, we have decided not to resume with campus-based academic activity throughout the PSET sector, including all Universities and TVET Colleges, both public and private, during the Level Four (4) lockdown period.
The only exception will be the controlled return of final year Clinical Training (medical) students, under strict conditions, to also directly assist with the health management campaign of the Department of Health.
The risks of a return to normal campus-based activity for thousands of students and staff are simply too great and cannot function successfully outside of the national context of a general lockdown. Universities and TVET Colleges do not operate in a vacuum, but in a historically-specific context.
Against this background and with the endorsement by the Command Council, we have decided that the current period, from 1 May until South Africa transitions into a lower COVID-19 risk phase, must be used to put a number of critical interventions in place across the PSET system.
- Developing and implementing effective multi-modal remote learning systems (digital, analogue and physical delivery of learning materials) to provide a reasonable level of academic support to all our students at all institutions to resume academic learning and teaching support. As we are in an unprecedented emergency, we have to use all available tools to reach our students fully cognisant that it will not substitute the need for contact learning when conditions permit. This we will do making sure that No student or institution is left behind;
- Securing a universal access deal with the major Mobile Network Operators around data and connectivity to support remote learning; We believe we are close to reaching such a deal
- Where physical delivery of learning materials are required and where no immediate digital means are ready, to ensure that students are provided with instructional materials;
- Finalizing the procurement and distribution of devices (laptops) for all students and its connectivity into digital remote learning platforms. In this regard, I would like to appeal to all students to ensure that they urgently register their correct numbers with their institutions so that when we finalise the educational rate for data, we can load it to the correct number so that all students can benefit.
- Strengthening our remote pedagogic teaching and learning models and sharing this across the TVET and University systems;
- Securing possible relief/stimulus/emergency funding to our public institutions in distress, including critical areas of financial support that may be required;
- forging a compact for an equitable economic transformation that will ensure the advancement of the economic position of women, youth and persons with disabilities and that which promote localisation and industrialisation of our economy.
- Prepare all PSET campuses with deep cleaning and biosafety protocols to ensure readiness for eventual return of students and staff, and employing SMME’s and cooperatives, to this task.
- Forging strong partnerships with both Departments of Health and Basic Education to coordinate all efforts to successfully and safely implement the 2020 academic year and phasing in of the 2021 academic year.
Our intention as a sector is to use this phase for planning and preparation at all our Universities and TVET Colleges, and the mobilization of resources. Our collective efforts during this period remains that of putting appropriate remote learning support systems in place for all our PSET institutions, using whatever means available, whilst preparing our institutional capacities for eventual return of students and staff once conditions permit such.
NATIONAL STUDENT FINANCIAL AID SCHEME (NSFAS)
NSFAS funding for all students will continue while the academic year is underway.
The likely extension of the academic year will require additional funding to maintain allowances for students while they complete the academic year. As a Department, we are therefore working with NSFAS, in modelling these costs.
Given the fact that all our universities have already disbursed learning materials allowances to their NSFAS supported students, I would like to urge our student who have not as yet utilized their allowance to use their allowances to purchase appropriate electronic learning devices to support their learning during this time.
For more on this, visit www.gov.za